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addiction and love

Why an Addict Can’t Love You

To begin, let us be clear that what follows is not a damning claim that an addicted person can never love or have healthy relationships. The claims we shall present here are simply a reminder that addiction and healthy, reciprocal relationships cannot co-exist.

If you love an addicted person, there is hope, and that hope lies in recovery. What we hope to impart here is a strong admonition for you to support your loved one through the recovery process. Further, we hope to motivate persons like yourself to do the most loving thing you can do for your addiction-suffering loved one: encourage and even insist that she or he enter the recovery process in earnest.

If successful, your mission will be one of support. This is necessary for any meaningful hope of recovery because love is one of the few surest motivations that can inspire addiction sufferers to seek lasting recovery.

On the flip side of the coin, if you are a person suffering from addiction, straining to love your partner through the fog of compulsive substance abuse- we urge you to try to understand that your condition makes you unable to love your partner truly or fully.

That said, please read on with an open heart.

Understanding Addiction

In recent decades, a revolution in mental health brought the profession to a clear understanding that addiction is a disease of choice. This is key, and it means that the ability to choose has become impaired. In other words, an addicted person can be good, smart, well-meaning, and even have love to give.

However, because the addicted person has an impaired ability to choose to act in constructive, positive, or loving ways- addiction must be overcome before healthy relationships can begin or resume.

This revolution in expert-level thinking about addiction has made treatment kinder and more effective. It is also an important key for those struggling to maintain relationships through addiction. It gives us the possibility of the knowledge that the addiction suffering person may have it in them to love, but that their condition disables their capacity to do so in a meaningful way.

That being the case, persons who love an addiction-suffering person can forgive, and the addiction suffer can forgive themselves. We think you’ll find this is an important first step to recovery.

Addiction and Emotional Availability

Having come this far, it shouldn’t take a leap of the imagination to see that emotional availability is something of which the addicted person has little or none to give. This does not mean she or he is dead inside or that they do not or can not love in return. It means addiction is in the way.

The addicted person cannot resist the urge to treat the drug of abuse as their priority. It comes before responsibilities, in so far that meeting responsibilities can support substance abuse. It comes before self-care and it comes before relationships.

We need to understand that the mechanism of addiction is such that natural healthy behaviors that nature has optimized us to seek are chemically and neurologically replaced with the dopamine response that is triggered by the drug of abuse. This is why the addicted person is not to be considered evil or morally inadequate. Rather, the addicted person is impaired.

The addiction must be treated successfully before the substance abuse sufferer can begin to become emotionally available again.

Prioritization of the Substance

The neurochemical mechanism of the brain that has developed to motivate us to engage in healthy, productive activities is known simply as the reward pathway. When it is developed properly and cared for throughout our lives, it delivers enjoyable emotions when we act in ways that are good for us and for others. The primary dopaminergic substance with which it functions is known as dopamine.

This word is probably quite familiar to you. It is also the origin of the slang term, “dope.”

With addiction, harmful actions and substances of abuse trigger a release of dopamine and other natural chemicals in the brain which make us feel enthusiastic, euphoric, and engaged. Because of the nature of the reward pathway, it must be extremely sensitive and pliable so that we can think, reason, and find novel ways to get our needs met. But this responsiveness and flexibility is the chink in our neurological armor, creating the possibility for harmful addictions to take hold.

Here, once again, we see that addiction is truly a medical impairment. Knowing this, we can understand clearly how the addicted person is simply unable to engage fully in loving relationships.

By understanding this we can learn to forgive loved ones who are suffering from addiction. Perhaps more importantly, those struggling with addiction can forgive themselves and commit to recovery with an open heart.

Impact on Relationship Dynamics

Healthy relationships depend on the ability of both partners to respond readily to each other’s needs, emotional states, and so on. Naturally, the addicted person cannot do this. He or she is engaged, first and foremost in, maintaining the addiction. He or she may say otherwise, and they may even be honest when that say as much. But because the ability to make healthy choices is impaired, their expressed motivation to behave as if they are committed to the relationship will inevitably fail them.

The Barrier of Denial and Deception

Addiction and deception almost invariably go hand in hand. The addiction sufferer can never say to her or his partner, “I prefer the drug to you,” “I will spend your money on alcohol,” or “I intend to use my time and energy to consume drugs. ” Thinking this way, we can see that the idea of an addicted person being honest is absurd. They simply cannot do it.

Strain on Communication and Intimacy

Needless to say, dishonesty destroys healthy relationships. The necessity of deception for the addicted person, therefore, destroys their ability to be honest. As a result, trust will erode, and without trust, no healthy relationship can survive.

Codependency and Unhealthy Relationship Patterns

All too often, persons who love an addicted person will intentionally or unintentionally work to help support the substance abuse habit. The codependent person learns on some level that their loved one only acts in a loving way when they do things that support the habit.

This happens in romantic relationships and familial relationships most often. But these are not the exclusive territory of codependency.

The codependent person can often be seen as suffering from an addiction complex themselves. Such a person is addicted to the positive attention of the other and supports the addiction, knowingly or otherwise, because her or his own ability to choose has become impaired.

Codependency can be an especially pernicious and destructive downward spiral.

Recovery and the Potential for Change

The good news is that there is hope for anyone with an addiction problem if he or she is willing to seek help and follow through with the recovery process. We hope you will take courage in the knowledge that the support of family and loved ones is key to achieving lasting recovery. If your addiction-suffering loved one and you work together in good faith with a serious commitment to achieving freedom from addiction, there are many programs available that are perfectly suited to help.

Living with a partner suffering from addiction may be the greatest challenge you will ever face. As you work to support your recovering partner, we urge you to do your best to know that they too are going through one of life’s greatest challenges. If you and your partner are ready to take the next step toward freedom from substance abuse and restore your relationship, Recreate Behavioral Health is ready to help.

Our team of professional recovery experts has helped hundreds of couples facing the same challenges that you face. With expert attention, the support of peers, and you, your addiction-recovering partner has every chance of becoming the person you fell in love with once again.


  • Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts:
  • What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Unavailable?:
  • Addiction and Mental Health:
  • Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationships:
  • Are Codependent Relationships Unhealthy?:
  • Loving Someone with an Addiction: What You Can Do to Help: