Five Ways Substance Abuse Harms Your Relationship

by | Nov 17, 2015

In severe cases of substance abuse, a person will do anything to take another drink or get another fix. That means he or she will lie and deceive to get high. And the moment that person crosses that line, trust is violated and relationships suffer. Then any chance at a healthy, intimate relationship becomes more and more remote. Without that intimacy, the addict will feel incomplete, lonely and may become depressed. He or she may turn to even more alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Meanwhile, their partner is at a loss as to how to get things back to normal. Counseling is often critical in these situations.

But what about less drastic cases? What if you have a partner who drinks too much, but not all the time? What if your partner hasn’t reached that stage where he’ll do anything, like selling the family valuables, to get drugs? What if there’s some substance abuse, but you get along, for the most part?

Five Ways Substance Abuse Harms Your Relationship Nancy'S Counseling Corner


What are the effects on your relationship? How does substance abuse harm it?

1) Emotional distance. Drinking and drug use take authentic time away from your time together as a couple. After all, when your partner is under the influence, he is not thinking clearly. He is not emotionally available to you. He is difficult to connect with, and you are more or less left alone with no one to share your joys or troubles with. You may resent this, and perhaps rightfully so, but that only deepens the schism.

2) Arguments. There are plenty of things two reasonable people can disagree about without adding substance abuse to the mix. But when your partner is high, he can be angrier than he would be sober, and not be his usual rational self. He can fly off the handle at the least provocation. He can accuse you of all sorts of wrongs he might otherwise not bring up, but drinking or drugs exacerbates his hostility.

3) Errant behavior. If your partner drinks or does drugs, it may be accompanied by behaviors that you find unacceptable. He may stay out late at the bar and forget to call you. He may drive while intoxicated, and put his life and others’ at risk. He may shirk his responsibilities at home in favor of getting high instead. He may use the rent money for drugs. All these things and more can put a significant strain on any relationship.

4) Unsafe sex. Many people lose their inhibitions when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If your partner has sex with someone else, then there are real problems that must be addressed when your partner’s sober. Not the least of these is the risk to your own health and his. But infidelity, no matter how unintended in an alcoholic or drug haze, is still infidelity and hard to get past. And if your partner wants sex with you and he’s drunk, it can also injure your relationship. After all, sex should be an intimate, warm experience between two people—nearly impossible when one of you is drunk.

5) Excuses. The trouble is, when someone in the family drinks or does drugs, it can throw the whole family out of kilter. You are all tiptoeing around trying to accommodate the substance abuser. Your own behavior is modified as you try to make up for your partner’s shortcomings. You have to shoulder more household responsibilities. You have to make excuses to the kids, to your friends, to his boss. When you have to cover for your partner it’s an unfair burden on you, and does real harm to your relationship.

There are many resources for help, and many ways to address the problems of substance abuse. The good news is, you and your partner can recover. The sooner you start to seek treatment and help, the better.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:


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If you’re seeking compassionate guidance and professional support to navigate life’s challenges, Nancy’s Counseling Corner is here for you. Our dedicated counseling services are designed to provide personalized care that addresses your unique needs and goals. Whether you’re dealing with stress, anxiety, relationship issues, or seeking personal growth, Nancy is committed to helping you find your path to wellness.

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