What are you going though
The journey towards life without drugs or with managed use is your journey too.
Unless you take the difficult decision to leave your partner, you will be with them on their journey. But you will also be on one of your own. You will have your own symptoms and setbacks, feelings and fears. Like your partner, you will have successes and moments of despair. And, like your partner's journey, yours will have key moments and stages. The health dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are many and can have a devastating effect on your partner and family, as well as others on the road. In addition, car accidents can be accompanied by heavy fines and jail time. For this reason, protect your partner from driving while under the influence.
The first key moment is probably not the discovery of drug use. Chances are you've known about it for some time. You may have even shared the experiment stage. The first real step for you is likely to be the realization that what had been a small, social part of your lives and relationship has become a major part of your partner's life and a problem for them, for you and your relationship.
This is likely to be a shock. It not only goes to the heart of the way you see your partner, but also the way you see your relationship and yourself. You may start off in denial. Like your partner, you may refuse to see a 'problem' or locate the problem somewhere else, for example money, sex or work. From shock and perhaps denial you are likely to quickly move on towards guilt and blame.
Denial can only last so long. People living with drug users know the truth and can see the problem. The next stage of the journey involves moving on to dealing with the drug use. A common first step is to look for reasons and for that search to lead to blame. Some blame their partners for a weakness or failing but many more blame themselves.
It's an easy target and in a culture where drugs and drug use are misunderstood, it's inevitable that you will look for simple answers. Saying things like: "it's my fault... I could have been a better wife/girlfriend... I've let her down..." allows you to see the matter clearly and possibly see a way forward: "If I could be better... if I don't... if I can..." But of course there are no simple answers and no simple ways forward. At this stage of your journey, it is natural to hold onto these answers, even if that means blaming yourself.
But experience suggests that, gradually, you are likely to move on from this stage and be able to accept that there is a problem.
Avoid asking 'Why?' - Why? Because it puts people on the defensive. And, they may not know why they do five pills / have risky sex / owe the dealer money they haven't got. Ask questions beginning How, When, What, Where. It'll get the conversation moving and you won't simply get a yes or no answer
As with your partner's journey, you may well relapse too, retreating into blame or even denial. But remember that your feelings are part of a journey that does move on. It may also move back, but situations will change and so will feelings.
Focus on them - not the drugs - The speed, coke, heroin isn't doing anything to you. They are. How does their behaviour affect you? Are they unreliable? Is it their mood swings? Are you always paying for everything? What are the things that can happen if they continue doing what they're doing? And how does that create problems for you? Sorting out the answers to these questions - and what you can or can't do about them - can help you both move on to the next stage of your journey
The final part of the journey is about moving forward from acceptance to adaptation. Depending on whether your partner is giving up drugs totally, or seeking to manage their use and minimise their harm, you will move towards adapting to that situation and his or her journey through detox and beyond.
This adaptation is about management. Just as your partner will be looking to manage his or her feelings and new life, so will you. You may need to redefine your relationship or your own life to help your partner, or to protect yourself and your family. You may need to adapt work, social relations and finances to enable your partner to keep going.
As well as the practical things you will be coping with, you will also be coping with your feelings. Managing pressures like these is likely to be stressful and it is not unusual to feel real resentment or anger at the situation, or even at your partner. You may for instance need to rethink your attitude towards drugs if you have always thought that 'just say no' was the only way forward.
As with your partner, this stage is the longest and in some ways the most difficult. Your journey has put a lot of strain on you and your relationship, but it is here where you can look back and see how far you have come and the resources you have mobilized. As you adapt to the new situation, it is these resources that will help you.
Be there for them - unless you decide you need to move on. Don't turn your back on them. Listen to them and how they say they feel. Talk to them about their health and well-being. Suggest what they might do but don't go on about it. If they want, offer to go with them if they go for help. And remember that, ultimately, if you can't accept the choices they make on their journey, you have to decide whether you want the relationship to continue or not
What is your partner going through
Many of those who live with drug users often get frustrated that their partners seem unable to communicate what is going on. They need to know How, When and Why - but while your partner is struggling with their problem they are unlikely to be able to give satisfactory answers and, as they begin to reduce or manage their use, their energies may be elsewhere.
It is important, particularly when you are trying to help your partner, to find a way to see the world the way they see it, to be in their shoes.
There is no simple and single story to be told. Every drug user's experience is different. Their reasons for starting, continuing and wishing to stop will be different, and their feelings will be unique. However experience tells us that your partner's journey will follow a particular route and if you know a little about it, you are more likely to be able to manage your own journey.
Read below to find out about these key stages in your partner's journey, and some practical strategies for getting through them.
Becoming a problem
Your partner is not unusual. Like most people he or she will have experimented with drugs and at some stage this experimentation will have become regular use. More than likely your partner drifted into this and the moment when they realise they have a 'problem' will come as a shock to them.
This moment is a key milestone on their journey. It may be traumatic and become mixed with feelings of shock and guilt, probably blame and, undoubtedly, denial. Realising you have a problem can seem like admitting you are out of control, unable to cope or weak. And when mixed with the stigma and myths associated with drugs, this can be a very frightening time. But after this stage, acceptance and moving on becomes more likely.
It is impossible to say how long the initial stage of the journey will continue. But remember that it is a stage, and things will change for your partner, you and the family. They will come to terms with their 'problem' and, hopefully, make a decision to move on. It is important to note that it is their decision. You can't make it for them. They will only continue their journey when they are ready.
