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Relational Addictions and How To Break the Pattern

For those who struggle with addiction, creating healthy boundaries in everyday life and within relationships is crucial. Relational changes before and after addiction can be long, painful, and difficult adjustments. Knowing that you and your sobriety are essential is reason enough to draw some boundaries.

Social Representation and Boundaries

If you’re struggling with substance abuse within your support system or peer group, you may need to identify boundaries. Social representation of substance abuse, especially when paired with mental health issues or trauma, can snowball into a problem if the client doesn’t know the difference. According to a study published in the Journal of Drug Issues, social representation of substances can often be a catalyst to substance abuse. For example, people might turn to drinking as they grieve or as a reward. 

Researchers took a close look at social representation, interviewing subjects about their use of addictive substances and their boundaries. Boundaries around the use of these substances are vital, especially for anyone with addictive tendencies. Based on the results, the researchers identified several common social representations.

  • The language of boundaries: Often, individuals can express a line between “good” and “bad” verbally with terms related to movement and location. As the subject showed the line, they distanced themselves from the “bad.”
  • Going, stopping, and moving: Many words implied “go” or “stop” signs of substance abuse. “Go” was commonly expressed as “curiosity” or “experiment,” while “stop” was expressed by “control” or “limits.”
  • The importance of control: Control only concerned the subject’s personal use. Overall,  alcohol use was monitored by psychological checkpoints of control when a person felt “in control” or “out of control” using alcohol.
  • Negotiation of boundaries: Again, boundaries were based on the subject’s personal experience with substance or alcohol use, but these boundaries were often compared to peers or friends who participated in “good” or “bad” use.
  • Perceptions of physical effects: Physical effect subjects were asked about when they “went over the line” of control. Positive feelings toward substance or alcohol use were often linked to higher use of alcohol and drugs by a subject. In contrast, negative feelings were related to negative experiences or a refusal to try.
  • Cautionary tales and negative exemplars: Subjects often gave cautionary tales as a reason to not “go over the line,” which were all negatively associated with alcohol or drug use. Severe consequences were highlighted as the main reason to avoid misuse of alcohol or drugs.

Many of the subjects in the study seemed unaware that they set boundaries to keep themselves safe. Those who didn’t set limits may have used more addictive substances and could be heading down the path to abuse. If it bothers you that your support group, family, friends, etc., use addictive substances, you can set the boundary that you can’t personally be around it. Remove yourself from the situation, and set boundaries for yourself and the people around you. 

What Is a Relational Addiction?

If you are struggling with a relational addiction, that’s a different problem where you might need to set boundaries. A typical example of a relational addiction is an addiction to love. As explained by a study published in the Frontiers of Psychology, the early stages of romantic love are similar to the effects of drug addiction. The researchers studied love addiction and drug addiction from three aspects: behavioral characteristics, brain functioning, and neuroendocrine factors. 

The study results found both types of addiction to be quite similar. The effects of love addiction often decrease over time, but in the beginning, it can be quite overwhelming and open the door to dysfunctional habits. Neurochemical comparisons in the study showed similarities in the increase in the dopamine system and extreme differences in the natural oxytocin in the brain. The intense emotional responses that love and drugs induce —like increased euphoria, obsessive thoughts, and emotional dependency — make love similar to a behavioral addiction. 

Breaking Relational Addictions

In love, physical desire generally reduces over time, and lovers can develop healthy decision-making skills. For example, a person who determines that someone is not “the one” can break it off. In substance abuse, we generally don’t choose to break it off because the neurological damage of addiction makes it challenging to stop without support.

A University of Oxford study published by Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology concluded that the brain’s reaction to love is comparable to the brain’s response to drugs. This study even went so far as to set parameters on what constitutes “unhealthy love” or an addiction to a person (behavioral addiction). If the love is cruel, unfaithful, overly dependent, or damaging, it may be time to break it off and get help. 

For some relationships, this could mean contacting the authorities, especially if there is any physical, mental, or emotional abuse in the relationship. For others, especially those who are heartbroken, it could mean cognitive therapy or seeking higher-level goals with lower-level commitments. You are worthy of a healthy relationship with yourself and others, which begins with breaking the pattern of unhealthy relationships.

If you are in an unsafe or abusive relationship, do not hesitate to call a domestic violence hotline, an abuse hotline, or the Office on Women’s Health Helpline at 1-800-994-9662. Local resources can connect you to counseling, shelter, and support in your community. Get help now — do not wait.

If you are struggling with addictive tendencies in your life, your health, and your relationships, there is hope. Struggles with addictive tendencies can be hard to acknowledge and might be easily disguised by love. With the coping skills and tools to recognize that something isn’t healthy for you, you can use these coping mechanisms to help yourself. At RECO Intensive, we can provide the support and help you need to overcome your addiction. We offer individualized care for your unique addictions. Our highly trained staff and experienced alumni are here to answer any questions you have and help you through your recovery. RECO Intensive offers a safe place to go and commit to our myriad of offered therapies, as well as options for outpatient care. Recovery is possible, and we are here to show you the way. Call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter tomorrow.

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