If either you or your partner are emotionally dependent upon alcohol or drugs, then the foundation of your relationship is on emotional quicksand. Whatever progress you think you are making as a couple today will tend to unravel in the future. The reason is that addiction or even psychological dependence on a substance will alter a person’s capacity for emotional experience. Chemical dependence will reduce a person’s capacity for certain feeling states that are essential for maintaining a healthy relationship. Feelings like empathy, curiosity, spiritual appreciation, and deference will usually become numbed. Other more stimulating motivations like pride, dominance, and reactance will tend to be overemphasized instead. Even if the chemical dependence is sporadic and mild, a person’s mere relationship with the addictive substance can have a powerful emotional effect. It can act like a shame generator for the person who has the dependence. On an unconscious level, the person is subliminally aware of their dependence and attempts to keep the shameful feelings at bay. Often, these defenses are at the expense of the relationship whereby the afflicted person tends to be more avoidant of intimacy, more critical of others, or more hypersensitive themselves. Usually, a person with an early stage chemical dependence is not consciously aware of it. The common term for this is “denial.”
You may want to consider these questions about you or your partner:
Do your arguments tend to occur primarily after one of you has had several drinks? Have either of you had 2 DWI’s? Have either of you expressed a need to cut down your drinking for other than dietary considerations? Do either of you frequently drink 4 or 5 drinks per evening? Do others ever complain about your drinking? Do either of you smoke cannabis (pot) on the average of two or more times per week? Have either of you experienced morning tremors (jitteriness) the morning after? Have either of you had gaps in your memory involving the period in which you were drinking?
If you think that either of you may have a substance abuse problem, it is best to first get professional help for the chemical dependence. Until the chemical dependence is arrested, attempts to focus on communication and emotional intimacy will usually be futile. It should also be mentioned that trying to confront a chemically dependent person without adequate preparation can be destructive or even dangerous. It is recommended that you consult with a chemical dependence specialist before trying such an intervention on your partner.
INTERVENTION #1 (For the chemically dependent)
1) Set up an appointment with a counselor who has certification of proficiency for substance abuse counseling. Cary Counseling Center has several such professionals on staff (See Staff Profiles). Follow their guidance after they have met with you to assess your situation.
2) Telephone Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to find out the locations and schedule of meetings in your area. In the general Raleigh, North Carolina area, those numbers are (919) 783 6144 and (919) 755 5391 respectively. In other regions of the country, try using Google to get a number local to you.
3) If your are outside of the Raleigh area or if you desire good literature on recovery from chemical dependence, go to www.aa.org or www.na.org on the internet. There you can obtain telephone numbers of local AA and NA chapters where you can obtain meeting schedules.
It is important to note here that “cold-turkey” quitting of certain drugs or alcohol can be very dangerous in some circumstances. Be sure to consult with a professional about whether detoxification services will be needed.
INTERVENTION #2 (For the partner to the chemically dependent)
1) Set up an appointment for you to meet with a certified substance abuse counselor. If you and your partner have not been comfortably communicating about the substance abuse, then it is best for you go to the appointment alone. You and your counselor can strategize about whether or not an intervention is feasible. You will also receive advise about how to minimize your own emotional damage from being in the relationship. If you and your partner can comfortably communicate about the substance abuse, then go to the appointment together.
2) Call Alanon and go to a meeting. In Raleigh, North Carolina the telephone number is (919) 713 1516. Attendance in this program will help you to keep a better emotional balance by practicing healthy detachment from your partner’s illness. It can even have a subtle but powerful effect on other aspects of the relationship. However, the simplest and most obvious benefit is that it reduces your own level of shame. If you live outside the Raleigh area, you can go to www.al-anon-alateen.org on the internet. There you can get local chapter information as well as good literature references.