Over 10 percent of the American population over the age of 11 had abused illegal drugs in the month prior to a 2015 survey, as published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and nearly 2.5 percent had misused psychotherapeutic medications. Substance abuse can interfere with healthy relationships, and Psychology Today warns that continuing to abuse drugs is liable to interfere with a couple’s intimacy.
Drug abuse and addiction are often not things you can just deal with on your own. Sharing the load with an intimate partner can be highly beneficial. Addiction is a brain disease that impacts well over 20 million Americans a year; the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that one in 13 people in the United States needed treatment for a substance use disorder in 2016. Fortunately, there are many different treatment options and methods available to support individuals battling drug abuse and addiction. Enlisting the help, support, and encouragement of a significant other can be a great way move forward in a positive manner.
Considerations and Preparation for the Conversation
There are several things to consider when deciding how and when to have the discussion about your drug use with a loved one as well as some things you can do to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible.
- Consider your motivation for sharing with them. Are you opening up the discussion in order to enlist their help? Be sure you are coming from a positive space about wanting to let them in and accept their support.
- Be open and honest about your drug use. Some of the symptoms of addiction include secrecy, denial, hostility, and self-imposed isolation. Understand that your significant other may expect these defense mechanisms and not be prepared for what you have to say.
- Expect any reaction. Your partner may be completely caught off guard by your revelation, or they may have known for some time and been waiting for you to share with them. Either way, they are human and bound to respond in ways that may be unpredictable and unexpected. Be as prepared for this as possible by thinking through several scenarios ahead of time.
- Have the conversation when you are feeling grounded, are sober, and are not suffering from a drug “crash” or hangover. Drug abuse can cause mood swings and erratic behavior as well as clouded thinking and impulsivity. It is important to have serious conversations when you are in the right mindset to do so and to hear what might be said back to you in return.
- Stick to facts, and keep it simple. While it is important to be open and honest, try not to just unload on your significant other. It may be helpful to have several smaller conversations about your drug use and the associated issues rather than spewing out everything that comes to mind all at once. Your partner is less likely to feel overwhelmed this way.
- Accept responsibility. It can be easy to shift blame onto other people, events, and things, and it is important to recognize that you are responsible for your own actions. By taking responsibility, your loved one is more likely to respect where you’re coming from.
- Do your research ahead of time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes that there are more than 14,500 specialty addiction treatment facilities in the United States. Knowing what you are going to do about seeking help or at least having an understanding about your options ahead of the conversation with your significant other tells them that you are serious about recovery.
Being prepared ahead of what may be an emotional conversation can help to lay the groundwork for a positive outcome.
Different Methods for Talking to a Loved One about Your Drug Use
Every relationship is different. There is no “right” answer when it comes to figuring out how to talk to a significant other about things that impact the relationship and issues that you may have with drug abuse. There are many different ways to go about having this important discussion. Here are a few tips:
- Write down what you are going to say before you say it.
It may be helpful to write down what you want to say ahead of time, so you can be sure to stick to the important facts and not leave anything out. Jot down some bullet points and refer to them when you talk to your partner.
Work out different scenarios in your mind before having the conversation with your loved one about your drug use, so you can prepare for any response or reaction. Be ready for tough questions regarding your drug use, such as those involving the last time you used, how much and how often you use, what types of drugs are you using and how are you using them, if you’ve ever been in legal or criminal trouble related to your drug use, how old were you when you started using, etc. Discuss potential triggers that may encourage you to turn to drugs, so they are more aware and can help you to manage them. Try to remain positive and straightforward during the entire conversation.
- Plan the time and location of your conversation.
Consider taking your spouse for a weekend away or make arrangements to have the house to yourself for a night or two. It is helpful to have the conversation about your drug use in private and when there will be as few distractions as possible. Emotions are likely to run high during this personal discussion.
Show your significant other you love them by taking extra measures to be thoughtful. This will encourage them to be open and willing to really listen to what you have to say. Be prepared for them to need time to think about what you have told them as well. They may need some time and space to process, so be sure to give that to them. You may have been wrestling with this much longer than they have. Let them have time to cool down and come back to you when they are ready to do so.
- Hire a trained professional to help you.
A therapist, counselor, primary care provider, professional interventionist, or other healthcare provider can help you decide how and when to have the conversation with your loved one about your drug use. They can assist with the planning and the actual conversation itself, helping to keep things focused, on track, and positive.
These professionals are also great resources for referrals to treatment and information on getting help for drug use. Being educated on the disease of addiction, treatment options, and what to expect in recovery can be important for you and loved ones impacted by your drug use. Trained professionals can provide insight, direction, and guidance with everything from the initial conversation to ongoing recovery support.
- Lay out the possibility of entering therapy together.
Drug abuse, addiction, treatment, and recovery all impact loved ones and family members greatly. Family involvement in treatment and recovery is vital to a happy and healthy outcome, per Psych Central. Entering couples therapy together can help to heal a relationship that has likely been damaged by substance abuse and codependency.
Support groups like Al-Anon exist for family members of those battling addiction, and they can give your partner an outlet. Drug abuse and addiction often include enabling and co-dependent behaviors by loved ones; by addressing these issues in therapy, couples can become stronger and healthier together.
- Ask for help and support in moving forward with a treatment program.
Deciding to enter into an addiction treatment program may mean that you will need to put some things in your life on hold for a little while, such as your job, family responsibilities, or school. Having some semblance of a plan for some of these eventualities ahead of time can provide your significant other with peace of mind, knowing that they will be taken care of while you take care of yourself.
Discuss treatment programs with your health insurance provider to find out what is covered. Talk to the treatment center you plan to attend to find out about payment plans and budgeting for care. Drug addiction treatment can help families save money in the long run. NIDA reports that it can save people as much as $12 to every $1 spent on care when taking into account lost workplace wages, criminal justice and criminal costs, and healthcare expenses.
It can be difficult to talk to your significant other about your substance abuse struggles, but it’s a necessary conversation to have. Ask for your partner’s help in bettering yourself and offer them support in return. Ultimately, comprehensive treatment can help to improve your relationship as well as overall quality of life for both parties.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Help