There’s no easy way to date, love or leave an addicted spouse. Falling for someone might seem fantastic, but when the truth of drug abuse sets in it can become a nightmare. You find yourself wondering, are relationships supposed to suck this bad? Why is this person like this? Will they ever change? You’ll want to believe they will come to their senses and seek a better life– to change their ways because they love you. Sometimes it’s hopeful to continually want the best for someone, even when they don’t care to want it for themselves. But eventually the harsh reality of alcohol and drug addiction we must realize is this: there’s no way to fix someone. Worrying 24/7 about the drug habit is not sustainable for any relationship. There’s no way to get someone else sober. In the end, there’s nothing you can do. This is where you learn how to leave a drug addict.
So, You’re Dating a Drug Addict.
I can tell you how the process feels.
You spend hours on the internet figuring out what is the disease of addiction and its signs look like. In your free time, you find yourself obsessing about your addicted spouse’s drug dependency. The hiding spots. How they’re sweating differently today. What their eyes can prove to you. What you’d do if you come home to find them overdosed. Fear. Regret. Shame. What you want to say. What they might do. Who they might be seeing.
When they go out, you pace around with a knot in your stomach, analyzing every possible situation. Maybe you know that twinge of guilt too well– cleaning up after them, feeling a lie come out of their mouth but trying not to feel defeated by it, constantly questioning your own gut reaction to subtle damaging behaviors.
Recognizing the Patterns.
Like many people, these have been familiar modes of survival for me.
Hearing someone say, “I want to stop, I just don’t see any point.” Or hearing a promise: “I won’t do it again,” but knowing deep down he’s already planning on meeting his friend’s new dealer.
Not wanting to give up on your romantic partner, you sigh and pretend to believe him while simultaneously preparing to be let down again.
Then there’s the blatant lying, cheating, manipulating, and twisting of realities that creep in until it becomes normal.
What you thought was a fun, worthwhile, romantic adventure turns into chaos that leaves pieces of you scattered so far that you can’t scavenge enough to remember who you are anymore.
Logic is no longer a secure stance you can rely on. Instead, you feel like you’re swimming through each day, trying to ride the waves between pretending, doubting, fighting, and feeling terrified to leave.
Living a Lie.
The worst part about loving an addicted person is lying to your friends and family. Some of them actually care, but it’s too shameful to admit what’s really going on. How can I tell my best friend how exhausted I am from the dysfunctional anxiety and dread? What would my parents think if they knew how the guy I’m with actually talks down to me? Who would ever want to take interest in me again if I did leave so damaged into single life? And ultimately, what will happen to my partner if I leave? What if they kill themselves? Or what if they finally get clean only to find someone else to be happy with? Or will they lose everything and become homeless?
Knowing When to Leave.
The simple answer to knowing when to leave a drug addict? You’ll know when you know.
The key is to not ignore that knowing. Otherwise, it’s shocking how fast time flies and things can grow worse.
Maybe you’ve known for a long time, but you can’t seem to bring yourself to leave. This happens to a lot of people in relationships with addicts. But don’t let that keep you in an unhealthy situation forever.
It’s so common to ignore the red flags at the beginning of a relationship because we’re excited. We want something meaningful to work out. Eventually, the red flags become red tape around what we feel is a crime scene, and we feel trapped. Daily routines now include scoping for answers, interrogation of our partner’s substance use, and blaming each other for the addiction.
It’s almost like we become addicted to being responsible for someone else’s drug addiction. We find another bottle or bag and want to flush the drugs– but we hesitate, because what the hell will they do to us when they find out? Small traumatizing moments add up until we freeze every time we hear them come home. Or we walk around numb because every ounce of energy goes toward making sure the other person is simply breathing the next day.
They’re Not Themselves Anymore
Probably the most difficult thing to admit when you’re stuck in a relationship with an addict is that you’re dating someone who isn’t really themselves half the time. *Drugs affect thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The person you fell in love with is somewhere behind the person who needs drugs or alcohol to function. The fun, happy times you shared are now masked by betrayal, rage, and their daily stupor. This isn’t the person you agreed to experience life with.
*Addiction does not mean a person is a terrible human. Everyone, even those caught in the worst addictions, has feelings, life experiences, and significance. I’m not saying addicts are evil or cruel people who you should always stay away from. But the truth is, living with someone who’s not willing to receive help for an addictive behavior is no way to continue a healthy relationship. It can be damaging to both people involved.
Enabling Keeps the Addiction Strong
Enabling isn’t truly loving. Fear prompts enabling— paying the full rent because they blew their half on drugs, bailing them out of jail, lying to their boss for them, taking the blame for something that’s entirely their fault after they got high.
