Understanding the Link Between Emotional Abuse and Addiction
Getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship isn’t easy, and when you add drug addiction into the mix, the layers of the onion become more complex. Often, friends and family have difficulty understanding why those involved continue to remain in emotionally abusive relationships and stay trapped in a life bound by addiction. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is frequently a contributor to substance abuse, and an emotionally abusive partner may manipulate their partner into staying with them by aiding in and enabling their drug addiction.
Comorbidity of Emotional Abuse and Addiction
Emotional abuse takes a detrimental toll on the mental health of victims. Studies have demonstrated that emotional abuse can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than physical abuse as it can contribute to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions. With physical abuse, there is often a cycle of an incident of abuse followed by a period of remorse and love, then another incident of abuse. On the other hand, emotional abuse can be subtle and relentless.
In turn, mental health conditions that arise from emotional abuse are strongly linked to drug addiction as approximately half of the individuals who struggle with mental health conditions also suffer from substance abuse.
Since emotional abuse, mental health, and trauma are the at the root of many addictions, victims are sometimes quick to turn to mood and mind-altering substances to cope with the emotional pain, stress, and anxiety that comes as a result from emotional abuse. While drugs may provide a victim with temporary relief from feelings of hopelessness and despair by restoring their sense of control, repeated drug abuse can rapidly turn into an addiction.
Addiction provides abusers with additional leverage over victims. They may withhold drugs as a form of punishment, provide drugs to their victim to convince them to stay, and enable their addiction to continue on. When a person is physically and psychologically addicted to a substance, they will put their drugs at utmost priority. This obsession can make victims feel as though they have no choice but to stay with their partner if they want to continue getting high.
Drug addiction can lower self-esteem and exacerbate symptoms of mental illness. With a low sense of self-worth and an emotionally abusive enabler, a victim may feel as though they don’t deserve anything better than the life they have now. The abuser may make it seem as though situations are the fault of the victim in order to get what they want, then provide the drugs to feed the victim’s addiction as a form of reward. At this point, they are being held emotionally hostage by their abuser and may begin blaming themselves for their situation rather than blaming their abuser.
Overcoming Emotional Abuse and Healing from Addiction
While it can be challenging to leave an emotionally abusive relationship and get sober at the same time, it is possible. Denial is a common factor among both emotional abuse and addiction. Often, a victim will be unable to recognize and admit that their partner is emotionally abusive due to gaslighting and coercive behavior patterns. At the same time, denial has the ability to prolong dangerous patterns of drug abuse. The first step in leaving an emotionally abusive relationship and recovering from addiction is being able to accept the truth about the current situation.
Guidance from counselors, therapists, and addiction specialists can aid in helping a victim overcome the trauma from emotional abuse by developing a strategy for change, equipping individuals with healthy coping mechanisms, and teaching individuals how to foster and maintain healthy relationships in the future. The same therapy goes for addiction because an important step in recovery is to be able to recognize unhealthy relationships and learn how to cope with emotions. Professional help can also teach victims how to set boundaries in a safe way that will help them venture away from an emotionally abusive relationship.
Although the comorbidity between emotional abuse and addiction is high, victims should know that they have every right to recover and to live a happy, healthy life free from both abuse and addiction. With professional help, those who are suffering can break the perpetuating cycle of substance and emotional abuse while they embark on a healing journey of recovery.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.