photo: Corbis

It’s likely that we’ve all known someone in our lifetime that’s struggled with substance abuse problems. But knowing someone and being involved in a romantic relationship with that person is a whole different ball game. The problem will not only affect the person with the addiction, but it will most certainly impact your life in a negative way.

“If you truly are in love with someone who is struggling with substance abuse issues, you have to focus on getting them into a space where they can heal and work through their personal pain before expecting them to take on a relationship,” life coach Kamari Chelsea says.  

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When Khloe Kardashian entered into her marriage with Lamar Odom over four years ago, she was well aware of his family history with substance abuse. The former NBA star grew up with a father who was addicted to heroine and talked about it on the reality show Khloe & Lamar. While his mother was a source of strength in his life, she died of colon cancer when he was just 12. His grandmother, who raised him, died in 2004 followed by his infant son, Jayden, who died of sudden infant death syndrome two years later, and his best friend died last year, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“Death always seems to be around me,” he previously told the newspaper. “I’ve been burying people for a long time.”

The impact of those deaths paired with his father’s drug addiction contributed to Odom’s own problems with substance abuse. According to researchers from Duke University, one of the most prevalent factors that can influence whether a person develops an addiction is environment, which becomes all the more important when considering children. 

In fact, they believe that some children may carry a gene that makes them more sensitive to their environment and one study conducted found that approximately 75 percent of the participants who did not seek help had substance abuse or psychological issues by age 25.

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Odom’s struggles with addiction that likely stemmed from the environment he was raised in and the subsequent impact of the deaths of his loved ones that followed played a huge factor in the demise of his marriage to Kardashian. Now, after being found unconscious in Nevada brothel, she is by his bedside with the fate of his life literally in her hands as their divorce was not finalized. 

So how then can one love another who has substance abuse issues from a healthy distance?

Don’t do it alone: “The absolute best step to protect yourself and the former partner is to get them the support system they need,” Chelsea suggests. “However, if they’re not ready to take that step it can be easy to enable them by remaining in their life. For that reason, seek a professional counselor to help you mitigate the situation safely.”

Understand that addiction is a disease: “Substance abuse is a real illness. Just as you would see a doctor and work together as a family to support someone who is battling cancer, you should do the same for someone who is battling substance abuse,” Chelsea stresses. “No one should think that their love alone will save their partner. You absolutely must seek support of professionals, family and friends.”

Face personal guilt after hard love and support has failed: “Grief counseling is key for anyone who is dealing with a loved one who has substance abuse issues. Long before that person may pass away, people often feel as though they’ve lost their loved one to the drugs or alcohol,” Chelsea says. “If the situation does become dire or fatal, you should seek help then if you have not already been working with someone to counsel you through the situation.”

Don’t put yourself at risk by pursuing love with an addict: “Relationships require work and commitment, which is too much to ask of someone who is already struggling with themselves,” Chelsea advises. “If you do pursue a relationship with someone who has substance abuse issues, prepare for the health of the relationship to take a back seat to the addiction and to the healing process.”