Posted in Addiction on January 25, 2017
Last modified on December 2nd, 2018

Dating an Addict: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Like the song says, breaking up is hard to do. A breakup can be even harder when you’re leaving a relationship because your partner can’t shake off the long shadow cast by past addiction, is still caught up in a relapse cycle, or chooses their addiction over you. You want to support them through their illness, but you also know their addiction is taking a toll on you. How do you know whether to stay or go?

When You Should Consider Leaving an Addicted Partner

You’re caught up in enabling behavior. Have you repeatedly loaned money to your addicted partner or lied for them? Are you focusing on your addicted partner so much that you’re unavailable to others who need you like your children, family members or friends? If you find you’re always putting your partner’s problems and desires before yours and ignoring your own needs, it may be time to take a hard look at the situation.

You may feel that if you stay with your partner, you can help “save” them from relapse or support them in their recovery process. But it is important to ask yourself, “Am I making matters worse by sticking around to always pick up the pieces?” Your support is important to a partner who is in recovery, but you must determine if the kind of support you are giving is healthy — for both you and your partner. For example, if you’re doing things that protect your partner from the consequences of their actions, then your behavior may be “enabling” and not constructive. It may feel like you’re helping, but you may be hurting your partner by preventing them from learning how to stand on their own and take the necessary steps to become healthy, responsible and fulfilled.

Your partner is emotionally unavailable to you. If you’re feeling emotionally neglected or unfulfilled, take stock of the situation before it undermines your emotional and physical health. Are you losing sleep or suffering health problems due to your addicted partner’s behavior or your overwhelming concern for them? Are you finding it difficult to concentrate or work effectively due to worrying about your addicted partner?

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) reports that while addiction affects all of the addict’s relationships, the spouse or partner often suffers the most. An addict’s drug or alcohol use can lead to emotional distance between the partners as well as arguments about the addiction, which can trigger relapse, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to overcome. The AAMFT recommends that a partner be included in the addiction treatment plan so that these types of conflicts in a relationship can be resolved.

You’ve lost hope things will get better. You may feel fed up with a repeating cycle of relapse that has led to breakups and periods of renewed sobriety that have led to reunions. Ask yourself if this chaotic dynamic is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Is your partner doing everything they can to break the cycle? Being in a relationship with an addict can be draining. Even the anticipation of a drug problem’s return — constantly being on the lookout for signs of relapse — can take its toll, leaving a partner stressed, anxious and unhappy.

Due to the chronic nature of drug and alcohol abuse, relapse is likely. It is estimated that, even after treatment for addiction, 40% to 60% of addicts will relapse. This can be painful for partners and loved ones. A relapse doesn’t always mean your situation is hopeless or that your loved one isn’t trying hard enough or is doomed to struggle forever, but a relapse requires awareness and a return to treatment and support groups at the first sign of a problem.

When You Should Consider Staying With an Addicted Partner

You’ve taken steps to avoid enabling. If you can develop the tools you need to avoid enabling, either through one-on-one counseling for yourself or through other support programs, and you still feel hopeful about the future with your partner, it may be worthwhile to stay and work on your relationship. On the other hand, if you can’t break out of enabling or codependency, leaving or separating for a while may give you the space to focus on your own healing and also allow your partner to find their way to lasting sobriety.

Your partner has a solid relapse prevention plan. You may be in a relationship with an addicted partner who has been actively participating in a recovery program, and relapses have been few and far between. Staying in the relationship is easier when your partner has a solid plan in place in case relapse rears its head. They must demonstrate their commitment to their recovery by proactively working with support groups and sober friends. Without a plan and an ongoing investment in recovery, triggers to drink or use can lead even the most well-intentioned person back into active substance abuse.

You’re both receiving the support you need. Do you feel supportive of your partner’s recovery, or are you resentful of the time they dedicate to support groups and other recovery-related commitments? Recovery needs to be their first priority, but do you feel that you’re also a priority and adequately supported and fulfilled in the relationship? Your addicted partner needs ongoing support to stay sober and they should be vigilant about working their recovery program. Likewise, as the partner of an addict, you need to ensure your needs are met. Have you and your partner been able to strike this balance? If both of your needs are being met most of the time, your relationship is likely on solid ground, and you may decide to stay for the long term.

Making the decision to stay or let go of a relationship with an addicted partner can be extremely difficult. Only you can know when you’ve reached your breaking point. Whatever you decide, give yourself permission to take care of yourself. That way, you’ll be able to let go and move on or stay and provide healthy support for your loved one in recovery, without sacrificing your own needs.

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