Infidelity refers to the act of cheating on a romantic partner or spouse. This can be sexual, emotional, and may be influenced by a variety of factors—including the use of drugs or alcohol.
Substance abuse, or the misuse of drugs or alcohol, can affect all areas of a person’s life, including their relationships with those closest to them and their ability to make rational decisions.
If someone you love with a drug or alcohol problem has been unfaithful to you—you’re not alone. Here’s information on the link between drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and infidelity.
Learn more about the effects of substance abuse on families
What Does Infidelity Look Like?
Many people think of infidelity as sexual or physical in nature. For instance, extramarital sex or kissing another person with whom you are not in a committed relationship.
In reality, the term ‘infidelity’ can refer to a number of scenarios.
What infidelity can look like:
- sexual affair (e.g. touching, kissing, sexual intercourse)
- emotional affair
- cyber affair with another person (i.e. occurs completely online or over the phone)
- object affair (i.e. obsession with an object)
One of the hallmarks of a case of infidelity is a partner acting in a way that significantly detracts from a relationship. And this does not have to involve physical contact with another person.
An affair can signal that a person is not emotionally or physically invested in a relationship, or might make a partner feel inadequate, insecure, or confused about the state of their relationship.
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What We Know About Addiction And Infidelity
Drug and alcohol abuse is a risk factor for infidelity and other relationship problems, including separation, divorce, codependency, and domestic abuse or violence.
Why this occurs may be explained by a few different effects of substance abuse, including its effects on the brain, as well as shared risk factors between infidelity and drug addiction.
Many types of drugs can cause a person to think, feel, or act in ways they normally wouldn’t, which might lead to acts of infidelity or difficulties in a relationship.
Cloudy thinking, for instance, and poor judgment are common side effects of intoxication. And if someone has a substance use disorder, this may occur very frequently.
Commonly used drugs known to affect cognitive function include:
- sleep medications
People who experience cognitive effects from their substance misuse may not be fully aware of their actions and may be vulnerable to situations of non-consensual contact with another person.
While a partner’s infidelity can be upsetting, it may also be important to remember that people who are intoxicated may not be in a state to fully consent to acts such as kissing or other sexual behaviors.
Addiction is, in part, characterized by a lack of control.
This lack of control might lead someone who has developed a drug or alcohol addiction to engage in actions out of desperation for drugs or alcohol.
This could lead to an affair with:
- a drug dealer
- a friend with drugs
- an old spouse or partner
Furthermore, the cognitive effects of drug and alcohol abuse may affect a person’s clarity, their priorities, and may cause them to act in ways that are reckless and confusing to a partner.
Behavioral addictions, including sex addiction, often co-occur with substance addiction.
Sex addiction, for instance, may be recognized by repeatedly engaging in sexual behaviors despite negative consequences to their life, including effects on a serious relationship.
Like drugs or alcohol, sexual intercourse can become an outlet for people to manage feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, or be influenced by other factors, such as past sexual trauma.
Consequences Of Addiction And Infidelity
Infidelity can have serious effects on a person’s relationship with a loved one, as well as other consequences, depending on the nature of the infidelity and how long it has gone on.
A drug or alcohol use disorder, too, can also have consequences not only on a relationship but virtually all other aspects of a person’s life as well, left unaddressed or untreated.
Consequences of both infidelity and addiction might include:
- domestic disputes
- breaking up
- child custody issues
- financial problems
- legal problems
- emotional abuse
- poor mental health
- low self-esteem and self-worth
- troubles with intimacy
- loss of trust
No relationship is perfect. But experiencing infidelity can be enormously difficult for a person to grapple with, especially if their loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol.
Does Infidelity Always Lead To Divorce?
For many, divorce can be a painful outcome of difficulties in a relationship. It is not typically a decision that spouses in committed relationships come to lightly.
Deciding to divorce a spouse with an addiction who has cheated on you is not an inevitable decision, but it can be a valid option for those who do not believe a relationship is salvageable.
Healing From A Partner’s Infidelity
Infidelity can sever trust in a relationship, but it can also cause emotional and psychological harm to the person who has been cheated on. Healing from this is possible, but may take time.
If your partner has a substance use disorder, additional drug treatment may be recommended.
One of the first avenues couples who have experienced infidelity turn to for help healing a relationship is relationship or couples counseling.
What couples counseling can offer:
- an opportunity to voice feelings, concerns, and the ways that infidelity has affected your life honestly and with the guidance of a counseling professional
- suggestions for improving communication between couples
- supportive strategies and activities for addressing wrong-doings in a relationship
- ideas for improving emotional or physical bonds that have been hurt by infidelity
- an opportunity to identify external factors outside of the relationship that may be important to address for healing (e.g. co-occurring disorders)
Each couple will have differing goals for the counseling process and may differ in what they hope to get out of it. This is something that can be discussed early on or develop through initial sessions.
People who have decided to break up with their loved one, are separated, or otherwise have their own individual issues they wish to work through may benefit from individual therapy.
Seeking individual therapy to work through a loved one’s substance abuse and infidelity can be an important part of the healing process for someone who’s been hurt physically or emotionally.
What individual therapy can help address:
- difficulties with trust
- intimacy issues
- mental health struggles
- inability to move on
- conflicting feelings about the infidelity
- feelings of blame, embarrassment, or shame
- past trauma
- coping with a loved one’s addiction
Going to individual counseling sessions can be a supportive supplement to couples counseling, or be helpful on its own. It’s okay to not be okay—and even more, to ask for help.
Coping With Infidelity
Relationship problems can also be a risk factor for turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. This is what is known as an unsupportive coping strategy—and will ultimately hurt rather than help.
It’s common to feel hurt, confused, sad, angry, and to want to cling to anything that can offer relief following infidelity. This might include alcohol or drug use.
The repeated misuse of drugs or alcohol in order to cope with infidelity, however, can lead to substance dependence and addiction, which may develop into a substance use disorder.
Find Addiction Treatment For Yourself Or A Loved One
If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, it may be time to consider addiction treatment options. At AddictionResource.net, we may be able to help.
To find drug or alcohol addiction treatment options at a high-quality treatment center near you, contact us online or call our free and confidential helpline for more information today.
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- Psych Central — Understanding the Different Types of Infidelity
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Risk and Protective Factors
- University of Colorado Boulder — Extramarital sex partners likely to be close friends, and men are more apt to cheat
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Behavioral Couples Therapy for Substance Abuse: Rationale, Methods, and Findings