March 17, 2014

Being in an unhealthy or abusive relationship is already difficult enough as is. Alcohol and drug abuse only make matters worse. When a partner is drunk or high, the risks of abuse on all levels - physical, verbal, emotional, digital - are all amplified, leading to a deeply troubling situation in which that partner can more easily take advantage. Likewise, when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are more vulnerable to sexual assault or unprotected sex that leads to an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

Yet alcoholism and substance abuse are a reality among young people. On average, they have about five drinks on a single occasion, which leads to serious injuries, impaired judgments and increased risk for physical and sexual assault. And in a relationship, these factors only hurt the ones they claim to love.

Blaming the Booze

“It wasn’t me, it was the beer talking!”

“I would never do that if I was sober.”

“I’m not really that person. That’s who I am when I’m high.”

Those are common refrains for an abusive partner - blaming drugs or alcohol and not accepting responsibility for their behavior or actions. Because they affect a person’s judgment and the way they act, it can be all too easy to accept what they say and move on without addressing the real underlying issue of abuse. However, those excuses are not valid, and the drug of choice is not the reason for violent or unhealthy behavior.

The Cycle of (Drug) Abuse

When one partner suffers from a drinking or drug problem, a particularly vicious cycle can occur. The distances created by their habit leads to fighting, and then to take the stress off, more drinking or drugs happen. The substance abuse causes conflict, which leads to more substance abuse to reduce tension, leading to an escalation of conflict and so on.

Do you know someone who “covers” for their partner being late or missing deadlines? Are they upset because their partner spends all their money and they’re not sure why? Do they claim their partner drinks or gets high to stave off stress? Is drinking or smoking one of the defining hallmarks of their relationship?

Treatment is available to help end drug addiction, including counseling, self-help meetings and support groups. If you see the signs of alcohol or drug abuse in a relationship or the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, call or chat with a trained peer advocate about what you can do to help.