Many people struggle to understand why their partner chooses to abuse alcohol or drugs. Why would my boyfriend or husband choose alcohol over making memories with me? Why would he waste his weekend with a hangover more often than not? Why does he feel the need to party with his friends in Vegas until the sun comes up whenever he goes on a work trip? If you have found yourself struggling to answer these questions the information below may help you to understand more about addiction.

The problem of substance abuse is larger than these questions, and when someone struggles with addiction, the active decision-making process is no longer involved. The brain is essentially hijacked by alcohol or drugs, and the reward center of the brain prioritizes drug use over all else.

Over time, a person may develop a tolerance and then dependency on their substance of choice. Tolerance develops when a person needs to use more to achieve the same effect. So for example, you may notice your husband used to drink a couple of beers after dinner but lately it’s been more like a six pack. Withdrawal occurs when the person has a physiological addiction to the substance, and, if not taken consistently, the body experiences a series of reactions like sweating, nausea and seizures.

Beyond the physical addiction to drugs and alcohol there are also other reasons people abuse drugs and alcohol. Initially, the drugs and alcohol may seem to help reduce anxiety, numb uncomfortable emotional states or give a sense of freedom or euphoria. These pleasurable effects are welcomed by the person as their way to cope with life and the stressors that come with it. Most people never consciously decide to become addicted—the process occurs slowly over a period of time.

Most people who develop a serious problem with drugs or alcohol began using during adolescence or even childhood. If you know your spouse well, think about the time period when they may have first started drinking or using. What was going on during that time for your partner? Consider the issues in their life they may have been trying to push away or weren’t old enough to manage successfully. Sometimes this time period of initial use can be critical to understanding how the person developed their subsequent addiction.

In order to help support your boyfriend or husband, you will need to encourage them to get help. The first step is communicating your concerns for your partner from a place of love and compassion. Try to avoid using blaming and guilt when you approach the subject. It’s important to remember you can’t be the one to fix the problem; your boyfriend or husband will need to agree it’s time to seek professional help from a credentialed treatment facility. Your partner needs to learn healthy ways of dealing with stress and their emotions over time. Recovery is a long-term process and it takes commitment.

The best advice is to approach addiction as a chronic disease that requires ongoing treatment in the same way heart disease and diabetes are managed. You can be a source of emotional support and encouragement throughout the process your boyfriend or husband embarks upon in his recovery. In many ways, your partner’s addiction has taken a toll on you too. It may be helpful to consider your own professional support like a therapist who can assist you in dealing with a partner who is struggling with addiction. There is hope for recovery, and understanding the reasons why people become addicted to alcohol and drugs can be part of the path to healing.