Couples Therapy and Substance Use

alcohol and our society

Frequent drinking or drug use is commonplace in our society.

If you’re completely sober in our culture, it may at times feel like you’re the odd one out. However, if your or your partner’s drinking or drug use is causing issues in your relationship, then it needs to be addressed.

Excessive drinking or drug use blocks intimacy and creates problems. Perhaps fights arise during or because of one’s intoxication, or one partner is left not knowing where the other is or what they’re doing when they’re drinking.

The important thing in terms of the relationship is that if it’s a problem for one of you, then it’s a problem for both of you; it’s a relationship problem.

It’s easy to get defensive: “I don’t have a problem. It’s my partner’s worry about my drinking that’s the real problem. I’m going to keep drinking how I want to drink.”

This sort of thinking might be fine if you were single. But if you were in couples counseling with Dr. Phil, he would probably say, “How’s that working out for you?” Ignoring an ongoing conflict doesn’t make it magically go away; to the contrary, it often exacerbates it.

Of course, it may well be there is no serious addiction, and both partners need only agree on parameters around substance use. In this case, we might devise an agreement or a contract around drinking – for instance, to limit yourself to one beer during the week and two on the weekend. If the contract is breached, then we’ll have a different conversation, perhaps about receiving treatment or attending recovery meetings.

Once the elephant in the room (drinking and drug use) has been or is being sufficiently addressed, then we can work on more formal Relationship Recovery.

Personal recovery in relationship

Addiction is a serious issue, and personal recovery from substance use can be the foundation for a meaningful and happy life. Engaging with formal treatment and twelve-step meetings offers a path to real, transformative growth.

However, it’s important not to have personal recovery be a priority over the relationship. As you read this you may be thinking, “But I can’t be in a relationship unless I’m sober, so that’s a priority for the relationship.” I agree, but you can have both — an active commitment to your recovery and an active commitment to your relationship. Being active and vulnerable in both will strengthen your personal recovery.

If you are new to recovery, your partner will most likely understand the importance of your program. I don’t recommend providing details exhaustively, but they’ll usually appreciate knowing how your personal recovery is going, and most importantly, they’ll see and feel the difference.

While in recovery and working towards relational health, it’s important to:

  • Work on resentments and past hurts.
  • Learn foundation relationship skills.
  • Understand the distinction between personal recovery and relational recovery.

request appointment

  • Check out Colorado Al-Anon if you need support around your loved one using.
  • Check out the CRAFT model for a more structured non-intervention approach.

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