What to Do When Your Partner Is an Addict

Drug addiction affects every aspect of your relationship. Influenced by addiction, your partner becomes someone you hardly recognize. They may lie to you, steal money and possessions, and display abusive behaviors. You might think that this isn’t the person you love, but don’t fool yourself: As long as your partner is in active addiction, this is your reality.


If the toxicity of addiction has entered your relationship but there’s no abuse present — that includes physical, verbal, or emotional abuse — you may choose to stay in the relationship and help your partner. However, doing so requires setting firm boundaries.

Setting boundaries with an addicted significant other is a lot like creating rules and consequences for children. But rather than focusing on controlling the addict’s behavior, the intent is protecting you and your children. Here are what some healthy boundaries look like:

No substances or substance-using friends in the home. These aren’t safe things or people for you or children to be around.
No interacting with the children while intoxicated. Children need a predictable safe environment, but the erratic behavior of an intoxicated parent upsets that and leads to lasting trauma.
No bailing your loved one out of trouble. Protecting an addict from the consequences of their actions is enabling. Refuse to lie for your loved one or bail them out if they land in legal trouble.
No giving money. An addict may have many reasons why they need money, but any money you give is funding their addiction, whether directly or indirectly.

Boundaries only work when paired with consequences. Will you call the police if drugs are brought into your home, leave with your kids if your partner comes home intoxicated, or move out if you’re stolen from? Know what the consequences are for crossing your boundaries and be prepared to enforce them.


If a relationship has turned abusive, separation is the only answer. As Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence explains, abuse almost always escalates, as does addiction. While it may be limited to hurling insults now, it could become violent with time. Protecting yourself is more important than helping your loved one. Start looking for a new place to live and file for legal separation if you’re married.

Children may not understand the reason for the separation. It’s important to talk to children about their parent’s addiction in an age-appropriate way so they don’t blame themselves. Motherly offers advice for how to discuss addiction with children. After explaining the situation, encourage children to identify and discuss their emotions. Bringing children into the conversation casts away the fear and shame of addiction and helps children understand that they’re not at fault for their parent’s sickness.

Whether you move out or stay at home, the goal is to get your partner into treatment. However, no one can make an addict accept treatment except for the addict themselves. When an addicted spouse does ask for help, loved ones can assist by coordinating treatment programs and providing nonjudgmental support throughout the recovery process. Be prepared for setbacks. Your partner may relapse or continue to exhibit toxic behaviors. Continue to enforce boundaries and don’t take it personally.


Once your partner is firmly in recovery, it’s time to rebuild your financial life. Depending on if and when you separated, both of your finances may have taken a hit. While negotiating with creditors and paying off debts will feel overwhelming, the earlier you make a finance plan and start repairing your finances, the better off you’ll be.

Consider whether you want to end your legal separation, remain separated, or file for divorce. Even if your partner recovers from addiction, your relationship may not. The experiences of addiction and recovery can change a person, and not everyone is able to forgive harm done during active addiction. Make the choice that’s best for your family.

Addiction hurts. Not only does it harm the person experiencing the addiction, but it causes pain and trauma to loved ones as well. As you navigate this difficult time, remember that the only behavior you can control is your own. While the decision to separate from an addicted partner isn’t easy, sometimes it’s the only way to protect yourself from further pain.

Image via Unsplash

About the Author

Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction.

Website: http://recoverypride.org/

If you have any concerns about addiction, visit a doctor/healthcare professional.