Dear Dr. Frankie,
How much do alcohol and drugs affect a relationship? What do alcohol and drugs symbolize both in individuals and in relationships? What is the best way to approach this issue? Is this a concern for both people irrespective of the frequency of use? Is past usage and consumption an indicator of the present and the future?
These are complicated questions and the answers vary dramatically depending upon the individuals involved, their drug use history, and their genetics. As I answer this question please keep in mind that when I mention “drugs” I am also referring to alcohol. There is a tremendous problem in our LGBT community of alcohol abuse.
As many people know, studies show that genetics play an important role in how the body copes with drug use. Likewise, environment plays a role, for example if someone grows up with parents who are drug addicts or abusers the chance of repeating this pattern of behavior increases. Another factor in how a person will respond to drug use is what type of drug the person is ingesting. Some drugs are more addictive than others. Some drugs are more socially acceptable. For example, it is much more acceptable to admit you drink a six-pack of beer or smoke marijuana every night than to admit shooting heroin or smoking meth.
It is important to note that addiction or abuse is not necessarily determined by the quantity or frequency of drug use, but rather by the consequences of use. Some people can frequently use significant quantities of drugs without ever becoming addicted or having it negatively impact their lives. Others, who may even be consuming less quantity, less frequently, will find their drug use is affecting their work performance, relationships, and household responsibilities. They might even find themselves in legal trouble as a result (DUI, debt going to collection agencies, etc…).
Drug use can symbolize a variety of things. Some people use drugs to self-medicate and cope with the daily pressures and stressors of life. Some people use depressants or narcotics to numb themselves from emotional pain. Many people rely on drugs to rid themselves of their inhibitions and perceived shortcomings.
Alcohol abuse is much more common than alcohol dependence. When considering if alcohol is becoming too important in one’s daily life, one factor to consider is if you find yourself making plans to facilitate drinking. For example, drinking alone is somewhat frowned upon and not nearly as fun as social drinking. What some alcohol abusers/dependents will do is find clever ways to integrate drinking activities into their daily lives; such as Champagne and Mimosa-laden brunches, hosting BBQs and football games, dinner parties with free flowing wine. You may wonder, who doesn’t enjoy a BBQ with friends or wine tasting party? My point is that if you notice you or a loved one is always scheduling such activities to ensure a bottle of bubbly is never out of reach, consider this a red flag.
If you are still concerned about your personal or a loved one’s drug use, consult the Diagnostic Criteria from the DSM IV. This resource will provide specific criteria differentiating between drug abuse verses drug dependence.