The Addictive Relationship

The addictive relationshipOne of the most powerful aspects of an addiction is the relationship one develops with their addiction. Now that may sound strange, but ask anyone who has struggled with an addiction and they will more than likely say they definitely have a “relationship” with their addiction. They may not know why or how it happens, they just know it has. Phrases I have heard people make in early recovery are, “I just miss it so much”, “It’s like I lost a friend”, or “It was always there for me.”

Craig Nakken, in his book book “The Addictive Personality” explains very well how and why this relationship is formed when he wrote:

They try to get their emotional and intimacy needs met through this relationship. Because they experience a mood change, they start to believe their emotional needs have been met. This is an illusion. Once a person starts to look to an object or event for emotional stability, he or she  is building the foundation of an addictive relationship with it. This is the insanity of addiction, for people normally get emotional and intimacy needs met through a balanced combination of intimate connections with other people, themselves, their community, and with a Higher Power. What makes the addictive relationship so attractive is the mood change it produces. It works every time; it’s guaranteed. No human relationship can make this kind of guarantee. Addicts trust they will experience a mood change if they perform certain behaviors.

There a couple of statements that are worth discussing. First, addiction, I believe is mostly about emotion regulation and he explains that the start of the addictive relationship happens when people use an “object or event” as a means of emotion regulation. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food etc. are a very effective means to changing ones emotional state in an instant. I have often asked people in Relapse Prevention groups what percentage of relapses are emotionally based and most reply, “100%”.

If the addictive relationship is formed through finding “emotional stability” then addictive behaviors become very alluring. This leads to the second important idea from this quote, the idea that the emotional change sought after is “guaranteed” through addictive behaviors. He then states the important truth, “No human relationship can make this kind of guarantee.” Not even those relationships that are the most loving and important to us such as a loving parent, spouse, sibling or friend. A loved one, no matter how close the relationship, can be there for us how we want or need them to be 100% of the time. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, food, cutting, ect. can be.

Although it is temporary, an addict knows that when they engage in their addictive behavior, they will experience a mood change every time! It is very difficult for loved ones to compete with this kind of relationship. I believe successful recovery can start to happen when we can acknowledge this relationship, see it for what it really is, “an illusion”, and learn to emotionally separate ourselves from it as we would an abusive relationship.

To learn more about this addictive relationship read, “Grieving the Loss of Addiction“.


Garron Griffitts, Addiction Counselor in Mesa, ArizonaGarron Griffitts, LCSW, is an individual and couples therapist who specializes in the field of addiction and recovery.   He is the founder of Reaching Greater Heights and is part of the Arizona Family Therapy Group.

He works with couples on establishing safety and security within their relationship and helps couples understand each other and how they can be a better support to one another.

Click here to read more about Garron Griffitts and his the therapy he provides at Arizona Family Therapy Group.