Do’s and Don’ts for Helping Your Addicted Spouse

Addiction can be one of the most difficult situations a married couple faces. Living with an addicted spouse can be so difficult many marriages end in separation or divorce if the person struggling with addiction doesn’t get treatment. According to the Couples Counseling Center in Chicago, addiction is the seventh most common reason why marriages end in divorce.

Divorce or separation among couples struggling with addiction issues may be common, but it’s not inevitable. If your partner suffers from an addiction, there are specific do’s and don’ts experts recommend you put into place to help your addicted spouse.

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Please keep in mind, however, that no matter what you do, ultimately it is up to the person abusing drugs or alcohol to acknowledge an addiction and seek help for it. It is only at that point that healing can begin.

Drug and Alcohol Use in America

Nobody likes to think that addiction will happen to them or to their partner. But with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as other common addictions such as compulsive overeating, pornography and gambling, many spouses will find themselves having tough talks with their partners about addiction.

Alcoholism is one of the more common substance abuse disorders. It affects many marriages. All statistics are taken from the National Institute on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Numbers reported are as of 2013, the most recent year figures are available.

  • 7 percent of adults ages 18 and older have an alcohol abuse disorder.
  • This translates into 16.6 million people in the United States.
  • The majority who have an alcohol abuse disorder are men, with 10.8 million men suffering from alcohol abuse disorder.

In addition to alcohol abuse, drug abuse also strains marriages:

  • Some 24.6 million Americans aged 18 or older used an illicit substance in the past month.
  • Marijuana use is on the rise since 2007, with 19.8 million users reported in 2013. This may coincide with the legalization of pot in some states.
  • Some 6.5 million Americans used prescription drugs nonmedically.
  • Other commonly abused drugs include methamphetamine, heroin and synthetic drugs.

Compare these numbers to the number of married couples in the United States during the same time period. There were 59.2 million married couples in 2013.

Addiction can strain and even destroy marriages, especially when only one person is struggling with the problem. Consider these research findings:

  • Couples who have one person who heavily uses alcohol and another who does not are more likely to divorce than couples who both heavily use alcohol.
  • Alcohol abuse and heavy drinking are closely linked to low marital happiness.
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs is the No. 3 reason cited by women in divorces. It’s No. 8 for men.

Of course, studies have also shown that substance abuse and marital unhappiness can feed off one another, causing a cycle that will continue unless someone makes hard choices.

Signs of Addiction in a Marriage

Some couples know before they say “I do” that a partner has issues with drugs or alcohol. Those in recovery can be the healthiest, most well-adjusted people you’ll meet, but they can also relapse.

Other couples may be shocked to find out the extent of a partner’s problems with drugs or alcohol. Addicts can be especially skillful at concealing their problems from others, and that includes their spouse or potential spouse. It may be only after you’re married that you realize your partner has a substance abuse problem, and then all your attention goes to helping your addicted spouse.

For yet a third group, addiction creeps into the marriage. One partner undergoes surgery and takes necessary prescription painkillers during recovery, only to find they can’t stop taking them. Someone begins to dabble with marijuana, cocaine or synthetic drugs. After-work stops at the bar become nightly events instead of weekly events.

It doesn’t matter how your partner got where they are today. What matters instead is recognizing the problem, and understanding and implementing the do’s and don’ts of helping your addicted spouse.

Recognizing Signs of Substance Abuse in a Marriage

Each couple is unique, and the signs of drug and alcohol abuse may be difficult to spot or very obvious. If you suspect your partner has a problem, look for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Money disappearing without explanation.
  • Drugs, alcohol or drug paraphernalia hidden around the house.
  • Extensive time spent “with friends” partying, especially without you.
  • Broken promises, such as a promise not to drink at a party that turns into a binge.
  • Inability to stop drinking or using substances even after repeated promises not to use them.
  • Driving while intoxicated or under the influence.
  • Putting children or others’ lives at risk with their intoxication or behavior while intoxicated.
  • Spending more time away from home without explanation.
  • Difficulty keeping a job, especially due to chronic lateness or absenteeism.
  • Health issues, such as liver problems, sores that won’t heal, chronic coughs or digestive issues.

Many spouses say they feel like a single parent when their partner turns to drugs or alcohol. One of the hardest things to bear while your loved one is using is the undue burden it puts on you to run the household while your partner struggles with their disease.

Drugs and alcohol can cause people’s personalities to change drastically. While under the influence or while experiencing cravings, they may say or do things they wouldn’t normally do. Personality changes are hard on a spouse. It’s as if the person you married has disappeared, replaced by a monster named Addiction.

When to Leave an Addicted Spouse

Many people wonder when to leave an addicted spouse. Each person has to decide for themselves what the boundaries are in the relationship.

