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10 Signs Your Partner May Have a Substance Abuse Problem

Katherine Cullen
Women kissing her partner on the cheek with her arms around him.
Substance abuse doesn't only take a toll on the person struggling with addiction. It impacts almost everyone connected to them—especially those that love them most, like their significant others. That's why it's crucial to know the signs of addiction—so you can support your partner in getting the help they need.

Unless you know the hallmarks of addiction, it can be tricky to tell whether someone’s use of alcohol or drugs is problematic—including your partner’s.

Over 40 million people in the United States have a substance abuse problem. And most of them do a shockingly great job hiding it from their family and friends. This makes it extremely difficult for people to know that their significant others might need help.

Here are 10 telltale signs your partner has a substance abuse problem—and what to do if they ring true.

» Looking for ways to support your partner? Check out our top choices for the best online therapy services.

1. Mood Alterations

Your partner may be using substances as one of several ways to handle stress. Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs alter chemical transmissions in the brain that govern cognition, emotions, and reward.

This tends to increase stress and can prompt mood changes that may make your partner seem like they aren’t themselves anymore.

Once cheerful, they may grow more anxious as their substance use increases. Typically talkative, they may be less engaging or more fatigued.

Shy or reserved partners may seem sporadically energetic and chatty. Often, substance abuse makes people more emotional and quicker to anger.

2. Changes in Appetite or Sleep

Substances can alter how hungry we feel and how well we sleep.

Some substances stimulate the release of chemicals that increase wakefulness, while others make us sleepy but prevent REM sleep—which normally promotes memory consolidation, neuronal growth, and emotion regulation.

The use of substances can either suppress or stimulate our appetites. Since drugs and alcohol lower our inhibitions, they can make us more likely to overeat by impairing our self-control.

3. Increased Secrecy

Partners who hide the details of where they’re spending their time may be trying to keep their addiction secret.

They are also often inexplicably absent from social or professional events without warning. And they tend to disappear for long periods without responding to texts or calls.

4. Poor Work Performance

The negative impact of drugs or alcohol on your partner’s cognitive and motor abilities can make them unable to perform well at work.

They may be under the influence or too hungover to function well during work hours. Depending on their job requirements, this can pose a safety hazard to themselves and others.

If you find out their job performance is suffering, don't wait to seek help.

» Not sure how to deal with an addict? Follow these tips from a licensed therapist.

5. Failure to Participate in Important Social Roles

Is your partner not showing up like they used to? Being absent and distracted when needing to fulfill certain social responsibilities? Failing to assist you or others with childcare, chores, meal preparation, and other basic daily tasks?

Maybe they seem significantly less invested or interested in your and other loved ones’ lives and needs.

Substance abuse can reduce a person's interest and ability to participate in important social roles, like being a parent, significant other, friend, or supportive family member. It can also be the underlying cause of various relationship red flags.

6. Poor Self-Care

Substance abuse can cause people to neglect their health and appearance. Because they become consumed by seeking and consuming alcohol or drugs, they won't have a lot of energy left for self-care.

They may fail to make and keep routine medical appointments or attend to urgent healthcare needs. They also struggle to take good care of their personal hygiene.

And in some cases, they are unable to perform other daily tasks, such as cleaning up after themselves, washing dishes, or taking out the trash.

This, combined with the toxic effects of excessive drug and alcohol consumption on cells and tissues, can lower immunity and increase your partner’s risk of health complications like heart disease and stroke.

7. Continued Use Despite Problems

Even if your partner has experienced negative consequences due to their substance abuse (think: an injury or accident, losing a job or friendship), they may continue to use or drink.

Once a person is hooked on a substance, they'll continue consuming it despite its numerous (and sometimes life-threatening) risks.

If you're struggling to cope with a partner's continued use, it could be one of several signs you need therapy.

8. Loss of Control Over Use

Your partner may have tried to curb their consumption of alcohol or drugs (possibly in response to negative consequences) but repeatedly found themselves unable to do so. This indicates that your partner has lost control over their substance use—another hallmark of addiction.

» Here are the best resources for online couples and marriage counseling.

9. Needing More and More of the Substance

If your partner’s consumption of alcohol or drugs steadily increases over time, they’re likely developing a tolerance to these substances. This means that they'll need more and more of a substance to achieve its initial effects.

10. Showing Symptoms of Withdrawal

When blood and tissue levels of an abused substance decline, withdrawal symptoms can develop in frequent users. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares

Confusion, fever, high blood pressure or heart rate, hallucinations, and seizures are more severe symptoms and require immediate emergency care.

Avoiding these symptoms is often why people persist in substance abuse—not to achieve a high, but to avoid the physical consequences of stopping.

Does Your Partner Have A Substance Abuse Problem?

If your partner exhibits more than a couple of the above signs of substance abuse, share your concerns about their behavior. They may deny they have a problem at first, but establishing your awareness of it and offering to support them in seeking help can motivate them to get treatment—when they're ready.

Dealing with a partner’s addiction can be incredibly draining, so securing adequate support for yourself is important if you suspect your significant other has a substance abuse problem.

Online therapy can help you get a better handle on what’s going on for your partner and how their behavior is affecting you and your relationship with them. If cost is a concern, consider online therapy that takes insurance.

» Get the support you need with BetterHelp or ReGain today.

Katherine Cullen
Katherine Cullen is a psychotherapist in New York City and co-author of The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration. Her work has been published by numerous outlets, including Psychology Today, Cosmopolitan, and Self.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.