Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Afternoon Quickie: “My Boyfriend is an Addict”

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I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and half now and he is so incredible — such a caring and loving man who truly loves me for me. He also communicates great. He is really the best guy and best relationship I have been in so far. When we first started dating, he told me that he had a heroin problem four years ago but got clean and has been clean since. I believed him, and so we dated and our relationship blossomed, no problem.

Earlier this week I find out that his taking pain meds for his knee pain has gotten a bit out of hand. Before things got any more out of hand, I made him go into a detox program. Now I don’t know what to do. I love him and don’t want to leave him. I also want to help him, but at the same time I don’t know if I can live my whole life with him wondering if this will always be happening. I mean, I am far from perfect myself and he accepts my issues, right? Should I just be ok with this as his issue/baggage like we all do and give him a chance to fix things again? — Dating an Addict

Here’s the thing: your boyfriend is an addict and that will never, ever change. He may learn to control his temptations and avoid triggers — although taking pain meds when you’ve had a heroin addiction doesn’t bode well for the latter — but he will never be able to stop being an addict. Addiction is a life-long disease that he will live with as long as he’s alive, and there will probably be good days and not-so-good days and there may be times with the temptation wins. It’s important that you understand this and keep your eyes open. A relationship with your boyfriend means a relationship with his addiction as well.

It’s perfectly OK if you aren’t OK with the idea of spending your “whole life with him wondering if this will always be happening.” Deciding that you aren’t OK with that, despite having issues of your own that he accepts, does not make you a bad or unloving person. It just makes you honest. I really do urge you to think very carefully about what life with an addict is like and would be like for the long-term. I suggest you read this wonderful essay, written by a DW reader, about what her experience loving an addict has been like. (There’s an update here).

You can have a happy life with an addict. You can have a family and a great relationship. But things can also be very, very challenging. You need to think about what you are willing to live with, what your priorities are, and what “give him a chance to fix things” actually means and looks like. If it’s one more strike and he’s out, be clear about that with him, and hold yourself to it, too.

10 comments… add one
  • avatar

    rachel May 19, 2014, 2:19 pm

    What’s the group for family members of addicts..alanon? Is that the one? Maybe the LW could check out a local group so she can hear first-hand what she would be signing up for, and to seek support.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark May 19, 2014, 2:19 pm

    Quick! Have a baby…

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  • avatar

    Lucy May 19, 2014, 2:57 pm

    LW, go to Al-Anon. No offense to any of our lovely commenters, but I think they’ll be a lot more helpful to you in making this decision. And you don’t have to make the decision right away.

    Also, FWIW, managing pain for addicts is a very tricky business, and it’s easy to go wrong.

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  • redessa

    redessa May 19, 2014, 3:18 pm

    I think where you go from here depends a lot on his point of view. You say you “made” him go to a detox program. People who are more or less forced into rehab generally don’t do that well. So I’m curious if he felt like the situation with pain medication had gotten out of hand and recognized the need for help. Or did he go through the motions just to humor you?

    You are right to be taking his addiction seriously, but it’ much more important that HE take it seriously. The fact that he would take addictive pain killers (I’m assuming narcotics) in the first place is a red flag that he’s not as committed to staying clean as you need him to be.

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  • avatar

    TECH May 19, 2014, 3:10 pm

    This letter was me five years ago. The only difference was he started using pain meds for his back instead of his knee. We were also together for less time.
    Without getting into the gory details, my brief relationship with an addict scarred me in more ways than one would believe is possible. Living a happy life with an addict is a very rare exception, rather than the rule. Relapse rates after detox are extremely high.
    I would recommend you read “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood. There are likely some codependency issues going on here.
    Please, please, please leave this relationship. I know it will hurt like hell. But I promise you it’s the best decision you could ever make.

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  • Jess

    Jess May 19, 2014, 5:53 pm

    Wow, I’m so sorry LW.

    I wanted to leave a comment to say I have been through this, in a similar way. And my story is not your story but it doesn’t end well.

    My long time college boyfriend was a generous, compassionate, intellectually brilliant man who’d had a troubled childhood. His emotional problems grew over the years. Looking back, I think he was bipolar. He was always very vocally anti-drugs of all kinds. And then very suddenly, he started smoking pot, spending time with some rough characters, and things kept escalating. I broke it off when it was clear that things were out of control (walking away was one of the hardest things I ever did). Soon after, he called me and confessed he was addicted to heroin. After maybe 6 months or so, he cleaned up, got a job, was calling more, sounding great, etc. There was always that hope that we’d get back together. I remember my last call with him. He sounded better than he had in years. Less than 2 weeks later he died of an overdose. It’s a loss that still troubles me. He had so much promise and I often mourn the loss of his adult life. What would he be doing now? What adventures and accomplishments would he have had? (sorry…. I’m digressing…)

    Heroin is an evil evil drug. I’m far from an expert but I think its hold is more powerful than any other drugs. And certainly more deadly.

