A Guide for Spouses of Addicts: How to Help Your Loved One

Our romantic relationships are often the most important relationships in our adult lives. We select partners to share our lives with and grow together as individuals or as a family unit. Spouses provide support and refuge from the stressors of the world around us. Marriage looks a little different, though, when you’re the spouse of an addict.

What you expect to receive from marriage, whether emotionally, financially, or spiritually, as a spouse, is upset when your partner is addicted to drugs or alcohol. While the addicted spouse’s affliction comes with many hardships, the spouse of an addict is also negatively impacted. There is hope, though. Following the right steps can lead to solutions that enable spouses to successfully navigate their role when married to a drug addict. 

Addiction’s Effects on Marriage

Whether the substance abuse is drug or alcohol-related, it causes an incredible strain on even the strongest of relationships. Even when only one partner is abusing substances, both partners experience related hardships as a unit. When married to a drug addict, different types of abuse may likely be present in the relationship. 

Under the influence of substances, issues concerning the following may occur:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Drunk driving and DUI
  • Financial troubles
  • Infidelity 
  • Legal troubles

The spouse of an addict is not the only one who may face difficulties or abuse at the hands of the addicted spouse. Children or elderly family members in the home are equally at risk of experiencing abuse or witnessing open drug use or alcohol abuse. The involvement of children, in particular, warrants intervention as parents are the most important role models in a child’s life. 

No parent wants their children to grow up thinking that abuse or drug use is a normal part of a healthy marriage. Early childhood experiences influence the habits children carry into their adult years. This is just as true for negative habit-forming as it is for positive habit-forming. This is why, when married to a drug addict, it’s imperative to address a spouse’s substance abuse.

How to Address a Spouse’s Substance Abuse

Saving a marriage burdened by the challenges drug addiction causes is possible. There are a few critical steps in the process of addressing a spouse’s substance abuse. 

Recognizing Signs of Addiction

The first step to addressing addiction is recognizing addiction. The bond spouses share means that a change in mood, habits, and overall behavior will be extremely noticeable. The promise of unconditional love and support made between spouses may come into conflict with recognizing the signs of addiction.

As the spouse of an addict, wanting to believe the best about your partner may lead to signs being missed. When a partner doesn’t openly use drugs or abuse alcohol, it can be easy to mistake the signs for something else or outright ignore them. If you suspect that you are married to a drug addict, it is important to be aware of the signs of addiction. These may include:

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability, or mood swings
  • Lack of interest in friendships or regular activities 
  • Restlessness, shaking, or nausea 
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Decline in hygiene, self-care, and sexual performance

If the aforementioned signs are present, it is reasonable to assume a partner is struggling with substance abuse and requires help.

Confronting an Addicted Spouse

Once it is clear that a spouse is battling an addiction, confrontation is necessary to begin the journey towards alleviating the physical and emotional stress that both partners are enduring. Confrontation, in most cases, is no easy feat. The same is true when it comes to confronting a spouse regarding their drug use and related behavior. 

Balancing blame and accountability is critical when addressing how addiction is affecting both partners and their union. Blame games are wholly unhelpful, as addiction is a disease. Yes, the spouse might have chosen to drink or do drugs at first, but after addiction takes hold, people are no longer in the driver’s seat of their lives and impulses.

Staging an Intervention 

It’s important to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the intervention process. This includes the spouse of an addict and the addict themselves. Substances frequently alter an individual’s state of mind and impair overall judgment. A spouse who is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction may be unpredictable.

When confronting a spouse is not enough or a viable option, due to their unpredictability or their being in a state of denial, staging an intervention may be a better choice. The nature of an intervention requires that different people in the addict’s life are there to offer both loving support and explanations of how the addicted spouse’s drug use is affecting their other close relationships. 

Support from family and friends is an effective measure against any possible physical, emotional, or psychological abuse that may occur during a confrontation. At the same time, it facilitates the end goal of the intervention: getting the addicted spouse to recognize their addiction and agree to receive the treatment they need to overcome it.

Importance of Avoiding Enabling Behaviors

It’s often difficult to navigate what is helpful and what is harmful when it comes to the role the spouse of an addict plays in their partner’s addiction. It’s important to differentiate between loving and supporting a partner versus enabling their maladaptive behaviors. 