The decision to stop or cut down their drug use and the decision to seek help (from you or others) are big steps. Your partner knows the road ahead is not easy and they are being very brave in attempting to follow it. It may be a crisis that precipitates this next step or a more gradual process, but at this stage your partner is preparing for what lies ahead, whether that is withdrawal, or life entirely free from drugs. Chances are your partner will be scared, insecure and sure that they will fail - their self-confidence will be very low.
There are powerful and frightening myths surrounding withdrawal. But remember that although it can be unpleasant and difficult, the physical and emotional symptoms vary depending on the person, the sort of drugs that were used, and the length of use.
It might be easy to observe what your partner is going through on this stage of the journey in terms of physical symptoms. But emotional symptoms are far harder to see. It is at this stage that your partner begins to really deal with the idea of living without drugs. It is hard for a non-user to appreciate how difficult and overwhelming this idea could be. The setbacks and relapses that can happen at this stage of the journey are often caused by that frightening vista opening up before your partner, far more than the nausea.
It may take more than one attempt to get to this stage of the journey, but when your partner gets past withdrawal, he or she has to deal with their new life. This new life may have lots more time in it and possibly better health - but also the same emotional, work or money problems. The only difference is that now your partner doesn't have drugs to help them hide or escape.
Those fears and insecurities they had about their 'new life' without or managing drugs are now all too clear, and they may feel very much on their own in coping with it. It probably doesn't help that people think it's all over.
You might want to congratulate your partner on having stopped using, but chances are that she or he is feeling more inadequate than heroic, more insecure than confident, and certainly more frightened. It is little wonder that many relapse. But small steps can bring new confidence. Challenges met without drugs - whether work, home or even just physical challenges - can help your partner rebuild their self-worth and give them the strength to move on.
Needless to say, this stage of the journey is the longest. Some say it never ends. But like the rest of the journey it is a stage. If your partner can see the whole journey - and you can help them here - they are more likely to be able to deal with each step.
There are a few points about drugs and drug use that are worth bearing in mind as you consider your partner's drug use:
* 28% of the population over 16 have taken illegal drugs, some 13 million people
* Only a small number of people who experiment with drugs go on to use them regularly and an even smaller number develop a problem or come to harm
* Some people who use illegal drugs do so regularly and in a fairly controlled, recreational way. Your partner will have his or her own reasons for using drugs.
How do I know if my partner has a problem?
You probably know that your partner uses drugs but how do you know when this becomes problematic drug use? Like other drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, many people manage their use of illegal drugs, but as with those other legal drugs, it is a fine line. You may see obvious warning signs:
* Money going missing or being spent with no clear evidence of what has been bought
* Lying or secretive behaviour
But knowing your partner well, you may spot other more subtle signs that their drug use is getting out of control:
* Sudden or regular mood changes
* Loss of appetite or interest in work or friends.
Of course these changes in your partner's personality may not be connected to drugs. If she or he has recently lost their job or your relationship is in trouble this may well affect your partner in similar ways. Drug use or abuse does not happen in isolation. Just because your partner uses drugs does not mean they do not have other problems. But if what was perhaps a minor, social part of your partner's life seems to be taking over, and they are becoming more and more obsessed with their drug use, this would be a clear sign that drugs are becoming a problem.
who can help?
To help you choose the support you may need we suggest you consider the following:
Telephone help lines. These typically offer information and can refer to other appropriate organisations. Other help lines go further and offer an opportunity to talk and explore your situation thereby coming to consider what to do next and how to support yourself better. There are help lines covering many issues, from drugs, alcohol, parenting, mental health, prison issues, etc. The person you speak to may be either a professional or a volunteer (who is often someone with personal experience of the issues).
Support Groups. These are regular meetings of people in a similar situation who are facing similar difficulties. There is typically a group leader who may be a professional, such as a drugs worker at a local drug agency, or a volunteer usually with personal experience. There are many support groups and organisations that have been set up to support families affected by someone else's drug or alcohol use.
Getting information and support in person. This can be accessed in various ways, such as a local drug or alcohol agency, Prison Visitors' Center, etc.
Counseling. This is confidential help from a professional who can help with personal difficulties, problems in relationships and ways of coping better.
Community support. This can range from a local Church or Mosque to a neighbourhood community group. They typically offer general support rather than particular help with drug and alcohol issues.
Things to consider when choosing help
* Do you want to speak to someone in person or are you more comfortable speaking over the phone?
* Do you want professional help or the support of others who have similar experiences to your own?
* Do you want help from one person or would you like to be in a group of people with similar experiences to your own?
* Do you feel comfortable sharing your situation and details with those you have approached for help? It is only reasonable that you wish things to be private, so it is usual to ask about the Confidentiality policy of people offering help.
* Do you have to pay? Most services are free.
* Do you need more information about what is offered? Some individuals and organisations have a particular way of working or underlying beliefs? For example Families Anonymous follow a 'twelve-step' philosophy, other organisations may be Christian based, etc. Ask yourself whether you are comfortable with what is offered. ALL reputable services will be only too happy to answer your questions so try not to feel that you shouldn't ask. Remember, the best sort of support is the sort that works for you.
Making Positive Choices in life can make a great difference.