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Dating an Addict – Do They Actually Care About You?

Dating an addict can be exciting, difficult, and exhausting. How can you tell if someone truly cares about you when their life is ruled by an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Dating someone with an addiction can be damaging to your wellbeing in a number of profound ways, and you should give serious thought to ending the relationship, both for your sake and theirs.

This article will examine the ways that addiction affects the brain, how it changes the way that people behave, why you probably shouldn’t date an addict, and how to get someone to accept the addiction treatment they need.

Are You Dating an Addict?

Sometimes it can be difficult to know for sure if you’re dating someone with an addiction. This is partly because people with substance use disorders tend to deny, hide, and lie about addiction behavior, and partly because being in love with an addict can make it emotionally difficult for you to recognize the problem. You want to see the best in the person you love, you want to believe the lies they tell, and you are likely so confused by their erratic behavior that you have difficulty trusting your own judgment.

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There are, however, many physical and behavioral signs of addiction that can indicate you’re dating an addict, such as:

  • Unexplained mood swings
  • Personality changes
  • Bloodshot eyes and dilated or constricted pupils
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Frequent accidents or injuries
  • Slurred speech, tremors, or shakes
  • Neglected appearance or personal hygiene
  • Frequent financial problems and requests for money
  • Lack of interest in activities and social events that don’t include drugs or alcohol
  • Tolerance to drugs or alcohol
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Low energy and depression
  • Hyperactivity, restlessness, incessant movement or talking
  • Lack of focus
  • Declining productivity or performance at school or work
  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Depression
  • Risky behavior
  • Criminal activity

The signs of addiction will vary depending on the individual’s primary substance of use, how long they’ve been using, and a number of other personal factors; however, addiction always takes a toll on the addict, and you will see some signs if you really look and stay honest with yourself.

Can an Addict Actually Care About You?

Being in love with an addict can make you feel extremely insecure. Does someone who’s life is out of control really have the capacity to care about you the way you need and deserve? What is going on behind their upsetting behavior, and what kind of impact is it having on the relationship?

Extensive scientific studies of addiction have shown that months or years of chronic substance use creates physical and chemical changes in the brain that perpetuate drug seeking behavior. The addict’s brain has been trained to prioritize substance use over everything else in life, even in the face of negative consequences that are a direct result of drug or alcohol use. Drugs and alcohol tap into the brain’s communication system and manipulate it into creating unnaturally intense states of being, such as euphoria, extreme calm, or high energy that persists without food or sleep. This disruption overstimulates the communication system and causes rapid changes in the brain.

The brain reacts in two crucial ways to drugs and alcohol, thereby creating addiction. First, the brain is taught to mark substance use as an “important” behavior that should be repeated whenever possible, and prioritized over other activities that could never create such intense states of being. Second, with repeated use of the substance, the brain begins to adapt to the unnatural events that result from that use, shutting down receptors in the communication system and reducing the amounts of stimulating and pleasurable chemicals produced in an attempt to restore a more natural state of being. As a result, the addict no longer experiences the same high from drinking or using, and is unable to even feel normal without drugs or alcohol. Their brain function has been altered, causing a state of low mood and energy that reinforces the drug-seeking behavior their brain has already been trained to encourage.

In addition to being trained to seek out addictive substances, the addict’s cognitive function is impaired by chronic use. They cannot think, remember, or learn as well as they once did, and their impulse control, decision making, and ability to think logically have been damaged. They act in ways that don’t reflect their pre-addiction selves, and they hurt the people they love so much so often, that the question you need to ask isn’t whether the addict genuinely cares about you, but whether it even matters, as their actions will rarely reflect their true emotions.

Why You Should Stop Dating an Addict

Being in love with an addict can be miserable, but it can also be incredibly exciting. Addicts have a way of overwhelming you with the intensity of their desire and affection, then turn on a dime and start holding back, becoming distant and unreachable. You are kept continually off guard, feeling the good times all the more deeply in contrast to the bad times.

You can become addicted to the drama and excitement of the roller coaster ride of dating someone with an addiction. And because you care about this person, you may also desperately want to save them from themselves. You may feel like if you love them enough or help them in the right way, then you can stay in the good times forever. Unfortunately, while you can encourage someone you love to get help, actually conquering addiction is entirely up to them. You can’t save them or fix them. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain, and managing it well requires professional treatment, and a lifelong dedication to recovery. You cannot put such an enormous burden on your own shoulders.

