Addictive behaviour is very common in our community. It can take many forms including alcohol, illicit drug use, gambling and internet pornography. While addiction can take a heavy toll on the individuals at the centre of this behaviour, the impact is often felt beyond the ‘addict’. One’s parents, children, colleagues, friends and partner can find themselves deeply caught up in the excessive behaviours of someone close to them.

Intimate relationships are particularly susceptible to the side effects of addictions. Individuals caught up in addictive behaviour will often lie about their condition, be resistant to help and unable to see the result of their actions on others. Damage to trust, financial losses, deteriorating physical and emotional health and legal issues are just some of the areas of fallout around addictions. Loss of intimacy, loss of faith in the relationship, increased frustration, fear for the future and concerns about the impacts of the addiction on other members of the family are commonly felt by partners of addicts.

Counselling with addicts and their partners needs to be undertaken by a counsellor who is able to engage without judgement. The therapist needs to be able to work with the couple towards some short term solutions, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the underlying elements that are driving the addictive patterns. A holistic approach is vital. Addicts and their partners are often raw from the rub of the addiction and need to be engaged with in a sensitive and compassionate manner.

Though it can feel hopeless when one is in the grip of an addiction, counselling has a very good track record at getting to the source of the behaviour and bringing about long lasting change. Therapy can also be effective at healing the hurt that almost inevitably threatens to destroy intimate relationships.

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