Substance abuse is a leading cause of relationship problems. That’s not to say that all substance use is “bad” but there is definitely a line at which one must examine level of intake and decide whether or not it is problematic.

Identifying Problem Usage

If you or your partner is wondering whether one of you has a substance abuse problem, there are some simple questions you can consider which may help you decide.

  • Do I use more than I intend to at times?
  • Are other people concerned that I use too much?
  • Do I feel anxious or distressed if I cannot use as often or as much as I’d like?
  • Has my use impacted my relationships with others?
  • Have I had legal issues or employment problems as a result of my substance use?
  • Do I have withdrawals when I do not use?
  • Have I tried to quit and was unable to do so?

Exploring Impacts of Substance Abuse on Relationship

As you explore substance use patterns, consider the following factors to identify some of the possible effects on your relationship.

Resentments build:

When substance abuse impacts a relationship, it creates a level of resentment between the couple. The person using may feel as if their partner is trying to control them by asking them to reduce or quit usage.

The non-substance abuser may feel resentment regarding their partner’s inability to control their usage. Additional resentments may build because of the impact on relationships with family and friends or possibly health and economic issues.

Substances become the priority:

If substance abuse becomes more advanced, it can begin to take over the user’s priority list. When this happens, the other person may feel as if the alcohol or drug is more important than the relationship, which creates further distance.

Hiding, lies and deception:

Confrontation about substance abuse between couples can lead to hiding or lying about use. As the attempts at hiding or lying become more significant, the greater the gap grows between the two people. When dishonesty is discovered, as it inevitably will be, the trust that has been lost is even more difficult to regain.

Making Decisions About Substance Abuse

As a couple comes to terms with the substance abuse and the impact it has had on the relationship, some decisions will need to be made regarding next steps. The first and most basic question is whether the person with the substance abuse issue acknowledges it and secondly, whether they are ready and willing to make major life changes.

Support groups for substance use are generally free. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms and offered a great deal of support and compassion.

Couples Counseling for substance abuse

Individual counseling is another avenue to explore. Some people prefer the one on one setting to discuss concerns about substance use or may benefit from both individual and group support.

Rehabilitation facilities offer a more intensive type of support but is an option for those who have tried other routes of treatment and may have a more extensive history of substance use.

As couples face dealing with the impact of substance abuse, it is important for each person to remember to pay attention to their own emotional and physical health needs. Getting plenty of rest, healthy nutrition and exercise is important as couples face the stressful moments.

Support for families and loved ones is equally as important as substance abuse treatment.  It is imperative that both members of the couple, as well as anyone else impacted by a loved one’s substance abuse, seek support. The impact of substance abuse hits not only the person using, but the partner and other loved ones around them.


  • Dr. Teyhou Smyth

    Performance Coach, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Keynote Speaker, Licensed Therapist (#115137)

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