Remember that marriage is a legal contract. You are the one the police will call when your spouse has been arrested for a DUI. You’ll be responsible for any shared debt incurred during marriage, so if your partner is running the credit cards up to the max to get cash advances to buy drugs, you’re responsible for paying it back. Consider this when deciding whether to stay or go. Counseling can really help in these situations.

In order to keep yourself and your children safe, consider moving out temporarily or permanently in the following situations:

  • Violence: Any violent or abuse behavior from your spouse is a signal to get out. Physical violence of any kind is never acceptable. Get help for yourself immediately and protect your children and pets.
  • Emotional abuse: Kids are like sponges. They absorb everything they see. If they hear your spouse verbally abusing you or they themselves are verbally abused, it leaves scars just as surely as physical abuse. You may need to remove yourself and the kids from the home if your spouse becomes emotionally abusive, too.
  • Infidelity: Infidelity breaks the marriage bond, but it can also expose you to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDs. If you know your partner slept with someone else while intoxicated, you may wish to visit your doctor immediately for the appropriate tests, and insist your spouse gets tested, too.
  • Open drug use at home: Openly using drugs around your children is never acceptable. Don’t let your kids be exposed to your partner’s drug use. It only makes it seem acceptable.
  • Strangers in your home: Waking up and finding strangers passed out on your couch is scary. It’s especially scary to think your children may be in the house with other intoxicated people. For your safety and that of your children, consider moving out temporarily or permanently.

Knowing when to leave an addicted spouse is always difficult. It’s heart-wrenching to leave behind someone who is sick. Yet in order to maintain your own sanity and to protect those you love, you may need to pack your bags and go.

How to Deal with an Addicted Spouse

Some people may not face frightening situations such as the ones listed above. For them, it may be better to stay in the marriage and try to help a spouse with drug addiction.

If you’re committed to living with an addicted spouse, you can take the following steps to help them get help.

  • Ask for help: Reach out to family, friends, and others you trust. Your family physician may be a good person to start with to find addiction counseling and recovery resources locally. But don’t suffer in silence. You need help to get your spouse into treatment and to deal with the daily mental and physical upheaval of living with someone struggling with addiction.
  • Demonstrate support: If your spouse indicates interest in attending a recovery program, show your support. Attend an open 12-step meeting with your spouse. Encourage your spouse to attend recovery meetings, read recovery literature, and do whatever is necessary to achieve sobriety.
  • Take care of yourself: Being married to someone struggling with addiction can be exhausting. Your own emotional needs may not be met. It’s important to take good care of yourself. Make sure you have a support system in place for your own needs, such as a therapist you can turn to for advice.
  • Learn about addiction: Many spouses struggle with feeling unloved or unwanted because their addicted partners turn to drugs or alcohol. It’s as if they believe their partner found substances more attractive than the person they married.When you learn more about addiction, you’ll discover cravings are powerful physical and psychological factors that drive addictive behavior. Brain changes also lead to behavior changes. It’s not about you. It’s about the biology and psychology of addiction. The more you can learn about this, the more supportive you can be.
  • Cultivate patience: You may be anxious for your partner to change, but change often takes place gradually. It will take time for your partner to realize his or her behavior is harming your marriage. It can take time for recovery to work or for partners to find a path of recovery that works for them. During this time, you may feel frightened or impatient.
    Why can’t your spouse just quit and go back to the way they were? You’ll need to cultivate a great deal of patience, both for your partner and for yourself, while helping your addicted spouse.

The Don’ts of Dealing with an Addicted Spouse

In addition to this list of do’s, there’s also a list of don’ts when dealing with an addicted spouse.

In order to help your addicted spouse, don’t:

  • Lie for your spouse: Lying to cover your partner’s hangover or binge isn’t going to help get them into recovery faster. Don’t call in sick for your partner or make excuses to family or friends for odd behavior. Let your spouse explain and take responsibility.
  • Cover up their addiction: Hiding pill bottles, liquor bottles or otherwise covering up for your spouse’s addiction just helps them continue along the same path they’re on. Don’t cover their tracks.
  • Avoid the issue: Many partners turn a blind eye to their spouse’s addiction out of fear. They may be afraid to face the consequences or even afraid things will change. The old expression “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know” guides many people into staying put in bad situations rather than seeking help.Don’t ignore your partner’s problems. If your spouse had chest pains, you’d insist they go to the emergency room. If your spouse is struggling with addiction, you’ll also need to take action and help them find a recovery program. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.
  • Use drugs or drink to keep them company: Using alongside your spouse for company doesn’t help them get off of drugs or alcohol and may just encourage their bad behavior. Worse, you may end up addicted, too.
  • Blame or judge: When you learn the facts about addiction, you’ll understand addiction is a disease. Blaming and judging your spouse for their actions doesn’t help. It only makes them turn away from you. Chances are good they want to stop taking drugs or drinking, but they just don’t know how. Blame never solves anything.
  • Turn away from your spouse: Even if you have to move out temporarily, keep in contact with your spouse. Turning away or locking them out of your life should be a last resort reserved for people who become violent or abusive.
  • Blame yourself: It is never your fault that your partner struggles with addiction. Genetics, social factors and, yes, family factors can influence addiction. But the ultimate choice to drink or do drugs was with your spouse. After a while, the ability to choose is lost as addiction takes hold. Your spouse did choose to take that first drink or dabble in drugs. You’re not to blame for their behavior.
  • Expect things to return to what they were: Even after your spouse enters recovery, your life and your relationship will never return to what it was before. That happens no matter what serious illness a couple faces, whether it’s cancer, a heart attack or an addiction. Accept that your relationship is on a new footing, and learn what this means as you both embark on your spouse’s program of recovery.

