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Dos and Don’ts of Helping a Partner Through Addiction Recovery

Dos and Don’ts of Helping a Partner Through Addiction Recovery

Posted on September 5th, 2023

Life with a partner battling alcohol or drug addiction is anything but smooth sailing. It can leave you with your own challenging feelings as you struggle to help them recover.

Substance abuse can affect relationships in the following ways:

  • Inability to stop at will
  • Neglect of crucial responsibilities, especially with children involved
  • Time lost in managing hangovers
  • Legal issues due to poor choices made under the influence of the illicit substance
  • Draining finances due to active addiction and impulse purchases

These effects are aggravated by the emotional volatility and personality changes that go hand in hand. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders often co-occur with substance abuse. In such cases, the couple’s relationship may become highly stressful and dysfunctional.

If your partner is currently battling addiction, this article will give you useful dos and don’ts to help them overcome.

What to Do to Support Their Recovery Journey

reaching out to a person, symbolizing the actions to take in order to aid someone's addiction recovery journey – offering empathy, encouragement, and understanding.

Despite the turbulence that is so characteristic of substance abuse issues, your partner needs love, care, and support. Start by understanding how addiction can affect them, you, and your relationship. Seeing their condition for what it is (psychological disease) rather than moral failure will help you look past your hurt.

Here are other ways to assist them in their addiction recovery.

1. Address the Problem, Not the Person

Commonly, substance abusers experience emotions like shame, despair, and frustration. This makes it difficult for them to open up and share their real feelings. They might fear your judgment or rejection, so it’s crucial to bring up the sensitive subject calmly and lovingly.

You may feel tempted to retaliate and blame your partner for their actions. Try turning the hurt into an opportunity to root your conversations in personal experience. For instance – do not say, “You have become so XYZ.” Instead, try saying, “When A happens, I feel B,” showing a genuine desire to work as a team.

Here’s a situational example – telling your partner, “You never give me your time and attention,” may excite a defensive response. But something like, “I feel disconnected and lonely when we don’t spend quality time together” will signal your desire to reconnect.

This does not suggest that you must refrain from laying down all your concerns on the table. But love and empathy will tell your partner that you’re a safe place for them to be vulnerable. Ask questions like, “How can I help you?” to empower them to express their needs.

2. Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help

a person encouraging their partner to seek professional help during their addiction recovery journey

Intervention during active addiction, though challenging, is vital. There comes a point where you must realize that your knowledge is limited and your support is exhaustible. However, it is likely that your partner may not agree to seek professional help.

Since addiction is a progressive condition, you cannot leave them alone, hoping they’ll finally reach out. Their personal attempts to stop misusing alcohol or drugs may fail, causing greater anxiety and shame.

Connect with experts to form an actionable intervention plan. Besides rehabilitation centers, you can contact trained psychiatric nurses practicing in private clinics.

Through a customized recovery plan, the nurse will treat your partner with empathy and compassion. Together, you can develop an effective intervention plan, which would include (but not be limited to) –

  • Providing real-world examples of destructive behaviors and how they impact health and relationships
  • Offering a concrete treatment plan that clearly outlines the guidelines, goals, and steps involved
  • Expressing (in a non-threatening manner) what each family member and friend will do if your partner turns down treatment

Do not proceed with an intervention plan without expert help, as it could worsen the situation. A successful intervention encourages the addict to seek professional help without making them feel isolated or attacked.

A psychiatric nurse’s role does not end with initial intervention. Online psychiatric nurse practitioner certificate programs train nurses to offer 360-degree patient support.

This means the nurse will monitor your partner’s progress, empower them to overcome withdrawal and help them maintain sobriety post-treatment. They will also educate you and your partner’s other loved ones on long-term relapse prevention.

Find the appropriate help

3. Practice Self-Care

Remember what the old adage says – you cannot pour out of an empty vessel. Though considered otherwise, addiction is a family disease in reality. Watching your partner struggle and waste away can make it difficult for you to consider your well-being.

As much as you wish to pull your partner out of this ordeal, remind yourself that you cannot fix them. During personal moments of crisis and helplessness, remember the three Cs

  • You did not cause their situation
  • You cannot cure their condition (unless they’re willing to cooperate)
  • You cannot control the outcome

However, what does lie within your sphere of control is taking care of your mental and physical health. Participate (without guilt) in self-care activities like regular exercising, painting, book reading, and enjoying nourishing foods, among others.

If mere self-care is not helping, acknowledge your need for professional support. According to Wilkes University, psychiatric nurses are not only trained to treat individuals, but they also extend group and family psychotherapy. This will offer you and your partner’s other loved ones much-needed support and awareness of the condition.

Things to Avoid

a list of things to avoid while supporting a partner through addiction recovery, emphasizing helpful and counterproductive behaviors

SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 61.2 million people aged 12 or more consumed illicit drugs in 2021.

As a loved one of someone struggling with a similar situation, there are also certain things to avoid. These will further help you support them with love and compassion.

1. Don’t Compel Them to Quit

Tough love is something you must not practice with a partner battling substance abuse. If it reaches the point where they may harm themselves or others, certain US states have provisions for court-ordered rehabs.

However, ultimatums like “I will harm myself if you don’t stop by so-and-so date” seldom work. If your partner is resisting treatment right now, be patient and approach with a sound intervention plan, as mentioned above. Give them time to understand the negative effects of their addiction.

Unless they’re self-motivated, it’s a lost cause because they won’t be able to sustain long-term change. But this does not mean that you cannot set healthy boundaries. During the intervention meeting, you may express your boundaries for personal (or children’s) safety.

An example of a healthy boundary would include removing yourself from conversations that turn violent. This communicates to your partner the importance of speaking calmly. Another boundary could be moving out of the home you share in case of physical abuse.

2. Don’t Enable Them

In matters of addiction, the line between support and enablement often gets blurred. Because it is so tough to watch a loved one’s life unravel in a chaotic manner, people resort to excuses. For instance – you may find yourself covering for your partner when they miss important commitments.

Another example would be not keeping track of their expenses whilst lending money whenever they ask. Though you do not want to monitor their every move, it’s important not to feed their addiction unconsciously.

Enabling behaviors are often observed in codependent relationships with no clear, healthy boundaries. If you haven’t expressed your needs and what you can or cannot support, clarify that first. Be gentle but firm in prioritizing your (and your children’s) physical and emotional needs.

In the end, it is only going to help your partner overcome their destructive habits.

3. Don’t Give up on Your Partner

dont give up on your partner

As tough as it is, learn to separate what your partner is doing from who they are. There may be excuses, resistance, and relapse along the way, for which you must stay mentally prepared.

It’s normal to feel tempted to give up on their situation or the relationship altogether. In moments like these, reminiscence on why you fell in love with them. It is true that addiction separates an individual from their authentic self, but total recovery is every bit possible.

Oftentimes, the loved ones’ hope and courage inspire the addict to fight their addictions and overcome them. It all starts with a compassionate connection that communicates to your partner that you won’t give up on them.

Learn how to communicate with your partner

Final Thoughts

A study found that continuing care for substance abuse is more effective when followed by aftercare sessions (in-person or telephonic). Two common challenges during the recovery period include the patient’s changing clinical needs and their chances of dropout.

Successful treatment plans evolve with the patient’s needs and make room for relapse and issues surrounding employment, finances, recreation, etc. As a loved one, you can encourage your partner to pursue new interests and make space to reconnect (like date nights!).

You must also ensure that there are no drugs or alcohol in the house (even in hidden spots). If relapses happen, let them know that you appreciate every effort they’re making. The journey is not easy, but once your partner comes to the other side, it will be so worth it.