You think you’re protecting them from danger, but really you’re keeping them from ever learning the dramatic consequences addiction actually has. If you’re always there to act as the savior in times of disaster, you will be expected to continually bear that burden. Which is a burden impossible for anyone to effectively carry.
Want to know how to leave a drug addict? Realize you’re not really capable of saving them, even if you stay.
Just as you cannot save anybody, there’s nobody coming to save you.
I’ll be blunt with you because this is what I wish someone had told me years ago when I was caught in a lover’s addictive behavior.
You think you’re protecting them from danger, but really you’re keeping them from ever learning the dramatic consequences substance use disorder actually has. If you’re always there to act as the savior in times of disaster, you will be expected to continually bear that burden. Which is a burden impossible for anyone to effectively carry.
If you’re feeling stuck in a toxic relationship of trying to help an addict, you have to realize this: Nobody is going to come to your rescue if you remain silent. Nothing can change or get better if you remain stuck in the patterns. You’ll never learn how to leave a drug addict partner unless you seek help for yourself first.
I used to think it was only my ex who needed help. But really, I was desperate for help to get out of there. So I finally took responsibility and decided to learn how to save myself out of that situation.
How to Leave a Drug Addict Partner
1. The first step is admitting there’s a problem.
They don’t say this in AA or AlAnon for nothing. It applies to those of us who witness addictive behavior in a loved one, too. Any of the examples in this article are bright obvious signs of needing to leave. The specific details will be unique to each relationship, but there are countless stories many of us can relate to.
2. Find yourself a support system.
It’s difficult to get out of an unhealthy relationship without some type of support. Whether it be a support group, a therapist, a trustworthy loved one, or even legal authorities if immediate danger is at hand, you’re going to need to let someone know your situation. That way, it’s not trapped internally for you to deal with alone.
This was truly the turning point for me, personally. I was lucky enough to have good health insurance at the time and found an amazing therapist who understood my situation. She helped me through some of the toughest parts of that relationship. And she encouraged me to start putting myself as a priority to stay sane.
3. Start taking care of yourself again.
A lot of us neglect ourselves little by little in trying to navigate our lives around an addicted partner. For me, this looked like ignoring my friends, forgetting to eat, numbing myself with weed, and isolating myself from everyone except my partner at the time. When I decided I needed to leave that relationship, I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight. But I still took it upon myself to get back into a routine that could offer some stability in the process. I started taking dance classes again. Prepared my meals for the week. Replaced weed-smoking with taking walks outside. It was crucial at this time to get out of my head and remember what I wanted, what brought me joy, and the fact that life exists outside of that relationship.
4. Create boundaries.
As you start to care for yourself and receive support, it’s time to set firmer boundaries in the relationship. This is important because it can be easy to fall into the breakup and makeup loop: If you lack firm boundaries or support, your emotional attempts at “breaking up” with your partner can result in quickly making up with excuses, apologies, and feeling remorse.
This is one reason why so many people stay in relationships with addicts. There’s no solid sense of where to draw the line. If there are boundaries, they can sometimes be stepped on and disrespected, leaving us feeling helpless or resentful without any clue in how to uphold them for ourselves.
If you’ve been practicing the steps above, there’s a good chance your addicted spouse may have noticed. Sometimes this can cause even more drama because the common theme throughout the relationship so far has been “I take care of you (the addict), even if it harms me.” When the theme gets reversed– “I take care of myself, even if you (addict) can’t take care of yourself as a result”– your role as a source of your partner’s supply starts shrinking.
This can be scary. Sometimes addicts will act out bad behavior or try to manipulate in response. And sometimes, they can sense you’re preparing to leave. But you have to stay strong and commit to getting out of the relationship. It will be better for both of you in the long run.
Violence can be a real concern, but it’s still possible to leave.
I’m not unaware that leaving any traumatic or unhealthy relationships can pose the risk of being physically dangerous. Especially if there’s been recurring emotional and physical abuse in the partnership, this is where support or even legal action is vital to getting the hell out of a scary situation.
For what it’s worth, it’s been almost 4 years since I left my drug-addicted spouse, and I can honestly say it was the hardest, scariest, but BEST decision I ever made. Yes, it felt threatening to my well-being for a little while. It was chaotic. My world felt like it was going to crap. I had to deal with aftershocks in the form of stalking, violent threats, and getting the law enforcement agencies involved.
But because I had the support of a smart therapist, understanding loved ones, established a clear sense of why I knew I needed to leave, and followed through with that decision, I set myself on a path to my own recovery from feeling trapped in someone else’s substance abuse. I got my life back. And if I can learn how to leave a drug addict and make it out alright, so can you.
If you need help knowing what to do after a drug or alcohol addiction, call us for help at 949-617-1211 and talk to our addiction specialist. We can help find the right treatment program for you or your loved one to start the addiction recovery journey.