Loving a Drug Addict: Do People With Addiction Love Back?
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Last Updated - 08/16/22View our editorial policy
Having a romantic relationship with an addicted person is an exercise in uncertainty, sadness and frustration, but learning new coping skills can improve the relationship.
Relationships are complex, ever-changing bonds that need constant nurturing and balance to stay healthy and rewarding. When a negative influence like addiction is present, maintaining a healthy relationship can feel impossible.
The situation will prove difficult, but by changing the way you look at addiction and respond to your loved one, the relationship can survive. Like with all relationships, it’s also necessary to decide if ending the relationship is appropriate, based on each person’s best interests.
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A Closer Look at Drug Addiction
Whether the person started abusing drugs before or during the relationship, all substances can negatively influence the connection over time. Perhaps your loved one’s use of alcohol or drugs felt like no big deal, but it now seems that they care more about the substance than you.
This pattern is common because alcohol and addictive substances have the power to change the brain. Alcohol and other drugs effectively rewire the brain to obsessively crave these substances, which moves all other priorities and people to a secondary status.
Naturally, people are built to seek out healthy rewards like food, water, sex and love in order to survive and continue the human race. The brain helps support this process by releasing a modest level of pleasurable chemicals to reinforce these behaviors.
When someone uses drugs, their brain releases tremendous amounts of brain chemicals to produce extremely pleasurable and desirable feelings. Because these sensations are so strong, the brain wants to experience them as much as possible, which overwhelms any available natural reward.
Love and Drug Addiction
Romantic love and drug addiction share several similarities, as they are both marked by strong urges that affect thinking and behavior patterns. Both love and addiction can seem irrational, but things that appear to be illogical to outsiders make perfect sense to people affected by new love or addiction.
Love and substance abuse both manipulate the typical release of chemicals in the brain. Neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers in the brain — are responsible for the feelings of pleasure, closeness, understanding and empathy people experience with both love and drugs.
When someone experiences love or uses a substance, the brain releases dopamine. This rewarding neurotransmitter helps regulate movement, emotions, motivation and pleasure — more dopamine results in a more positive experience. Love, especially romantic love, offers an additional layer of chemical reinforcement. With the release of another neurotransmitter called oxytocin, people feel a psychological bond and emotional warmth with the other person.
The highest levels of dopamine and oxytocin occur in the early stages of romantic love before gradually fading with time. On the other hand, someone abusing substances can control dopamine levels by increasing the frequency or dose of their drug to maintain the desired effect.
Why Addicts Choose Drugs Over Love
Given the option between broccoli and ice cream or carrots and pizza, people are going to choose ice cream and pizza. Due to the chemical makeup of these foods, they trigger a larger chemical release in the brain. A person knows rationally that they should choose the healthier options, but cravings are challenging to ignore. Quite often, people are drawn to make bad choices because of temptation and the promise of pleasurable brain chemicals.
A very similar process takes place when it seems like an addicted person is choosing drugs over love. Of course, love feels good because it is comforting and encouraging, but the brain convinces the person that the drug feels amazing because of its unnatural ability to release dopamine.
In moments of choice, a person may lose sight of what they have to lose through drug abuse. They can only focus on the instant gratification of drugs. Similarly, a person may lose sight of the weight they may gain by eating ice cream and pizza — they can only focus on the instant gratification of food.
How Do I Know if My Loved One Is Addicted To Drugs?
Knowing that your loved one is addicted to alcohol and other drugs may not always be straightforward. Addictions can develop slowly, and people sliding into an addiction can develop an uncanny ability to conceal the truth.
To find out whether your loved one is addicted, look for signs and symptoms of addiction like:
- Drug use that is becoming more frequent, more intense or longer-lasting in duration
- The person spending more time getting, using and recovering from use
- More frequent arguments, either in general or specifically about drugs
- A significant change in friendships, sleep habits or energy levels
- Being more suspicious or secretive
- Frequent mood changes
- Decreased ability to perform well at home, work or school
- Having new money or legal issues
People with addiction will often deny and dismiss probing questions about addiction and substance use, so they will not offer the information readily. Consider contacting other important people in their life to see if they are noting the same issues to corroborate your concerns.
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Loving Someone Who Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol
Everyone deserves love, but loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can endanger your emotional and physical health. Loving an addicted person creates high stress, worry, uncertainty and anger as their symptoms grow and change.
If you really love that person, you must focus on helping them get professional treatment for their addiction. Addictions rarely disappear on their own, and substance abuse is often too complicated to resolve without professional help.
Along the way, be mindful that your attempts to help may only result in enabling their behaviors, which furthers their addiction. If you want to help the addicted loved one:
- Establish firm boundaries and expectations regarding their use
- Follow through with your repercussions and promises
- Stay calm and patient during communication to avoid regrettable conversations
- Refuse to make excuses or lie for them
- Stress the importance of addiction treatment
- Let them know that your love for them is what’s driving your decision making
You do not have to sacrifice your mental well-being for someone addicted to alcohol and other drugs. At some point, you may have to end or shift the relationship to preserve your own health.
See More: Couples Therapy in Addiction Treatment
When To Find Help for Addiction
Finding help for your loved one’s addiction is easier than you might think. You can access treatment by:
- Speaking to their insurance company
- Phoning the nearest mental health or addiction agency for information
- Requesting treatment options from their primary care physician
- Calling a national treatment hotline, such as the one provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-844-898-5072
Those looking for addiction and dual diagnosis treatment in South Florida should consider services from The Recovery Village at Baptist Health. Our services cover the entire continuum of care, ranging from intake and detox to outpatient programming and aftercare. Each program is designed to restore health and happiness to you and your loved ones, now and throughout the future. Contact us today to learn more about treatment programs that can work well for your situation.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. “Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationships.” Accessed October 30, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” July 2014. Accessed October 30, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed October 30, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction: DrugFacts.” January 17, 2019. Accessed October 30, 2020.
Zou, Z., Song, H., Zhang, Y., Zhang, X. “Romantic Love vs. Drug Addiction May Inspire a New Treatment for Addiction.” Frontiers in Psychology, September 22, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2020.