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personal relationships can be hurting or harming your recovery.
February 11, 2018

Proof that Healthy Relationships are Critical to Recovery from Drugs or Alcohol

personal relationships can be hurting or harming your recovery.The growing consensus in the field of substance abuse treatment is that addiction is a disease of alienation, and that love and connection are central to successful recovery. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it is therefore worth nothing that this core principle of recovery—that healthy relationships are critical to finding freedom from drugs or alcohol—is especially applicable to romantic relationships.

In fact, the role of a romantic relationship in your recovery may be far more influential than you think. On that note, whether you’re newly dating, in an evolving relationship, or have been married or cohabitating for years, what follows is proof that healthy relationships can make or break a resolution to stay sober … which in turn makes a strong case for avoiding toxic relationships in recovery.

The Pivotal Role of Romantic Relationships in Recovery

To what degree can a romantic relationship affect your recovery? To a great degree, studies suggest—either for the better or for the worse. On the one hand, an intimate friend, spouse or partner can be all the motivation you need to stay clean, according to research cited in a 2002 article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. There one of the biggest factors associated with successful remission from addiction was having something or someone to lose, such as a good friendship or significant other—if substance abuse resumes. Just the sheer prospect of losing a spouse or partner in the aftermath of an addiction relapse can be incentive enough to stick with recovery and avoid relapse.

This finding is reinforced by the results of a 2016 survey of people being treated for a mental illness. (Mental illness often co-occurs with substance abuse: roughly 40 percent of people with a drug or alcohol problem reportedly have a co-occurring disorder or “dual diagnosis” such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.) A vast majority of the respondents believed “a supportive relationship that was emotionally or sexually intimate” is critical to recovery.

Codependency and Addiction Problems in Marriage – How an Unhealthy Relationship Can Hurt Your Recovery

On the other hand, an unhealthy or codependent romantic relationship can cause problems for recovery, by directly triggering a relapse or creating conditions that make a recovery lifestyle hard to initiate or sustain. (This is why it’s commonly advised in recovery circles that anyone in their first year of sobriety should avoid romantic attachments and steer clear of dating.)

Take, for example, what research has revealed about the link between codependency (also defined as “enmeshment”) and addiction problems in married or cohabitating people with substance abuse problems. A 2013 study of women in recovery found that many of them used substances to cope with the pain associated with abuse at the hands of a spouse or partner—and that when they used drugs or alcohol, they were subjected to more violence by their partners. In this case, the substance abuse was an attempt to cope with the stress of an abusive relationship (which is classic codependency and the blurring of physical and/or emotional boundaries in their more extreme form).

That finding has at least two key implications that help to illustrate just how critical healthy relationships are to recovery from drugs or alcohol:

  • That there is a clear link between codependency (allowing these boundary violations, by staying in an unsafe relationship) and an addictive pattern of drug and alcohol abuse (that in turn made these women susceptible to more abuse at the hands of their partner, reinforcing the same cycle of addiction).
  • And that, for anyone in these same circumstances, leaving an abusive and codependent romantic relationship may be necessary in order to achieve a successful recovery.

The Impact of a Spouse or Significant Other on Your Recovery

Marital drinking habits and their connection to relationship health is another area where it is quickly evident that a spouse or significant other and the quality of your relationship can greatly impact your recovery:

  • In 2010 findings by researchers at the University of Buffalo, couples who regularly consumed four or more drinks together reported lower levels of intimacy and more relationship problems.
  • Revealingly, too, researchers concluded in a 2016 study in the Journal of Gerontology that marriages in which both partners had the same drinking practices were happier. What mattered more to marital happiness, at least in the golden years, was not the practice itself—whether abstinence or drinking—but the fact that both partners were doing it together. What’s one takeaway of this finding? That if a spouse or significant other continues to enjoy their drinking while you’re in recovery and abstaining from alcohol, you will be more prone to marital dissatisfaction and distress, which research elsewhere has shown directly relates to your recovery. (Higher marital distress was one of two key factors—the other being spousal criticism—that were associated with poorer treatment outcomes, in a 1992 study of recovering alcoholics.)

Things to Remember When in a Romantic Relationship with an Addict in Recovery

For those who face addiction problems in their marriage, then, it is important to keep in mind that substance abuse can be a good barometer of marital satisfaction and the health of your relationship. The same considerations are worth noting, moreover, in any romantic relationship with an addict in recovery. Issues like codependency and problems with communication—even reportedly how feelings of rejection are dealt with—can trigger an addiction relapse if they go untreated. What changes in a relationship after addiction recovery—and what may have to change—can be substantial for those who wonder whether their marriage can survive alcohol recovery

The good news is that there are evidence-based interventions out there, such as addiction-focused couples therapy, that can help couples constructively work through problems like addiction and improve the health of their relationship. And the positive benefits to seeking treatment together can be nothing short of dramatic. Consider, for example, that married or cohabiting people with a drug addiction achieved “significant reductions” in substance abuse when they took part in behavioral couple’s therapy, according to 2004 findings in the journal, Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.

These outcomes and other encouraging treatment data are what comprise the science behind the importance of love and connection that grounds Beach House Center for Recovery’s approach to treating addiction. If there were ever any proof that healthy relationships are critical to recovery from addiction, this is it.

Explore signs that a relationship is toxic to your recovery. Learn how the Beach House family program can boost your recovery from substance abuse, by strengthening your relationship. And, discover how addiction treatment can improve your quality of life, starting with greater love and connection in your relationships.

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