Drug addiction can impact all areas of a person’s life – professional, personal, financial, etc. The damage to personal relationships can be devastating. It is especially difficult for spouses and significant others to regain intimacy after going through addiction, but it is important to find ways to reconnect. Affection may be a key factor in helping someone struggling with addiction to stay sober and avoid a relapse.

Drug Addiction Causes Difficulty with Intimacy

Drug addiction often causes personal relationships to become strained, even before any health issues develop. The person with the substance dependence tends to suffer from personality changes. He or she may become cruel or even more lighthearted than usual. Either way, it is difficult to maintain a strong and healthy relationship when one person’s behavior is different than usual.

People need intimacy, an accompanying factor of many personal relationships, to live happy, fulfilling lives. Some of the components of an intimate relationship include:

  • Trust in each other
  • Affection and care
  • A thorough understanding of the other person
  • Companionship and unity
  • Assumption the relationship is going to last for a long time
  • Shared beliefs and opinions
  • Fair treatment of each other

A relationship does not necessarily need all these components to be considered intimate, but most intimate relationships involve these elements in some way.

Drugs take over the lives of people struggling with addiction, which makes it difficult for them to maintain their intimate relationships. They have far less time and energy to care about other people, because they are usually thinking about how to obtain or consume drugs as soon as possible. The addiction makes drugs the center of their world.

Drug Addiction Can Take a Toll on Physical Affection

accepting vulnerability during recovery

Part of physical affection is having an intimate relationship with the other person. Intimacy takes on different forms of expression. While physical affection, such as public displays of affection, are more obvious, it’s emotional intimacy that may be harder to come by and get comfortable with as the giver or receiver. This is because addictive behaviors include self-absorption and lack of consideration for a loved one, causing hurt, distrust, shame and anger – all detrimental to emotional intimacy. Parent/child and sibling relationships also suffer from addiction as even the basic signs of affection, such as hugging, are difficult making reconnecting through touch seem insurmountable.

During active addiction, many people may find themselves more promiscuous, often leading them to have sex with strangers. These one-night stands are usually void of expectations, affection or intimacy. Over time, the promiscuity will most likely not last. Many drugs reduce a person’s sex drive and compromise sexual function over time. Both men and women may lose interest in having sex or in any physical affection.

Risks of Lack of Affection or Intimacy After Addiction

It is important for a person in recovery to re-establish healthy relationships. The support of loved ones is crucial and can affect a successful recovery. It is also important for a person in recovery to accept vulnerability, which is more difficult when they do not have someone on whom to lean. Some of the risks in lack of affection or intimacy after addiction include:

  • Significantly higher chance of relapse
  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to find joy in life

Without drugs, it will be more difficult for a person in recovery to find pleasure or happiness in daily life. Healthy relationships are important to helping a person in recovery stay strong and avoid severe depression. In fact, studies have shown that people with strong, supportive friendships live longer.

Tips for Affection After Addiction

If you recently entered recovery or you are in a relationship with someone who has recently graduated from a drug rehab and is entering recovery, it is important put focus on regaining levels of affection and intimacy that you had prior to the addiction. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you are trying to maintain or rebuild a relationship after you or your spouse had a drug addiction:

  1. Remember that rebuilding a relationship takes time. Many people make the mistake of assuming things will go back to normal immediately after recovery. Unfortunately, it may take months or years to regain the affection and closeness you had in the past. It is important to be patient and understand the process may take time and work.
  2. Avoid starting a new relationship until at least one year after recovery. Beginning a relationship too soon may lead to co-dependence transference, replacing drugs with sex, which may impede a complete recovery. Dating* can also come with discomfort or rejection, which is always difficult to deal with, but even more so if you recently overcame addiction.

*Special note: If you are in a 12-step program and attending regular meetings, be careful of the 13th step. This is when a person in recovery meets another person in recovery and engages in sex before the first year of recovery is completed. Putting both people at heightened risk for relapse.

  1. Abandon coping strategies. Often, partners of people struggling with addiction develop coping strategies to deal with the erratic behavior of their spouse or significant other. To regain affection, you may need to abandon your coping strategies and face the situation head-on, gently but constructively.
  2. Consider counseling. Seeing a counselor or therapist (either couples or individual) may be a good way to help you and your partner feel comfortable about being affectionate again and forge healthy practices that make intimacy more enjoyable.

Intimacy Takes Time, So Does Recovery

Even people who don’t have drug or alcohol addiction find times in their relationships when affection either falls away or takes a back seat to the struggles of daily life. Take the pressure off from self-imposed expectations of “how things should be” instead of where things are at the moment. Everything is temporary. With commitment, love and belief in the greater goal of successful recovery, relationships can mend from the damage caused by substance addiction. An accredited addiction treatment and aftercare program can help.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007.  Call  888-512-1705.

Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.

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