Enabling—an act that is detrimental to recovery—occurs when the spouse of an addict engages in behaviors that prevent the addicted spouse from taking responsibility for how their addiction affects the couple, their relationship, or any other aspect of their shared lives together. Rather than helping their partner overcome addiction, enabling behaviors to allow an addicted spouse to continue using drugs or abusing alcohol without facing necessary consequences.

Enabling usually takes the form of behaviors such as:

  • Making consistent excuses for the addicted spouse’s behavior
  • Allowing spousal abuse or the abuse of other family members
  • Condoning the neglect of responsibilities on the part of the addicted spouse
  • Allowing the addicted partner to remain in a state of denial

With enabling behaviors understood and subsequently avoided, the person married to a drug addict can take steps to not only avoid enabling their partner but also maintain their personal wellbeing.

To avoid enabling a partner, the spouse of an addict should:

  • Set healthy boundaries
  • Make time for self-care and stress management
  • Let their partner take responsibility for themself
  • Seek the help of a professional or find treatment options

Addiction rewires the brain of an addict. Enabling behaviors aid this process by reinforcing the toxic or abusive behaviors that an addict engages in. There may be behaviors that you engage in without knowing that those behaviors are enabling. Recognizing what behaviors prevent recovery and refraining from performing those behaviors is crucial both before and during the recovery process.

Finding Help for a Struggling Partner: Treatment Programs for Addiction

Addiction treatment comes in many forms, all intending to help the addicted spouse overcome their dependency on drugs or alcohol. The type of treatment administered depends on the needs of the addicted spouse. The different types of recovery available include:

Detox

Detox is a treatment for those in need of withdrawal and intoxication management. The stress of withdrawal on the body and mind is hard to manage. Ceasing regular use of a drug or alcohol comes with highly uncomfortable symptoms. To relieve withdrawal symptoms, many addicts return to their substance of choice when left to detox on their own. 

This form of treatment is especially beneficial for those who are using substances that are dangerous to withdraw from. With medication-assisted detox, patients are safely assisted through the detox process all while avoiding life-threatening or simply uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. 

Residential

Residential treatment is highly beneficial for those who require consistent care in a controlled setting. Without having to stay in a hospital setting, those suffering from substance use disorder (SUD) are offered structure care that includes:

  • Family counseling and individual counseling 
  • Group therapy or behavioral therapy
  • A Therapeutic Community (TC)
  • Medically-assisted treatments
  • 12 Step programs

The high level of care provided in a residential treatment setting is available for short-term stays and long-term stays. Long-term stays may range from as long as a month up to 6 months or more, with the length determined by what the patient needs to overcome their addiction. 

Short-term stays consist of an intense yet brief 3-week to 6-week stay. Throughout a short-term stay, patients are in inpatient care before returning home. Once home, patients are still recommended to continue care through an outpatient treatment program to eliminate the possibility of relapse. 

Outpatient

In some cases, addiction doesn’t warrant the inpatient care that comes with residential treatment. For patients continuing care after residential treatment or for those whose substance abuse isn’t as severe, outpatient treatment provides the support needed to stay clean or overcome substance abuse. 

Outpatient treatment comes in three different forms:

Listed in order of the most intensive treatment option to the least intensive, the treatment administered through a PHP closes the gap between outpatient and inpatient care. With the needs of addicts varying greatly, the different types of outpatient programs aim to provide the critical therapy and care required to prevent relapse. 

Sober Living 

Sober living, also known as transitional living, is a way to facilitate the transition from old habits to new ones. Transitional living provides an environment free of substances and normalizes sober living for addicts. The spouse of an addict can be sure that their partner will be prepared for the stressors of life after recovering in an environment that temporarily removes the addicted spouse from a triggering environment in which they used to abuse drugs.

Aftercare

Addiction is not something that is cured in the traditional sense of the word. The nature of diseases sometimes requires that they are managed throughout a patient’s life. Much like how cancer is not cured but instead classified as “in remission,” life-long management is required to treat addiction and prevent relapse. 

Aftercare is a program that tackles the “what’s next?” of the recovery process by providing continued support through therapy, alumni support, sober living arrangements, and medical evaluations.

Moving Forward with Care from Harmony Place

Here at Harmony Place, we understand the challenges that spouses face when married to a drug addict. Our continuum of care, through design, provides relief from substance abuse that allows couples to thrive while preventing the relapse of the addicted partner. If you are the spouse of an addict or experiencing SUD yourself, contact us today to start taking steps towards treatment for you or your loved one. With the right treatment option, a future free of substance abuse is possible.