How to Help a Spouse With Drug Addiction: Finding Peace

If your partner agrees to enter treatment, here’s what you can expect:

  • Depending on what type of addiction your partner struggles with, they may need to enter a detox program. During detox, people are monitored to make sure their health remains safe while their bodies rid themselves of drugs and alcohol.
  • Your partner may stay at a treatment facility where he or she will attend group or individual counseling, recovery meetings and other programs to promote recovery.
  • You’ll work together to create a blueprint for recovery. A blueprint lists the steps your partner needs to take to stay healthy and free from drugs or alcohol. You’ll find ways to support, encourage and help your partner stay clean and sober.
  • Your partner may need plenty of time to attend recovery meetings or talk to sponsors or program friends. It’s natural for the non-addicted partner to feel left out or even jealous.
    First, addiction took away a lot of family time, and now it seems as though recovery takes the same or more time away. If it becomes problematic for you, ask your partner if you can attend open meetings together where family attendance is encouraged. Another helpful way to build a strong recovery is to create a set schedule for family time when your partner can commit to spending time together to balance time spent in recovery.
  • Know that while things won’t go back to the way they were, they can get better. Sometimes, they even get much better than they were before addiction became a problem. The “spiritual awakening” talked about in recovery programs often means recovering addicts awake to embrace a new way of living that helps them turn into useful contributing members of society, kind of like Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge.The time spent on drugs and alcohol can now be spent helping other addicts, engaging in hobbies once enjoyed, or simply being there for you and your children. It’s a new lease on life that can be an unexpected bonus of recovery.
  • Know there will be setbacks, too. Even though recovery can be great, it can also be like a roller coaster with a lot of ups and downs. People sometimes relapse. They can go through rough patches when they deal with psychological turmoil and problems that fueled their addiction. The rough, as well as the smooth, are all normal parts of recovery.

Recovery Is a Family Project

Lastly, think about recovery as a family project. You’ll find there are helpful programs for the partners of recovering addicts and your children, too. Al-Anon, for instance, helps families of alcoholics with a program that’s similar to the 12 steps of AA. You may find other programs at your local church or through your therapist’s office.

Finding a recovery center that includes family members as part of the plan for recovery is also important. While those struggling with substance abuse are responsible for their own behavior, there can be family dynamics that increase the odds of addiction. Being in recovery together, even if you’re not actively addicted, can help you heal psychological wounds that may be holding you back, too.

Whatever you do, if you plan to stay in the relationship, know it’s going to be hard work. But what marriage isn’t hard work? Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and anything worthwhile takes effort. Marriage isn’t any different. Even in the healthiest marriages, things can go wrong.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of support out there for people living with an addicted spouse. One such place is 12 Keys Rehab.

Helping Your Addicted Spouse at 12 Keys Rehab

You and your spouse can begin the journey to recovery together at 12 Keys Rehab. Located in Florida, 12 Keys Rehab offers a strong plan of recovery that includes body, mind, spirit and family to help addicts become free of drugs and alcohol.

At 12 Keys, your spouse will find plenty of support. Many of the staff have recovered from addiction themselves, so they know what your spouse is going through. The ratio of clients to staff is kept low so clients can always find someone to talk to or help them over a rough patch.

Your spouse will be treated like an individual at 12 Keys. We don’t believe in a cookie-cutter approach to recovery. We know certain things are a “must,” such as complete abstinence from substance abuse, but we offer many therapies to help people chart their own personal course of recovery.

12 Keys offers group and individual counseling, 12-step meetings, holistic therapies and more to help people recover. There’s plenty of down time for rest and reflection, and if your spouse loves being near nature, our waterfront location is ideal.

We have a board-certified addiction psychiatrist on staff, Dr. Balta, to treat the medical issues related to addiction. Our staff includes therapists and others who can help your addicted spouse understand the disease of addiction and cope with cravings that can lead to relapse.

Help your spouse start a journey to recovery. Contact 12 Keys Rehab today. We have someone standing by 24/7 to talk to about your spouse’s recovery. We accept insurance and can arrange for transportation to and from treatment. Call today for information.

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