Rapper Mac Miller, who died on Friday of an apparent overdose, used his music as an outlet to deal with his inner demons for years. His songs chronicle his battle with drug abuse and depression, and he never shied away from admitting that some of his darkest lyrics were born from personal experience.
In the wake of the 26-year-old Pittsburgh native’s death, questions have been raised about how his parting ways last May with Ariana Grande, his partner of nearly 2 years, may have affected his substance abuse. It certainly appears to have been a catalyst for their breakup, as Grande makes clear in a series of tweets following their split.
“I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be,” she wrote on Twitter in May, when a user blamed her for their breakup after Miller was arrested for drunk driving. “I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety and prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem.”
Grande isn’t the only one who’s faced the heartbreaking challenges of being in a relationship with someone battling addiction. Loving a partner who is struggling with substance abuse isn’t easy, and it can set in motion a cycle of powerful emotions, from guilt to anger to helplessness.
“This is a struggle that you should not try to do on your own,” says Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation360, which specializes in outpatient treatment for people dealing with addiction. “It’s way too emotional, and isolation is not going to help us.”
Knowing that you’re not alone is crucial to maintaining your own mental health when a loved one is trying to overcome addiction. It’s also important to understand that you need help and support, too, and that resources are available not just for the addict but for the partner of one as well. Here, Gilliland offers his top recommendations for how to cope and where to turn.
Get addiction facts from trusted sources
The internet is a vast dumping ground of not exactly accurate information. So when it comes to understanding addiction and how caretakers suffer as well, make sure you go to fact-based sources. “I think the most powerful thing initially is information,” Gilliland says.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provide online guides on topics ranging from the health effects of using specific substances to how to know when it’s time to seek treatment. By relying on government sites like these, you can be confident the info you’re getting is backed by thorough research.
Gilliland says Rethinking Drinking, a program from the NIAA, is a great starting point if you’re trying to decipher whether someone you love truly has an alcohol problem. “It’s an isolated struggle,” he says. “Often the other person is going to get very upset if you’re talking to their friends about how they drink.” Using a tool like this can help you understand what’s going on without causing unnecessary drama. Gilliland adds that it’s important to judge a person’s drinking habits based on facts, not in comparison to the tendencies of other people in your social circle.
Seek others who share your struggle
Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous provide those battling addiction with a safe space to discuss their fight with others going through a similar scenario. The same kind of safe-space support group exists for partners and family members, too. Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, and Celebrate Recovery offer in-person and virtual meetings that connect you with a network of people who understand what you’re going through. “They can be encouraging and give you hope, where isolation robs you of both of those,” Gilliland says.
See a therapist on your own
Gilliland says he often meets with patients who are trying to help their partners overcome addiction; he offers them professional insight and helps them think about the disease in new ways. By seeking a therapist, “you will hear and think about things that you never would have thought about, or ways to address them, or how to have a conversation about the way they drink or use substances that’s a good conversation and not a bunch of yelling,” he explains.
Booking sessions with a therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction is also a good option when your partner is steady on the road to recovery. Repairing the relationship following addiction isn’t easy, especially when it comes to starting to trust again. “That’s the most damaging thing that I hear men and women talk about in a relationship, that it’s just devastating to trust,” Gilliland says.
Speaking to a pro who regularly deals with these situations can help you through the process. One place that can help direct you to one in your area is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline. Gilliland also recommends asking your doctor for a referral.
Read books that offer real insight
Books offer a deeper dive into addiction that can help partners understand it better; they can also challenge your way of thinking and introduce new ideas for managing your relationship. One that Gilliland suggests is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
“One of the things that gets disrupted by substances and addictions is that our boundaries get really blurred,” Gilliland says. “This is a book that helps people get anchored to, ‘Okay, what’s appropriate for me to do and not to do?’” This read will help you figure out if you’re handling the situation in a healthy and productive way, he adds.