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The Relationship Between Infidelity and Addiction 

Infidelity is the act of cheating on a spouse or romantic partner. Although it can be emotional or sexual, couples decide what is considered infidelity. A survey by Psychology Today finds 20 to 40 percent of men cheat while 10 to 25 percent of women cheat. In many cases, infidelity and addiction go hand-in-hand. 

What Is Infidelity?

Your idea of cheating may be different from your friends. However, the following are typically considered infidelity. 

  • Having sex with someone other than your partner 
  • Having a deep emotional connection with someone that you should only have with your partner 
  • Spending time or money on another person 
  • Hiding or lying about another person to your partner 
  • Seeking fulfillment from someone other than your partner 

For many people, infidelity is the ultimate form of betrayal and causes deep emotional damage. The reasons for infidelity can be complicated. However, alcoholism and infidelity are commonly linked. 

How Do Addiction and Infidelity Play Into Each Other?

The link between infidelity and addiction is real. If you misuse drugs or alcohol, you may have a hard time remaining faithful. This is because your loyalty typically lies in your drug of choice. As a result, partners and spouses often feel neglected and taken advantage of. 

When it comes to cheating, whether it is physical or emotional, it often leads to misusing drugs or alcohol. People who cheat may struggle with both alcoholism and infidelity in an effort to cope with the cheating. 

For many spouses and partners whose loved ones struggle with addiction, infidelity is often the last straw. Not only is infidelity hurtful, but it can also cause serious health concerns. For example, a cheating partner may bring home sexually transmitted diseases. 

Furthermore, people who misuse intravenous drugs risk catching and passing on a variety of serious diseases. But, substance use disorder treatment in St. Louis can help you understand and manage these self-destructive behaviors. 

How Does Being Under the Influence Encourage Infidelity?

Individuals who misuse drugs and alcohol often blame all their poor choices on the substance. For instance, “I only did it because I was drunk” or “the drugs made me do it.” However, it is just a way not to accept responsibility. 

In addition, the use of drugs and alcohol causes relaxation and decreases inhibitions. As a result, people often don’t think about the consequences of their actions. When alcoholism and infidelity collide, relationships are destroyed, which usually increases substance use disorder severity. 

Statistic on the connection between infidelity and alcoholism

Why Does Infidelity Often Lead to Substance Use Disorder?

A surge of emotions floods an individual when they discover their partner is cheating—the perception of their significant other changes. In addition, they typically feel angry and extremely upset. Infidelity also brings feelings of unworthiness. 

Unfortunately, many victims of infidelity struggle with anxiety and depression. To cope with the emotions of infidelity, individuals often turn to drugs or alcohol. Although these substances may bring happiness, they are just a temporary distraction. Once the high wears off, the pain returns. This starts a vicious cycle that leads to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. 

What Are The Signs Of Alcoholism and Infidelity?

Alcoholism and infidelity are so closely linked, the signs of both are similar. Knowing the symptoms is crucial because the earlier you notice the signs of alcoholism, the quicker you can seek help. This minimizes the risk of infidelity and may save your relationship. 

Signs of both alcoholism and infidelity include: 

  • Behavior changes 
  • Mood swings 
  • Violent outbursts 
  • Change in appearance 
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home and work 
  • Appetite changes 
  • Change in sleep patterns 
  • Unusual smells such as perfume/cologne or alcohol 
  • Being away from home more/coming home late 
  • Unexplained purchases 
  • Paying less attention to partner/spouse and other family members 

Often, a partner or spouse will blame themselves and internalize these signs. However, admitting there is a problem is the first step to getting help. 

Why Alcohol May Lead to Cheating?

  1. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. A person free of alcohol may detest the thought of cheating. However, this same person may find cheating ok when they are drinking.
  2. Alcohol impairs judgment. When a person has a few drinks in them, they often act without thinking. As a result, they may become overly flirty with another person even though they have a partner at home. The more this person drinks, the higher the risk of infidelity.
  3. Alcohol lessens anxiety. For many people, the thought of infidelity makes them very nervous. However, alcohol gives people a false sense of security. As a result, the fear of being caught cheating fades away.
  4. Alcohol often brings emotions to the surface. For example, a person in an unhappy marriage may become sad and even cry. As a result, they may seek comfort from someone other than their partner.
  5. Alcohol changes a person. For instance, a fun, outgoing, loving person may become mean and violent after drinking alcohol. It can also turn an extremely faithful person into a cheater.

Although cheaters often blame alcohol for their infidelity, being drunk doesn’t justify cheating. Furthermore, a person is not obligated to stay with a partner who is drinking alcohol and cheating. 

Why Are Infidelity And Addiction Commonly Linked?

To fully understand how infidelity and addiction are linked, you must first understand how substances affect the brain. The brain produces dopamine when a person feels good or fulfills a desire. For example, you are hungry, so you eat a hamburger. Your brain remembers this feeling and then releases dopamine. 

When individuals use drugs or alcohol, the brain does the same thing – releases dopamine and commits it to memory. Some individuals experience such an intense high that the memory of the feeling increases their desire to feel it again. 

