I previously wrote about the rise in substance use among individual Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, little has been explored regarding substance use among couples during this period. Couples who live together are spending more time around each other, getting bored or exhausted with lack of variation in life, and some are turning to drugs and alcohol to provide escape from the current times, or even an escape from his/her romantic partner..
In mid-August, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed the results of a survey conducted in the Summer of 2020 that opens a window into just how serious the psychological and emotional impact of the pandemic is for Americans from all backgrounds and statuses. The survey shows that 13.3% of respondents who describe themselves in a “committed relationship,” reported starting or increasing substance abuse (including drugs and alcohol). In addition, more than twice as many respondents reported increased severity in mental health symptoms in the past 30 days than did adults in the U.S. in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%).
Most leaders in the addiction recovery community share the common thought that a couple who is experiencing addiction should not go to treatment at the same rehab center. However, with the closure of and limited capacity of many treatment centers, couples are left with no other choice than to attend treatment together if they want to get professional help.
However, unhealthy relationship dynamics can hinder recovery when couples go through rehab together. Codependent couples, for instance, may find it especially difficult. Fearing the reaction of their mate, a more passive partner in a codependent relationship may find it challenging to speak freely to their providers. Or, they may become too focused on their partner’s recovery and not their own.
Another major concern is whether a relapse by one partner might trigger the other partner to slip. Because the risk of relapse is highest during the stabilization period, it’s vitally important for the patient to be in a drug-free environment. So if one partner is not as fully committed to sobriety, it may harm them both.
Personally, when working with couples who seek treatment in the same place, I have seen mediocre to negative outcomes on the whole, as people without substances can present as very different people than the person each other was with while intoxicated.
What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts, as somebody with experience, somebody who has witnessed this or, from any clinicians who have observed couples in treatment together.
Couples are spending more time together during the pandemic than under normal circumstances (whatever “normal” even means these days). Not only are couples increasing time spent together in shared (frequently small) spaces, but there aren’t dinner parties, get-togethers, group outings etc, to provide some different perspective, outlook and buffer, that is so frequently needed for relief and connection. Here are a few ideas to help decrease any tension that might exist between a couple (or even a family):
The pandemic is stressful. Or, let’s be frank - it really sucks. People are working from home, not seeing friends and family and have been cut off from most/all engaging activities. Many have turned to substances to curb negative feelings or escape boredom. While isolation can be challenging, quarantine can actually provide an opportunity to spot and address any problem behaviors, especially if you're already concerned.
What are some signals that using substances to cope has gone too far? Here are some warning signs to watch out for, whether it be for yourself or a loved one:
You might think, I see those warning signs in myself or a loved one but, what is there to do about it? Here are some pandemic friendly resources you can access:
Staying inside and isolated from the world around you might feel safe, but it can be dangerous in various other ways, some of which are listed above. Be honest with yourself and be honest with those closest to you. Luckily, technology allows us to connect in ways that were not possible only a few years ago. Therapists like myself have had to transition to a hybrid online/in-person practice. While this has been challenging to get used to, for both myself and clients, it provides significant benefits such as not having to battle LA traffic to arrive late for your 50 minute therapy appointment or, arriving so stressed from sitting in traffic that it’s hard to settle and begin session, whenever you do happen to arrive. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist or counselor, as having an unbiased viewpoint, having somebody caring about your well being, can serve a unique and valuable purpose during this time. That being said, try to avoid, “If it gets that bad, then I’ll consider therapy.” You have the opportunity to address any issues before it has to get worse. Addressing any problem is easier to do the sooner you decide to face it.