Living with an Addict or Alcoholic Partner

Living with an Addict or Alcoholic Partner

Our loved ones are the most important people in our lives; the people we want to share things with, the people who we support and who we seek support from. However, being in a relationship with a partner that has an addiction to alcohol or drugs can lead to an unhealthy relationship with emotional stress, negativity, chaos, confusion and even abuse.

Substance abuse can eventually destroy a couple by undermining trust, which weakens the bond between partners. If children are part of the relationship, conflicts over parental responsibilities, as well as neglect, can occur as the result of one partner’s drinking or drug use.


Drug and alcohol abuse affects millions of adults over the age18 in the United States. The results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health provide the following data: 


  • In 2015, an estimated 27.1 million Americans, age 12 or older, were currently using illicit drug.
  • There were 138.3 million Americans aged 12 or older, in 2015, who reported current use of alcohol. Out of this group, 66.7 million people reported binge drinking in the past month..
  • About 1.6 million adults ages 18-25 and 4.3 million adults age 26 and older, in 2015, reported the use of psychotherapeutic drugs, which included prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, and stimulants for non-medical reasons.

Many of the adults in the above survey were in some type of cohabiting relationship, and their partners experienced the painful repercussions of alcohol or drug abuse. Whether a relationship involves marriage, a domestic partnership, or a more informal living arrangement, substance abuse affects everyone in the home, not just the individual who is addicted. Addiction truly is a ‘family disease’.

How Substance Abuse Affects Relationships

Relationships involving alcoholism or addiction often become caught in a cycle where one partner complains for the other’s behaviour. The complaint leads to conflict and the addict or alcoholic will drink or use more. This in turn leads to further complaints from the other party and so the cycle begins.


Alcoholism and drug addiction also lead to other troubles which affect a household, including:

  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal conflicts (child custody, drink driving, drugs offences)
  • Abuse (emotional, verbal, and even physical or sexual) 
  • Impaired judgment which leads to feelings of anger and resentment, and create an atmosphere of conflict.

Any experiences of abuse or potential signs of abuse while under the influence must be taken very seriously in recovery. Individuals who have verbally abused or physically attacked their partners may require anger management courses and may face legal consequences. Couples counselling is essential if both partners want the relationship to continue.

Anyone who feels that they are in danger because of an abusive partner should seek help immediately from legal authorities, a healthcare provider, or national domestic violence helpline.

Supporting a Partner 

What is the most effective way to support an alcoholic or addicted partner? Offering support to an addicted partner can take a tremendous toll on your physical energy, emotional health and it can quickly become overwhelming.


It is very important to recognize the difference between support and enabling behaviour. Enabling occurs when one partner, usually without intending to do so, makes it possible for the other to continue drinking or using without having to face the consequences.

Examples of enabling behaviour might include:

  • Allowing a loved one to neglect their responsibilities.
  • Letting a loved one abuse you or someone else.
  • Making excuses for a loved one.
  • Neglecting your own needs to help someone else.


Supporting Vs. Enabling and Co-Dependency 

If you find yourself lying, making excuses, or creating explanations for a partner that allows them to remain in denial, you are probably enabling rather than supporting.

Co-dependency, or enabling behaviour, is when a loved one is dependent on another in a partnership. In some cases, the co-dependent loses their sense of self in their attempts to “save” the partner from addiction; however, when that partner gets close to recovery, the co-dependent may undermine the process in order to retain feelings of power, self-esteem or feelings of being needed.


Examine Your Behaviour

If you are not sure if you are supporting or enabling your partner, ask yourself the following questions:


  • Am I setting healthy boundaries for myself?
  • Am I allowing the people in my life to take responsibility for themselves and their actions?
  • Am I seeking help from medical professionals outside the home?
  • Am I taking time for my own stress management?
  • Am I still making time for doing things that I enjoy without my partner including self-care?
  • Am I trying to control situations to prevent my partner being able to drink or use?


Recovery Options

The first step towards recovery is for your partner to admit to having an addiction or alcohol problem and wanting to recover. Residential treatment programs are statistically proven to have the highest success rates when it comes to both long-term sobriety and lasting relationships.


At the Lighthouse Bali our Primary Inpatient Program lasts for 28 days, although longer programs are often recommended. The longer your partner stays in treatment, the more he or she will learn about their addiction, themselves and what tools are needed for a successful recovery.


It is important during the early stages of treatment that your partner is able to fully focus on themselves and their immediate circumstances.  As your partner nears the end of their treatment, we offer Behavioural Couples Therapy (BCT) to those who are in relationships. BCT will help you and your partner address past issues you may have struggled with, as well as tools and support for moving forward in a life of recovery. During couples therapy, you will work on the following:


  • Improving problem solving skills
  • Improving communication skills
  • Developing listening skills
  • Increasing caring behaviours
  • Developing a joint program for ongoing recovery
  • Creating a recovery contract
  • Self-help options for both partners

Creating an Environment that Sustains Recovery

When your partner or spouse comes home from treatment, it is probably unrealistic to expect that they will find a completely “addict or alcoholic-proof” environment. Even if all traces of alcohol, illicit drugs, or potentially addictive prescription medications are removed from the house, images of alcohol or drug use in magazines, TV shows, or movies can trigger cravings.

Friends may inadvertently appear at the house with beer or wine, unaware that someone in the home has just completed substance abuse treatment. Most significantly, you will need to decide if you are also ready to give up alcohol or drugs. You will need to be brutally honest with yourself and with your partner about your readiness to join them in sobriety. If you are not ready to give up substances, it does not mean that your relationship can’t work but there will be challenges to address and you will need to create boundaries together regarding your drinking or drug.

Steps to get Started

When your partner is ready to get treatment for their addiction or alcoholism, your next step will be to look for a treatment program. Take a look at our Primary Inpatient Program here. The Lighthouse Bali offers one-on-one treatment in the comfort of your own recovery villa. This means that your partner will have the maximum time to focus on their own recovery. Treatment in Bali means that your partner will step away from the existing surroundings and circumstances which may be contributing to his or her problems. Your partner will embark on the road to recovery, free from any current baggage. When you join your partner for counselling, you will both establish a clear path for moving forward when primary treatment is finished. 

If your partner is unable to travel at this time due to COVID restrictions, it may be possible to start treatment from home immediately through a tailormade online program.  More information about these programs can be found here:  online options here.

For more information about addiction and alcoholism treatment programs and couples therapy, contact us: 

Together we can help you to look forward to a brighter future. 

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