However, over time, this constant release of dopamine becomes overwhelming, and receptors start shutting down. As a result, individuals reduce their ability to produce dopamine naturally. But, the cravings for that intense high are still there and are impossible to shake for some. 

This can lead to infidelity in addiction in various ways. First, when a person misuses drugs or alcohol, they often engage in risky behaviors. For some people, these risky behaviors include getting into fights or driving drunk. For others, it leads to risky sexual behaviors, including infidelity. 

Second, cheating may be a way to obtain drugs and support their habit. Supporting an addiction can be expensive, and users often run out of money. In addition, someone may be trying to hide their spending from a partner or spouse. As a result, some users will have sex for drugs even if it means cheating on their spouse. 

Finally, hiding substance misuse from a partner comes with an element of shame. They may push their partner away emotionally and sexually. Users may even feel safer with other people who use drugs because they won’t judge them. 

This doesn’t mean a person with substance use disorder doesn’t trust their partner enough to be honest. It is because they are afraid of losing the person they love and respect. Although this doesn’t make sense from the outside, drugs, and alcohol cloud a person’s thinking. 

Are You Struggling With Alcoholism And Infidelity And Want To Save Your Relationship?

Are you struggling with infidelity and addiction? Have you been hiding it from your spouse or partner? First off, they deserve to know. And, they have every right to anger, devastation, betrayal, and even disgust. 

Hiding an addiction makes your partner feel deceived, but infidelity is often traumatizing. Your partner may question your relationship and themselves. You have broken trust and the life you created with one wrong decision. 

It is crucial to let your partner tell you how they feel. And, you need to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand. Family therapy can help build healthy communication skills and work through these issues. 

However, if your partner needs time apart, you must respect their needs. Explain that you love them and will be ready to talk when they are. If you have children together, do not bring them up during pick-ups or drop-offs. 

Take this time to focus on yourself. Seeking substance use disorder treatment is imperative. Depending on the severity of your substance use disorder, treatment may include inpatient treatment or an intensive outpatient treatment program. 

Whether you attend support groups every night or a partial hospitalization program, use this time to let your actions prove your commitment to your relationship. When your partner is ready to talk, be open and honest with your answers, even though they will be hurtful. 

After all the details are out, and you have no more secrets, it will take time to rebuild trust. So, if your partner wants to look through your phone or wants to know exactly where you are, oblige them. Gaining trust again means understanding your partner needs reassurance that you won’t cheat again. 

What Are Healthy Ways To Cope When Your Spouse Cheats On You?

If your partner struggles with infidelity and addiction, you probably need time alone to process this betrayal. It is best to take this time before having a deep discussion about the issues. Both parties should be ready to be open and honest while at the same time prepared to hear some excruciating details. 

It is crucial to remember that your partner on drugs or alcohol is not the same person as they are sober. As a result, it may be difficult to accept their reasoning. Furthermore, be careful what questions you ask, as some answers will be more than you want to know. 

Working through your emotions may take some time, and that is ok. You will never work through these issues and get past them if you just avoid how you feel. Attending therapy and support groups can help. 

You may have a few good days, and then one morning, you may have a bad day. Being honest with yourself and your partner will help repair the damage. 

What Are Some Steps To Repair Your Relationship After Alcoholism And Infidelity?

Alcoholism and infidelity don’t have to end in divorce. However, there has to be enough trust to stay open and honest about how each person is feeling. 

Some ways to repair the relationship include: 

  • Only talk about alcohol and cheating during designated times. Do not constantly bring it up. 
  • Do not leap to conclusions. 
  • Ask questions. Do not make accusations. 
  • Hold your partner accountable. 
  • Follow through on your boundaries and rules. 
  • Seek couples/family therapy as well as individual therapy. 

Get Help At Sana Lake Recovery

Are infidelity and addiction destroying your relationship? By treating the substance use disorder, you also change the behaviors that come along with it. Our therapists not only treat the person struggling with alcoholism and infidelity, but couples therapy can rebuild your relationship. Contact us today to find out more. 

Navarra, R. J. (n.d.). Chapter 6: Infidelity and Addiction. In Infidelity: A Practitioner’s Guide to Working with Couples in Crisis. Essay. 

Rokach A, Chan SH. Love and Infidelity: Causes and Consequences. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Feb 22;20(5):3904. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20053904 PMID: 36900915; PMCID: PMC10002055. 

Hall, J. H., Fals-Stewart, W., & Fincham, F. D. (2008). Risky sexual behavior among married alcoholic men. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 22(2), 287–292. 

Chen, S., Yang, P., Chen, T. et al. Risky decision-making in individuals with substance use disorder: A meta-analysis and meta-regression review. Psychopharmacology 237, 1893–1908 (2020). 


Picture of Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry, LCSW, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Sana Lake Recovery. She oversees clinical operations, ensuring effective treatment strategies and compliance. Before this, she was Program Director at Gateway Foundation, managing care programs and collaborating with state departments. Ashley has also served as Director of Clinical Services at Treatment Management Company, improving staff retention and clinical standards. She holds a Master's in Social Work from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor's in Social Work from Saint Leo University. She is licensed in Florida, Arizona and Missouri.
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