People with substance use disorders often think they aren’t hurting anyone but themselves, but this is simply not true. Addictions deeply affect the addicted person as well as those who care about them, such as family, friends, and significant others.
Fear, concern, and lack of trust can damage relationships where one partner has a substance use disorder. If your girlfriend has an addiction, you will most likely want to help her. To do so, you should be aware of the warning signs, the steps you can take to help, and the treatment options available to her.
Addiction Warning Signs
Addictions often have warning signs and symptoms that can help you identify if your girlfriend has a substance use disorder or not. While the effects of alcohol and various drugs have distinct signs of intoxication, there are also many common indicators of addictions. The severity of the diagnosis is dependent on the number of criteria met, with 2 to 3 signs indicating a mild substance use disorder; 4 to 5 criteria indicating a moderate substance use disorder; and 6 or more indicating a severe substance use disorder.1 These criteria include:1
- Experiencing strong cravings or urges to use drugs or alcohol.
- Continuing to use drugs or alcohol even after negative consequences have been experienced.
- Having difficulty fulfilling duties at work, school, or home due to drinking or drug use.
- Continuing to use substances even when in situations that can become physically dangerous, such as while driving.
- Still using drugs or drinking after facing repeated or persistent issues with social relationships that are due to or made worse by this behavior.
- Developing a tolerance.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon stopping use abruptly, or cutting back drastically on the amount used.
- Using more of the substance than intended, or for longer than originally planned.
- Being unable to control one’s use of drugs and alcohol, or having a strong desire to use less.
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the substance.
- Cutting back on or stopping important actions due to alcohol or drug use, such as occupational, social, or recreational activities.
If your girlfriend is exhibiting these signs, or you would like more information about symptoms of addiction, please call our confidential helpline at 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? . Trained treatment advisors can help you learn more about the signs of addiction and how to help.
Steps to Take to Help an Addicted Girlfriend
If your girlfriend is addicted to substances, you might be able to help her by learning more about her addiction.2 As we mentioned earlier, learn about the substance she is using, how it can affect her mentally and physically, and about the various forms of treatment that are available. You can start by reading through reputable websites, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.nida.nih.gov), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov), and this one.
It’s important to remember that you can’t force your girlfriend to seek treatment. She will ultimately have to make the decision to get help and stop drinking or using drugs herself, but there are some things you can do to help her in making this decision.
- Be honest with her and others. You may be tempted to make excuses or tell lies to cover up her negative behaviors, but this will enable her to continue.2 She must face the natural consequences of her addiction, which can help her realize that she does have a problem and needs help.
- Get input from addiction professionals, medical professionals, and people who have been in your shoes. Counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, and medical doctors can point you in the right direction to best help your girlfriend. Many people with addiction need formal treatment to stop using illicit substances.2
- Seek out peer support groups. Self-help meetings for loved ones of people with an addiction are a wonderful resource, and include Al-Anon, Alateen, and Nar-Anon. These meetings can provide a strong support group of people who have experienced similar situations, and may have additional insight to help you and your girlfriend. They can also help you navigate the recovery process if your girlfriend chooses to accept the help, as well as being supportive if she does not.
- Share how her addiction has specifically affected you.2 This is a potential minefield, so approach her with love and sensitivity. It is important not to sound judgmental or to get angry or frustrated while speaking to her. You must make an effort to remain calm and rational, otherwise she may feel guilty or ashamed—feelings that can increase her urge to use drugs to cover the pain.2 Speak honestly about how these consequences and her addiction have affected you. Your truth can help her see that she is hurting not just herself, but those who love her.
- Set healthy—and firm—boundaries. Base your boundaries on what you need to protect your own sense of physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. And you must be willing to follow through with enforcing your boundaries. This is not an ultimatum, but a healthy and necessary way for you to take care of yourself during this challenging time.
- If your girlfriend does decide to seek treatment, be genuinely supportive through the process.2 Let her know that you care for her and want to help in any way that you can. Addiction is an accepted medical disease and not a moral failing or weakness of character. Support her as she reaches milestones and accomplishments in her recovery.
Treatment Options for Your Addicted Girlfriend
If your girlfriend is struggling with a substance use disorder, she could likely benefit from entering formal treatment. Attempts to quit some substances are associated with unpleasant withdrawal syndromes, which can make attending a medically supervised detox facility a smart first step. This option allows doctors and nurses to ease your girlfriend through the withdrawal process, and allow her to enter further treatment with a clear head and an ability to focus on recovery.
An alcohol or drug rehab facility—either inpatient or outpatient—is a good follow-up to detox. In rehab, your girlfriend can learn more about her addiction and its underlying causes, and how to maintain her sobriety by managing triggers and identifying and avoiding situations that carry a high risk for relapse.
Any underlying medical or mental health issues will also be identified and managed throughout treatment. Counselors and therapists provide therapy in both group and individual settings, using the most effective treatment techniques.3 And most treatment facilities welcome participation in family sessions where parents, siblings, and loved ones can attend and work through issues with the person in treatment.3
After treatment, your girlfriend’s treatment team may recommend she participate in self-help meetings of her own, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or SMART Recovery.3 This track can provide additional support and a peer network of sober people to help her maintain the healthy lifestyle change she is beginning to make.3 And this is another area where you can support her in her recovery.
It is easy to become absorbed in helping your addicted girlfriend, so it is especially important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Taking care of your own needs will allow you to have the emotional reserves to help your girlfriend when she needs your support.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Helping a family member or friend.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to do if your teen or young adult has a problem with drugs.