The partner or spouse of an active addict often has difficulty trying to understand the addict’s immature behavior and inability to fully participate in a loving and respectful relationship. There is no question that addicts are not as emotionally mature as their biological years suggest.
Addicts are emotionally immature because their emotional growth stalled or slowed at the age they started drinking or using. For example, if someone started drinking or actively using at age 15, then if they are still drinking or using at 30, they would still have the emotional maturity of a 15-year-old. Furthermore, their immaturity is also compounded by the fact that a high percentage of addicts come from chaotic homes where healthy relationships were not modeled due to addiction or other challenges.
I recently asked my first wife to describe what I was like as an active addict. She said that she could sum it up in two words: emotionally unavailable. I didn’t know that I didn’t have the emotional maturity to be able to contribute to a healthy, mature, intimate relationship, and I don’t think I was any different from most addicts. As the disease of addiction progresses, addicts become more distant and emotionally distant. We are too busy being sick, sad, sorry, and tired, or too preoccupied with our own unhealthy needs to be truly emotionally available to those we love. Our energy, time, and life force are, for the most part, taken up with our drinking or use and all that goes with it.
Emotionally unavailable people cannot fully commit to being an equal partner in the process of creating an intimate, deep, meaningful, long-term relationship. This despite the fact that deep down it is what they most desire. Addicts are very manipulative, so they can usually attract a partner when they want. But when the courtship stage is over, they return to their preoccupation with their drug of choice and their dysfunctional lifestyle.
In my experience, it’s not unusual for addicts to continue with others outside of a relationship because moral values like monogamy are often hijacked by their addiction. The lifestyle is one of lies, deception and defensiveness and significantly hurts those who love them most or would like to love them most. One phrase I always use with loved ones of addicts is, “How do you know when the addict is lying? His lips are moving.” Addiction is the most selfish disease known to humanity and is recognized as such, because the addict always wants what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and not otherwise, and he wants it now, or to hell. your.
One sign of immaturity that I have noticed in many addicts is that they like to be rebellious and intentionally go against the grain, just to be different or challenging. It’s a classic case of addicts saying something is black when we say it’s white. These people are usually quite proud to be rebels.
Many addicts suffer from deep-seated fear and anger issues that are often related to the past and have a lot to do with trust. Underlying anger issues are experienced in an aggressive way, expressed through acts of verbal or physical violence, or in a passive-aggressive way, where it simmers inside as silent resentment and is often expressed as sarcasm and abrasive humor . In either case, an addict’s way of dealing with anger becomes a conditioned pattern of behavior that he or she believes is acceptable.
In the first few months of recovery, much of the addict’s pent-up anger and resentment is likely to rise to the surface and need to be handled appropriately… or there will be a high chance of relapse. There is a saying that anger is only one letter away from danger (d-anger), and this is very true for the recovering addict.
In my experience, when addicts have stopped using, perhaps even for years, and start drinking or using again, they quickly return to where they were emotionally when they used, or perhaps even further back. The disease is awakened and all the pain associated with drinking or using is forgotten, and they quickly return to the same way of thinking or acting, and to the same mental/emotional place that they were in when using. This can happen even if people have worked on their emotional and personal growth during the years that they abstained from drinking/using.
Becoming emotionally mature is a process that takes a lot of time and effort. By working a 12-step program and working with our Higher Power we can learn to grow ourselves: learn to love ourselves, to forgive, to act with honesty, honor and integrity within a relationship, to express our innermost feelings, to no longer be selfish, be empathetic and act with compassion.
As for the partner of someone in a relationship with an active addict, the best advice I have is to work on your own personal and spiritual growth program, and then decide what you need to do for yourself.