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5 Ways Addiction and Substance Abuse Can Destroy Relationships

By Michael LoRe
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Carol Anderson, LMSW, ACSW on January 20, 2021
For many people struggling with addiction, the substance they abuse takes priority over everything from their adult responsibilities to relationships.

Addiction and substance abuse can negatively impact your career, overall health, and your most valued relationships.

"With substance use dependence comes a re-shuffling of our priorities," Erin O'Neil, LCSW at Mountainside Treatment Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care. "The reward pathway in the brain is not working as it should, so we also find that there's less pleasure in things we enjoyed doing before."

This re-prioritization can have a negative effect on relationships in many ways, including:


Acquiring and using that substance takes precedence over jobs, relationships, and other responsibilities. Users become less and less reliable to others as they obsess over their next fix.

"The primary relationship that a person with substance use disorders has is with their drug of choice," says Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS. "Therefore, all other relationships are secondary and take a back seat to this."


An addict may do whatever they can in order to get their next fix, and that includes lying and being deceitful to family and friends. Communication can also be adversely affected as distrust continues to build with each side afraid to disclose feelings and emotions.

"Addiction often causes lack of trust due to lying, stealing, manipulating, or cheating," says addiction specialist Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC. "Even once a loved one has entered recovery, it can take a great deal of time and effort to rebuild trust, and is very challenging for a loved one to trust fully. Loved ones often remain fearful of relapse. This lack of trust causes relationships to deteriorate, and can be challenging to recover."

Physical injury

Between 40-60% of domestic violence incidents are associated with substance use disorder, according to an article by the American Society of Addiction Medicine entitled "Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction." Not only can users cause physical harm in the home, but those who drive under the influence may injure themselves or others while out on the road.

Loss of support

The road to sobriety can be long. There will be bumps and deviations. With that may come aggravation and frustration from an addict's support system.

"Often, family members support an addict while they are in treatment, however, there is very little support or empathy when the addict relapses," says Dr. Dorothy Reedy, director and principal practitioner at Neurogenex Clinic. "They are accused of not trying hard enough—and this simply may not be true for the addict."


Whether you realize it or not, you may be enabling your loved one in their addiction or substance abuse. If this continues, your relationship could be tested as they become dependent on your assistance to further their use.

"A classic example of enabling is providing money on a consistent basis so that the user is able to retrieve drugs," says sex and relationship expert Alexis Taylor, Ph.D. "He or she may ask for money for gas or groceries, and while their loved one may suspect it is going to drugs, they provide it anyway. The line between helping and enabling is often extremely difficult for those who love someone struggling with addiction to discern."

Treatment & Resources: General Information