Couples Who Use Meth: Tips for Sobriety and Success
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Methamphetamine, or meth for short, is a stimulant with a high potential for addiction. A national survey found that more than half a million Americans had used meth in the previous month.1 Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population has tried meth at least once.2 A number of first-time users go on to develop long-term substance abuse problems.
Meth is highly addictive because it causes users to experience a euphoric high, releasing large amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain.2 It can also enhance a person's sex drive.
Problems Associated with Meth Use in Couples
Couples who use meth together might initially find it to be exciting and pleasurable, but meth use can lead to psychological problems such as paranoia, memory loss, aggressive behavior and mood swings over time. Medical problems like dental issues, weight loss and malnutrition can result from continued use.2
Drug use among couples has been linked to higher rates of violence.3 The relationship can become more about acquiring and recovering from the drugs than actually enjoying each another's company. The relationship may only feel "normal" when both partners are under the influence.
Many meth-using couples also have a co-occurring mental illnesses; they meet criteria for other psychiatric disorders. The most common co-occurring illnesses among meth users include anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.4 The impact of mental health issues combined with drug use can put additional stress on a relationship.
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Couples who use drugs and decide to quit together face additional challenges. Many couples find that the relationship has become associated with drugs, so simply seeing a partner can trigger a craving. Quitting meth can cause users to feel irritable and short-tempered, making it difficult to support each another through early recovery. However, many couples who use meth together are able to effectively quit and live a life in recovery, despite the challenges.
5 Tips for Success
Sobriety can be a challenge for couples trying to quit meth, but research has indicated that certain approaches have brought good results. These techniques can be used by couples to help support abstinence, improve communication, and increase relationship satisfaction.
1. Reward positive behaviors like abstinence.
This technique comes from Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT), which addresses specific behaviors -- like drug use -- that can put a strain on a relationship. It is important for both partners to reward each other during times of sobriety.
You might begin by creating a contract between you that states a specific goal and a reward for achieving that goal, such as, "If we are both sober for a week, we will reward ourselves with a dinner date."
Providing rewards for sobriety can increase motivation and create a renewed sense of enjoyment in the relationship.
Couples can experience stress when one partner relapses. The sober partner may experience a range of emotions, including anger, anxiety and disappointment. It is normal to want to express these feelings, but if your partner senses hostility, he may become defensive or feel overwhelmingly guilty. This puts him at additional risk of relapse.
Shift the focus from slip-ups to times when your partner is successfully abstinent.
Praise, affection and understanding are valuable rewards that may increase the likelihood that your partner stays abstinent in the future.
2. Establish new routines as a couple.
This tip comes from Family Behavior Therapy (FBT) which emphasizes the importance of avoiding people and situations that have previously been associated with drug use. This may be especially difficult for couples who have used drugs together.
The first step in establishing new routines is to determine which people, places and things must be avoided because they're associated with old routines.
Brainstorm possible triggers and develop a plan for avoiding them.
Next, discuss new activities you can involve yourselves in or places where you can go. Remember the things you liked to do before you starting using drugs.
Some couples find it helpful to join a recovery support group together, like Narcotics Anonymous. Make it a goal to try one new activity each week.
3. Fight fair.
Conflicts will inevitably arise as both partners adjust to a life without meth. All family therapy programs emphasize the importance of healthy communication. Discuss issues in a way that reduces your partner's defensiveness and allows both of you to express your feelings and feel heard. Healthy communication does not mean ignoring problematic issues because you fear an argument.
Fighting fair means expressing yourself by using "I" statements without attacking your partner.
The key lies in focusing on your own emotional experience rather than what your partner has done to make you angry.
For example, saying "Why do you always do that? It makes me want to relapse! If I relapse it will be all your fault!" will cause your partner to feel attacked, which can make him want to attack back.
Instead, try saying, "It makes me feel hurt and frustrated when you do that. I feel triggered and I start thinking about using again. What can we both do to improve this situation?"
4. Try to understand your partner's experience with addiction.
Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training, known as CRAFT, addresses addictive behaviors and their impact on family members. One important tenet of this approach involves taking an empathic stance toward family members.
This can be difficult because addiction often leads to feelings of anger and resentment toward loved ones, but it is important to remember that each person is unique and may have different struggles in recovery.
Make an effort to devote time each week to talk about how you and your partner are coping. Couples can fail to make time for each another, or they may spend their time together distracted by television, family, friends or other activities. Carving out time each week for just the two of you can help you work through difficult feelings and issues that arise, especially when trying to quit meth.
The goal is for each person to feel safe enough to discuss any struggles without fear of judgment.
5. Find time to care for yourself.
The idea of taking care of yourself might seem selfish at first, but it can actually benefit your relationship. CRAFT urges family members to engage in self-care to help reduce stress.
You might also choose to meet with a therapist individually or as a couple to help you process your feelings and learn new ways of coping.
Finding time to invest in yourself is an important step toward finding balance in your relationship.
Choosing to get sober as a couple is a challenging process but one that can bring long-term benefits. Rewarding success, developing new and healthy habits, making an effort to improve communication, taking time to understand your partner's feelings, and caring for yourself are integral in helping to make the ride to sobriety a little less bumpy.
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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2013). Research report series: Methamphetamine. Retrieved January, 6 2016, from https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/methrrs.pdf
Fals-Stewart, W., Golden, J., & Schumacher, J. A. (2003). Intimate partner violence and substance use: A longitudinal day-to-day examination. Addictive Behaviors, 28(9), 1555-1574.
Glasner-Edwards, S., Mooney, L. J., Marinelli-Casey, P., Hillhouse, M., Ang, A., & Rawson, R. A. (2010). Psychopathology in methamphetamine-dependent adults 3 years after treatment. Drug and Alcohol Review, 29(1), 12-20.
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