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Relationships Can Make Addiction Even Worse

Addiction is a disease of the soul, mind, brain, body, and emotions. It is also is a disease of relationships. It’s important to understand that while the obvious is true, addiction has a negative impact on relationships, the reverse is also be true in many instances—relationships can exacerbate an addiction.


Nearly all addiction begins with being introduced to an unhealthy substance or behavior by another person. In the case of substance use, another person may offer to give, sell, or buy the person drugs or alcohol. The individual often, but not always, begins to use substances in the company of others or at least, to purchase the substance from others.

Alcohol and illicit drug use has it’s own culture, and one of the first things those in recovery learn is that they may have to stop being around the people (and places) for whom the substance use and abuse is a normal part of hanging out and socializing. It can be very difficult to end relationships based on a shared addiction. A person in recovery has to fully believe and understand that friends who they got high or drunk with are not friends. A sober, social-support system including 12-Step programs, a therapist, sober friends and family, needs to replace unhealthy relationships.

This pertains to more intimate relationships as well.

Intimate relationships in which people use together, lose out together, too. Unless both people are committed to recovery, the relationship needs to end. But even if one person in a relationship is not using substances, an inherently unhealthy dynamic builds up in which the non-using person enables the one who uses. For example, in order to keep the relationship going, the non-using person may feel they have to look the other way at the substance abuse in order to avoid losing the person.  Or buy the drugs or alcohol for the person. This is referred to as co-dependency.

Although recovery is an individual’s choice and responsibility, unhealthy relationships may make it easier for the alcoholic or drug user to rationalize their substance abuse. Painful relationship actually become an excuse. “Because I’m so unhappy when they fight with me, I need something to help lessen the pain.”

Couples and family counseling are an integral part of treatment for clients in committed relationships or have parents, children and/or other family relationships. Learning new ways to be in relationships is a vital part of recovery. Treatment programs recommend that individuals not in potentially healthy committed relationships take a break from intimate relationships for a period of time, until they learn how to be in a healthy, substance-free relationships.

Healthy, productive and satsifying relationships with friendds are also extremely important, too. Often, people in recovery don’t have the skills to have strong healthy relationships. However, if they’re motivated, it can happen. You have to believe in yourself and believe that you are worthy of living life together with other good people.


Relationships Can Make Addiction Even Worse

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2017). Relationships Can Make Addiction Even Worse. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 9 Feb 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Feb 2017
Published on All rights reserved.