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How Your Substance Use Could Be Affecting Your Relationship With Your Partner


Your Substance Abuse Is Affecting Your Relationships

Substance abuse is something that can sneak into your life right under your nose. You may not even realize that you are using a substance like alcohol, over-the-counter medications or other illicit drugs as self-medication but you could be. In fact, many people suffer from substance abuse disorder or SUD and do not even realize it. However, people suffering with SUD can often times see the effects of their behavior within the family. A partner, spouse or the entire family may notice a need for interventions for the person suffering.

Does Someone In Our Family Have SUD?

The term “family” includes husband and wife partnerships, traditional and heterosexual couples, parents, single parents, blood relatives, adoptive families, foster children, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. No matter how small or large your family is, SUD can have a dramatic impact on the balance and overall health over the family system. Therefore, it is very important that as a member of your family the signs and symptoms of SUD are not dismissed or minimized. If you are unsure if one or more members suffering from SUD, here are the signs of SUD:

  • Taking an over-the-counter or prescription medication when you do not have a health problem
  • Using more of any type of substance to get the same effect due to prolonged use/abuse
  • Building up a tolerance to medications or taking more than the recommended dosage
  • Feeling shaky or uneasy when you stop using alcohol or drug
  • Inability to stop using a substance like alcohol or drugs
  • Spending large amounts of time thinking about a substance or drug or making excuses to use the drug
  • A loss of interest in activities other than using alcohol, drugs or medications
  • Borrowing or taking money to get more of your substance of choice
  • Changes in mood and physical appearance1

What About The Children?

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Family systems may also include children. Today, approximately eight million children live with one or more adult suffering from a form of SUD. That is more than one in 10 children! This figure also sadly includes mostly children under the age of 5. These children could be exposed to an adult who has an altered mood (either positively or negatively), distracted attention and preoccupation with using substances like alcohol or drugs or someone who is perpetually in a state of recovery. All of these qualities in a parent or caregiver can leave a child feeling lost and without a healthy support system or attachment. Children may then become more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Here Is Just One Example Of How Children Can Be Affected As The Result Of SUD In The Family:

“From age 9, she remembers her mother coming home, being intoxicated sometimes in a black-out, and Ashley helping her into bed. She remembers caring for her mother at night, cleaning up her vomit, wiping her face, and tending to her younger brother in the mornings by getting his breakfast and helping him get ready for school. She stated to her therapist that she remembers thinking, “If only I take really good care of her, maybe she’ll be able to take care of me someday.”2

This heart-breaking story about a case study reveals that even children can develop distorted roles within the family. Taking on a parental role as a child to help manage a household that includes one or more members of the family with SUD can take a devastating toll on the entire system. However, don’t lose hope! If you or someone you love within the family is suffering with SUD, numerous studies show that family interventions and therapy can help.3

How-To Reverse The Damage Of Substance

Substance use counseling or joining a support group is one of the best ways to start the process of reversing the damage of SUD. Studies can confirm that when one person starts to make a change in their behavior the effects can be seen throughout the family system. This means that if you decide to see a counselor individually to address substance use treatment or your therapy includes couples counseling, one-on-one talk sessions or group therapy as a family, professional substance use counseling can help.4

For more information or to schedule appointment online please visit our Substance Use Page or call at 919-647-4600.


  1. Signs of Drug Addiction. WebMD. 
  2. Laura Lander, Janie Howsare. The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Soc Work Public Health. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jul 27.
  3. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. `        q2Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2004.
  4. Laura Lander, Janie Howsare. The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Soc Work Public Health. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jul 27.

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