Nevertheless, it isn’t that easy to let go of someone you love, so here are some reasons why you shouldn’t date an addict. Use them to help motivate you to end an unhealthy relationship.

1. You can’t trust an addict.

Someone in an active addiction is controlled by their compulsion to use drugs or alcohol. They are always seeking their next high, under the influence of a substance, or recovering from drinking or using. This means that their judgement is always impaired, and they aren’t in full control of their own behavior. Addicts become very good at lying, both to other people and to themselves. They are good at making excuses, hiding behavior, and making up stories—anything to protect their ability to keep drinking or using. They will manipulate and use you if it will help them feed their addiction, and they cannot be counted on to be consistent in any way. Their emotional responses, their actions, and even their personalities are highly changeable, dependent upon their addiction and their chronic use of substances.

2. They could hurt your finances.

Dating an addict can take a huge toll on your finances. Even if you refuse their requests for money, an addict may steal from you, or put you in dangerous situations where you could be associated with a crime or responsible for financial costs that aren’t your fault. An addict can cause expensive property damage, get you in trouble at your workplace, wreck your car, get you kicked out of your apartment, lose or sell your belongings, and more. Their financial instability can become yours due to their out of control behavior.

3. You could fall into their bad habits.

When you are dating someone with an addiction, it can be easy to start using drugs or drinking on a regular basis. The addict might encourage you to join in, or you may want to do it to feel closer to them. You also might find yourself turning to substances as a way of coping with an emotionally difficult relationship. Even if you don’t have a strong addictive tendency to begin with, frequently using drugs or alcohol will eventually lead to a substance use problem due to the affect these chemicals have on the brain.

4. You could develop a codependent relationship.

Being in love with an addict puts you in a constant state of uncertainty. The addict is unpredictable in almost every way except for their chronic substance use. This instability often leads people to unhealthy behaviors that create a false sense of security. You make up excuses to get them out of trouble or repair damaged relationships. You clean them up and take care of them when their substance use has made them sick. You pick up the slack by taking care of the responsibilities they neglect. This kind of codependent behavior can make you feel like you’re helping when you’re actually hurting the addict. Any actions that make it easier for an addict to deny their problems, delay getting help, and continue to use or drink are destructive, even if they are done out of love. Codependency not only hurts the addict, it also hurts you by draining your energy and taxing your emotions.

5. You will always come second to drugs or alcohol.

Dating an addict is like dating someone who is married. They will never be able to be fully present for you, or fully intimate with you. You can’t count on them to be there when you need them, and they will always choose the addictive substance over you. Besides, drugs and alcohol are easy. They provide instant gratification and an escape from conflict, negativity, boredom, stress, or anything at all that the addict would rather not face. Furthermore, their brain has actually trained them to put their addiction behaviors first. There’s no way you can compete with that.

6. Dating distracts an addict from focusing on recovery.

Even if the addict you’re in love with is in recovery, dating them may still be a bad idea. Addicts in early recovery often turn to replacement addictions, such as obsessive romantic attachments, in an attempt to fill the void left by drugs or alcohol. This can result in an intensely passionate relationship that easily swings from euphoric to hostile. Most clinicians advise newly sober people to avoid dating in their first year of sobriety. Not only can it be a distraction from the important spiritual work a person must pursue in addiction recovery, a relationship created during the emotional instability of early recovery is likely to be volatile and short-lived, and the negative drama of the relationship could trigger the recovering addict to relapse.

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How to Help an Addict

When you are dating someone with an addiction, you naturally want to help them, and while codependent actions like lending them money or covering up for their drunken mistakes are actually destructive, there are healthy ways to genuinely help an addict.

  • Research treatment options. Even when an addict wants to get help, they may not be motivated enough to investigate the options available to them, or clear-headed enough to do the research. Sometimes being presented with a list of nearby facilities that accept your loved one’s insurance plan or charge on a sliding scale can be enough to make an addict choose to get help—because you made a complicated, intimidating process into something simple and easy.
  • Plan an intervention. If the addict is not ready to get help, you can attempt to make them recognize and accept their addiction by planning an intervention with a small group of people the addict loves or admires.
  • Support them through treatment. If you have been in a long-term relationship with an addict, you may want to preserve that relationship during recovery, but even if you choose to break up, you can still support the addict as a friend. Either way, remember that the actual recovery process is out of your control, and will require a great deal of the addict’s time and energy. Most of all, don’t put the recovering addict’s well-being ahead of your own.
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