Toxic Relationships and how they affect Drug and Alcohol Addiction

A Toxic Relationship

The saga/court case and toxic relationship between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp was far more than just a spectacle for curious onlookers. Aside from it being a real case between two real humans, it’s a demonstration of the effects of drug use (and abuse), domestic violence and frankly, a very good example of addiction and its devastating effects.

addiction wins with a toxic relationship

Depp sued (and won) his ex-wife, Heard, for defamation – but that is not what we want to discuss.  Instead, let’s chat about the cycle of abuse, trauma and addiction that is so prominently on show throughout this spectacle.

Depp has testified throughout the case, about his drug and alcohol use – alcohol is one of the biggest addiction perpetrators. He has documented the usage through his relationship with Heard and brought out a few common trends which are commonplace in the recovery community including:

  1. How being exposed to drug use in a person’s young years impacts their future drug use
  2. The effects of exposure as a young person and how it translates into self-medication
  3. Emotional sobriety
  4. Trauma and its effect on drug usage and return to drug use.
  5. Toxic relationships and how they impact recovery.

Depp was very open about his drug usage as a child

Substance abuse has a number of factors which are often first formed in childhood. Trauma, family issues and genetics can all play a role in those years, even if drugs are not used in adolescence. Depp confirms that he began using drugs while still in his young school days. Not surprising as we know that many people in recovery use drugs long before they are even considered adults. Another common factor in addiction is that addicts often grow up with a parent, or parents who suffered with drug addiction. Depp for example recounts how he would fetch his mother’s pills for her nervous condition as a pre-teen, and then he himself began taking them to calm down. He added that he didn’t know how to deal with the home situation and therefore began self-medicating, using drugs…

Emotional sobriety is key to recovery in a toxic relationship

Toxic relationship  can increase addiction and drug use

Many patients will enter recovery with the sole intent of physically kicking the toxic habit. Removing the drug, will remove the problem, they believe.  The truth of the matter however is that this simply is not enough. To properly arm one’s self from the attack of relapse and the thirst a drug has for return to use, one has to address the emotional and mental factors that play a big role in drug use.  This address is commonly known as emotional recovery and sobriety. The idea around emotional recovery is quite simple. Recovering addicts hoping to stay sober and continue their lives normally in the long run need to address and manage their toxic and negative feelings that lead to cravings, discomfort and essentially, relapse. It is therefore applicable to say that a person’s physical recovery is completely and thoroughly intertwined with their emotional recovery. Should the ‘wheels fall off’ of emotional recovery, and the efforts are not maintained, then it is almost impossible to maintain the physical aspect of recovery. Get to the root of the issue; focus on that and of course the rest of rehab will fall into place (with hard work of course).

Your past is not something you can escape. Embrace and challenge it.

Depp spoke of the idea that one day people will have to face the feelings and demons from their youth.  He could not be speaking more about the truth. It is important in recovery (long term recovery) to address the causes of the toxic addiction in the first place.

Triggers can be found in trauma and drugs can be used as a coping mechanism

One of the central points during Depp’s trial has centred on an incident that took place in Australia. The incident led to a finger injury.  When recounting the incident Depp spoke about his disbelief and feeling quite lost. He even said he didn’t understand why it was all happening. Regardless of who was the aggressive party in the incident, we can focus on what he did after the incident. He went to the bar, and grabbed a bottle of vodka. This is a common reaction for those with substance use disorders and is a clear example of a trigger in action.

The fact that Depp had 18 months of sobriety under his belt meant nothing when he returned to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. He knew it was wrong, and even dismissed his own advice about delaying what he said was inevitable. Instead he decided to block the pain and remove all the hard work he had put in. Why? Trauma and its associated stresses can lead to relapse and a return to use. It is far from surprising to learn that when a person has a history of self-medication through drug use that they would boomerang right back to those same methods when they are faced with painful, escalating and emotional situations and challenges.

The idea of preventing relapse

Depp’s relapse and return to use was not surprising. Statistically he was bound to return to use and addiction, given the very obvious circumstances his life encompassed. Had he identified his triggers and therefore highlighted the potentially dangerous situations things could have been different. He could have worked with therapists and rehab specialists to build core skills and work on strategies needed to cope with and avoid those situations and triggers.

Relationships that are toxic are deadly for recovery

Within the world of recovery, patients are often encouraged to move away from their normal circles and mates if they are truly trying to recover and become their best selves. They need to avoid people and situations that lead to drug use (and associated triggers) whenever and wherever possible. No more visits to the clubs, pubs and even sadly, the good old braais. If this means that friendship parameters need to be checked and re-managed, then so be it. This could also spell the end of some friendships. Some relationships such as loved ones, family, spouses and close friends need to be checked. If there is no support for recovery, or stress is caused, then an evaluation must be made and relevant moves to course correct, taken.
Link to 15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Recovery can mean life or death. Literally.  Toxicity can be that decision-maker.

Toxic relationship affects addiction Johny Depp Amber heard

Toxic relationships are red flags in normal life, so you can only imagine what it means in the world of addiction. They can impact all aspects of recovery and can actually lead to death. This may sound dramatic but think for a moment of this;   a return to drug use can lead to an overdose, a car accident, a run-in with a criminal and… death.

With Depp and Heard, the relationship was clearly toxic. Although Depp claims he is in sobriety now, the effects of addiction, trauma and those negative situations were perpetuated by the relationship.

It is vitally important that help is sought to cope with past trauma and addiction. Self-medication through substance abuse is clearly not going to work. The case between Depp and Heard should be taken as a lesson in understanding the complexity of addiction and abuse between people and substances.

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