    I don’t know what it means that his pain meds got “out of control.” Do you know? Because my guess would be that he is using again. I don’t think heroin addiction can be compared to other problems, flaws, or baggage you bring to the table. It’s a disease, no question, but it’s one that makes it’s victim cruel and dangerous. That is something to think long and hard about. I recommend that you visit some support groups for loved ones of heroin addicts. It will give you an unfiltered picture of what you are facing. I would also recommend seeing a therapist who specializes in addiction and co-dependancy so you can get some valuable insight and guidance as things develop day to day.

    I DO know the heartache of trying to separate from someone who is deeply loveable but tragically flawed. You have all my sympathy and best wishes.

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  • avatar

    zombeyonce May 19, 2014, 6:30 pm

    I’m surprised no mention of Narcotics Anonymous has been made. It’s a great achievement to get clean from heroin and staying clean for four years is admirable. But if he’s really serious about staying clean and coping and being strong enough to turn down pain meds, he needs support from people that have been through it, too. Going to NA could be incredibly helpful to him.

    LW, see if you can get him to start going to NA meetings. If he’s serious about getting sober again and staying sober, and being with you in a stable relationship where addiction doesn’t overshadow every part of your lives, he should be willing. After all, NA is for him and his sobriety. It’s not about you, but his sobriety certainly affects you in serious ways. And get yourself to an AlAnon meeting where you can learn strategies to support his sobriety and also support your own sanity. Living with addiction, even if it’s not yours, is a challenge and one you should be educated about.

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  • mylaray

    mylaray May 19, 2014, 6:58 pm

    His pain meds getting out of hand could be on a huge range of how bad it is. Painkillers are a lot like heroin so that’s not a good sign. Did he get them legally? If he did, why would a doctor prescribe them? Did he not mention his addiction?

    It really comes down to whether he wants to try. Forcing him to detox isn’t necessarily the best. He won’t do it for anyone else but himself. My husband and I are both recovering addicts (painkillers) and while we are completely clean now and before we met, we both have had slip ups and errs in judgment. Just one vicodin is enough to make me want more. That feeling never goes away. I don’t even drink much for fear of transferring my addiction. My husband especially has had a hard time. He got hooked through prescriptions and has a chronic disorder that causes a lot of pain. But having pain isn’t an excuse or alibi. For the record, there are painkillers that can be used short term for people with those types of addictions.

    I like Wendy’s one more strike rule. If you are willing to stay now, I would follow that. NA, al anon could all help you (and him) with support and resources. Personally I hated those groups and found individual therapy to be better for me. That’s another option.

    There’s also the option of leaving him now. Regardless of what you choose, you need support in this.

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  • avatar

    christina May 19, 2014, 9:49 pm

    LW, please please consider letting this relationship go. Opiate addiction is more than you think it is. It’s a nightmare where you love someone who is hurting themselves and all the love and covering tracks that you will do cannot fix it. I wish I could go back to just a year and a half into the relationship with my ex-fiancé. Then I could still remember him as the fun, considerate, loving person he was then. We had a nice life and there was no sign of what was to come.
    It sounds so familiar that he accepts you as you are. That was a repeated line. I thought I just had to make excuses like he accepted me so I should always accept him but….it’s not like that with an addict. They are masters of the double life. He said all the nice things he had done should make up for messing up once in awhile, that everyone has issues. He had no recollection of wasted nights where he upset me or embarrassed me in public, car accidents or falls around his house were just flukes that had nothing to do with drugs. It was never his fault when he’d fight with friends or suddenly hate his boss and eventually quit. I could see on his face that he was high sometimes but he would say he was just tired and to quit interrogating him. I couldn’t talk to him, he stopped making sense by the afternoon and started texting when he thought I’d notice he was slurring his speech. When it all fell apart my boyfriend admitted to using again and hiding it for most of our relationship. It was 4 1/2 years. All of our dreams of a life together never happened.
    Painkillers are very frequently opiates. Your boyfriend was chasing the same type of high as heroin. He knew it when he took them, when he was seeking them out. If you caught him then he was really out of control of it because he was trying to hide it. There are medications that are used to help addicts quit and stay off of opiates, they are substitutes and are used in a controlled program. They have their own set of negative effects. He wasn’t trying to stay clean. There’s ibuprofen for pain, other non-narcotic choices.
    If you stay with him, you will always be living on hope and making excuses. You will always be waiting for him to prove he can stay clean….before you move in together, before you can marry, before you have kids. He can’t stay clean. He can’t. He would have. Don’t go down this road. Love him and remember him as the good guy he is now but move on. A loving relationship should be fulfilling and more carefree. It’s not this one.

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  • honeybeenicki

    honeybeenicki May 20, 2014, 11:39 am

    Man, I didn’t see this yesterday since I was so busy. LW, it’s up to you what you want to do. If you stay, it will be hard. If you leave, it will be hard. Both choices has it’s own set of challenges. If you need someone to talk to, please let me know I would be happy to give you my email (or you can email Wendy for it as she has my email address as well).

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