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Is Your Addicted Loved One a Bully? What To Do

husband and wife having some issues because of drug addiction

Addiction changes how people act, react, and live around their loved ones. That makes sense, considering addiction changes how the reward circuit in the brain works. The system of serotonin and dopamine that formerly made people feel good and anticipate seeing, doing nice things with, or getting to do things for their loved ones becomes overwhelmed by drugs or alcohol. That essentially means someone with a drug or alcohol use disorder gets little to no reward for the social stimuli that drive most people – meaning they are more open to using emotions, actions, and information to manipulate, coerce, and get their way.

If you feel like your loved one is bullying you, that may very well be the case.

People with substance use disorders withdraw from normal social experiences, experience emotional ups and downs, and often struggle to understand the emotions you are experiencing because they are struggling to understand their own emotions.

That’s not an excuse and certainly not a reason for you to take that kind of abuse, but it should give you some perspective to step back and take action to protect yourself and your family.

Why Addicts Bully Their Loved Ones


Once you create separation between social reward and feeling good because you’re with someone, it’s more difficult to behave in a socially acceptable way. Combined with the fact that addiction results in cravings and significant urges for drugs, alcohol, or simply release, as well as mood swings and even blackouts, and you have a situation in which someone who is not very in control of their emotions benefits from using their emotions on you.

Keeping You There – Addicts are often aware of the fact that drug and alcohol abuse is stigmatized and shameful. Chances are, they are deeply ashamed of their inability to put drugs or alcohol down. And, when people feel as though they are lesser, they become insecure, they are afraid they’ll lose the people around them, and they start to lash out. Sometimes, bullying takes the form of merciless repeated gaslighting, demeaning words, and actions intended to make you feel like you’re lucky to have them and not the other way around. That’s a twisted tactic to keep you in their life and they probably aren’t even aware they’re doing it.

Manipulation – Addicts very often use manipulation, whether with facts, blackmail, or twisting the truth or emotions to get what they want. This often revolves around having access to money, privacy, or drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it has to do with being left alone and not pressured to quit, to get help, or to engage in family activities, chores, etc.

However, it often starts out with you raising a subject and having it twisted around against you, until they get what they want. This kind of manipulation often starts out small, but over time it becomes a pattern and a deeply hurtful one.

Lashing Out – Drug and alcohol abuse causes significant damage to the person taking those substances.

husband and wife during a therapy at addiction rehab

This comes int eh form of dehydration and feeling bad and lethargic, it comes in the form of nutritional deficiencies because your intestines absorb fewer nutrients from food, it comes in the form of mood swings, and it comes in the form of emotional blunting – the process in which you overwhelm the serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain with drugs or alcohol and then struggle to feel without. The thing is, people experiencing extreme emotions and mood swings have a tendency to be unable to control those emotions. They might not even recognize that the emotions are just happening, they aren’t directed at anything. So, they lash out. They could get abusive and angry over even tiny things. They might cry and make a big deal out of tiny actions. Eventually, both options are bullying.

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How to React to Your Addicted Loved One Bullying You


Photo of Mother with her adult son against nature background

If your loved one is bullying you, it’s important to take steps to protect your own health and wellbeing. Bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and even outbursts are all incredibly traumatic. It’s crucial for your own health that you find ways to mitigate that harm. The following include some of the ways you can react. However, it’s important that you put your own safety first, you know your loved one and how they are likely to react. Avoid instigating violence and take steps that make sense in your own situation.

Set Boundaries – Good boundaries define what you are and are not willing to accept from your loved one. A good boundary states an explicit fact with an explicit consequence of the boundary not being met.

For example:

  • I am not willing to be yelled at. If you raise your voice at me, I will go into another room or go spend time with (person) until I feel you’ve calmed down
  • I don’t want to be manipulated. If I feel like you are manipulating me, the answer will always be no.
  • If you get blackout drunk, you will sleep on the couch.

Discuss Your Emotions – Sitting down to discuss how actions, reactions, and tactics make you feel can be effective depending on your loved one’s current state. Simply going, “This thing you are doing is hurting me and I’d like us to stop the pattern” can do a lot. Your loved one cares about you and they don’t likely want or intend to hurt you in any way. Making the fact that the behavior is hurtful known establishes a baseline, if not to immediately end the behavior, but to get buy-in and acceptance for getting help, for better following boundaries, and for getting room to consider other alternatives.

Call Authorities – If your loved one uses tactics like physical violence, threats, or threatening themselves, it’s okay to call the authorities. 911 exists to help in these sorts of emergencies. If you start calling 911 when your loved one threatens you, they’ll either be forced to stop, or you’ll get assistance from trained professionals. Both can be immensely helpful. And, if you do get the authorities involved, your loved one is much more likely to get into treatment, because they might have to.

Eventually, dealing with and living with an addicted loved one can be stressful, traumatic, and even dangerous. If you’re in danger, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself, whether involved the authorities, moving out, or otherwise getting help. It’s also important to remember that it’s never wrong to say no to your loved one and sometimes, it’s the healthiest choice for both of you.

Good luck with your loved one and getting them into treatment.


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