How to Talk to Your Partner About Their Substance Abuse
Are you worried about your partner’s drinking or drug use? Beginning a conversation about their habit could kick start their recovery, here we look at how to do it.
The pandemic has made life harder for many people in many ways. From financial worries to increased isolation and fear of infection, we are under more stress and the number of us using drink or drugs as a coping mechanism has risen sharply. At Paracelsus Recovery, we have seen a 500% increase in referrals for clients struggling with alcohol or drug-related dependencies.
The impacts of an addiction ripple far beyond the person suffering from the condition. Addiction is self-destructive, watching someone we love inflict harm on themselves is extremely painful, triggering mixed feelings of anger and heartbreak.
The lies and denial that come with addiction also erode trust. This can make you feel as though someone you love is becoming a stranger. Often we do not know how to respond. Instinctively we want to stop them consuming their substances of choice and may seek to control their use, but that can do more harm than good.
In short, it is a very challenging situation, and you are not the only person out there struggling with it. One key to your partner’s recovery is talking. Opening a conversation with a loved one about their addiction is not easy, and may not be possible, but it is the first step to try. Here are five tips from our experts on how to do it.
1. Do Your Research
Read books and articles about drug and alcohol addiction. If necessary, talk to a doctor, addiction specialist, or other medical or health professional to give you a better idea about what you should expect. It is vital to understand what substance abuse is and is not, for example it isn’t a disease, nor is it a moral failing. Try to read up on the most common aspects of the condition, such as denial, co-occurring conditions, and the concept of enabling.
2. Prepare Your Points in Advance
When you feel ready, write out your points and have them to hand during the conversation. It will undoubtedly be a difficult one, your list will help you stay clear-headed about your goals and what you want to say, for instance that you love them and are worried about them.
Try to outline clear examples of when their substance use has been inappropriate or they have shown clear signs of addiction. They might feel defensive, which could prompt them to lash out or insist that nothing is wrong. Your list will help you get your points across in this situation.
3. Create Clear Boundaries
There is a good chance your partner will not agree to stop abusing substances or get treatment. Clearly explain what actions you require them to take, and the consequences if they don’t. Perhaps you have reached the point that if they do not agree to treatment, you will leave them. Or maybe you want them to cut down to a certain number of alcoholic units a week, before considering next steps. Take some time to work out what your expectations are before explaining them calmly.
One of the hardest elements of an addiction to break through is denial. Boundaries are a remarkably useful tool because they help your partners realise just how seriously you feel about the situation. Asking your partner direct and difficult questions such as ‘do you have a drinking problem?’ can also be helpful because they encourage absolute honesty, which can break barriers down and rebuild a genuine connection. This also helps someone recognise that although their pain is real, it is not an obstacle to a connected life.
4. Do Not Enable
Enabling a loved one’s addiction is a complex relational dynamic that can be both hard to spot and stop. Signs to watch out for include:
- Providing them with money, even when you suspect they are going to spend it on the substance.
- Rationalising their behaviour away with statements such as ‘everyone drank too much in lockdown.’
- Prioritising their needs over your own.
People enable their partners for a host of reasons. They may fear what will happen to their loved one if they do not enable them, or they may have an irrational sense of guilt that their partner’s addiction is their fault. Some of us are more prone to enabling than others, especially those who are in a difficult codependent relationship.
If you are worried that you are enabling someone, the best way to break the cycle is to create clear cut boundaries with them about what is and isn’t acceptable. For example, explain to them that you will no longer be giving them money, or that, in your eyes, their behaviour is worrying and you are frightened. Use ‘I’ statements such as ‘when you drink it makes me feel x’ when you discuss boundaries.
5. Seek Professional Help (For You, Too)
Encourage your partner to speak to a doctor, nurse or a mental health professional. If a loved one is struggling with addiction, it will take its toll on your emotional wellbeing too. Look after yourself by prioritising adequate sleep, a healthy diet and exercise when possible. Speaking to a professional can also help ease your own fears.
Finally, remember that an addiction happens when a person is in pain, and they do not know how to manage that pain. The issues could be rooted in unresolved childhood traumas, recent stressors, physical issues, or numerous other reasons. If your partner is not yet ready to hear what you have to say, they may not yet be ready to tackle the underlying issues that are leading them to abuse substances.
In these instances, it is your decision whether you can continue supporting them and hoping they seek help. But you cannot force them into a treatment they do not want, however painful that is.
At Paracelsus Recovery, our treatment is grounded in our core principles of empathy, pragmatism and care. We design comprehensive treatment programmes tailored to each client’s unique needs.
We work exclusively with UHNW individuals whose mental health challenges often go unnoticed due to the misconception that financial security ensures mental stability. We only treat one client at any given time and provide the strictest confidentiality. To assist your recovery, our international team of highly qualified professionals will work with you around the clock, seven days a week.
We recognise that the pandemic has been a difficult time for many UHNW individuals. Our treatment centres are open and ready to support you. Alternatively, we can send our team to you and/or provide a fully-virtual treatment programme.