“If your partner’s addiction is bad for your mate and your marriage, then if you are not actively against it, you are for it.” ~ Dr. Joel Kotin, MD, How to Change Your Spouse and Save Your Marriage
Addiction in the Family
The pain of addiction is something that everyone within a family is familiar with. Quite often, people only think about how the addict is impacted. The truth is, the family suffers as well. There are all types of addictions, and each one stands to tear families apart. The cost of addiction has the power to ruin an otherwise beautiful home and marriage. To make matters worse, the effects of it are long lasting for everyone involved. It is so hard to live under the same roof as someone who is abusing substances. It seems as though problems are caused left and right. The addict is torn, wanting the stable life and the family at the same time. When things go wrong, they blame others for their own actions. There is no denying the type of pain you’re in if this is the life you’ve been forced to lead. If you have an addicted spouse, you need answers for your dilemma. What’s more, you need real-life advice that you can put to use right now.
“Get your loved one the help they need. Our rehab program accepts many health insurance plans, this is our 28-day program.”
What to do if Your Partner is an Addict
The question is, what should you do if you’re married to an addict? What if you’re not married, but you have a partner who is addicted? Both scenarios are difficult. In one, you’re legally bound to this person who seems to be focused on making your life harder. In the other, you deeply care for the person, and it’s killing you to watch them suffer this way. But, what can you do? Believe it or not, this doesn’t have to be a recipe for a divorce or a breakup. There are a lot of couples that have successfully made it through the storm of addiction. However, you should know that it wasn’t done without a lot of hard work on both parts. One thing is for sure; you can’t simply ignore it. It’s not going to work if you try to hide the addiction, or pretend it doesn’t exist. By its definition, addiction never gets better on its own. It’s not going to just go away. It takes some dedication and commitment to come to a resolution, but recovery is possible. It’s a strange paradox – addiction is a lonely disease that somehow affects the lives of everyone AROUND the addict. The people usually in the front line of fire are the substance abuser’s spouse and children. If you are married to someone who is abusing alcohol or drugs, you probably feel helpless and confused. But, if you refuse to be sucked in by the disease of addiction, there are some things that you can do to help yourself, your family, and ultimately, your addicted spouse.
Step #1 – Stop Living in Denial
Too often, the people closest to the addict/alcoholic don’t really want to admit that there is a problem. They minimize or justify destructive behaviors or ignore the evidence that is right in front of them. Have you ever said statements like this –
- “It’s not that bad…”?
- “He/She likes to drink a little bit. It’s no big deal…”?
- “They’ll stop using drugs if I do this…”?
- “She/He is just under so much stress…”?
Here’s the uncomfortable fact – if your spouse is misusing prescription medications, using illegal drugs of any sort, or drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day, and IF that drinking/drug use is having negative consequences for them or your family, then your spouse is probably addicted.
Step #2 – Stop Enabling Their Addictive Behavior
Sometimes, the spouse of an actively-addicted person will change their behavior and even go against their own sense of right and wrong just to get along. They may tell themselves that they are helping or protecting the addict, but what they are actually doing is enabling – making it easier for the addiction to continue. Have you ever –
- Bought their drugs or alcohol for them?
- Intentionally given them money for drugs or alcohol?
- Called in to their job or school with a fake excuse?
- Made excuses to family members or friends to save them embarrassment?
- Lied to police or probation officers to keep them out of trouble?
- Bailed them out of jail?
As long as you enable your husband/wife, they will not have any motivation to stop using and drinking. Enabling sends them the message that it is all right to keep on doing what they have been doing.
Step #3 – Start Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family FIRST
While you are running around worrying about and cleaning up after your spouse’s addictive messes, you probably have lost focus on other areas of your life and that of your children. When you constantly put the addict’s needs first, you may think you are being a good spouse, but you are really just hurting yourself and your family and breeding resentment. You and your children need to have lives that are as normal as possible, no matter what the addict is doing.
- Maintain normal family activities – church, school plays, baseball practice, etc.
- Eat your meals together
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise
- Visit with family and friends – don’t isolate yourself
- Keep an eye on your health – stress can damage your immune system
- Practice stress-reducing techniques – yoga, meditation, etc.
Step #4 – Learn More about the Disease of Addiction and the Process of Recovery
Addiction is a disease, and the more you know about that disease, the better-equipped you will be to effectively guard against harm to your family. It’s important to fully understand the disease concept of addiction, because then you can step away from the “shame and blame game”, where you resent your spouse for some supposed moral weakness or, alternatively, shoulder the blame and responsibility yourself. When you treat addiction as a medical illness, you understand that it is no one’s fault. Instead of focusing on the afflicted person, you can begin to focus on the disease and on strategies for successful management.
Step #5 – Line up Treatment Resources
One of your ultimate goals is to get your addicted husband/wife into treatment, but it is unlikely that they will do that on their own. Even if your spouse agrees to get help, drug addicts and alcoholics are notoriously fickle, so once they agree, it is best to begin treatment IMMEDIATELY. You can speed the process up if you do your research beforehand. Now that you are beginning to educate yourself about the disease of addiction, you can start looking for programs that fit your family’s specific situation. You can take care of the logistical questions early:
- Do they specialize in the specific addiction?
- Do they offer drug/alcohol detoxification?
- Do they handle co-occurring disorders that your spouse may be struggling with, such as anxiety or PTSD?
- If it’s important to you, do they offer gender-specific programs?
- Are there programs available for the family?
- Do they accept your insurance plan?
If possible, take the time to tour the facility or meet the program’s staff. If you are comfortable, you may even be able to pre-register to save even more time.
Step #6 – Stage an Intervention
Get together with other people close to your addicted spouse – close friends, family members, and perhaps even coworkers. Together, lovingly – yet firmly – confront the addict. In no uncertain terms, each person needs to let the addict know how their addiction is affecting everyone else’s lives. This is the time to set boundaries – to let your addicted spouse know what the natural consequences of their continued substance abuse will be.
- Kicking them out of the home
- Suspension of child visitation
- No more financial support
Those are just examples, but whatever consequence you decide on, you must be fully prepared to follow through. The secondary goal of an intervention is to reclaim your own life in your own sense of self. The goal isn’t to be vindictive or to “punish” your addict spouse. Rather, the idea is to compel them into seeking professional help. Because an intervention can run hot with a motion, is a good idea to hire a professional interventionist moderate and keep the focus where it needs to be. Do not give up hope if your spouse rejects the help. Once those consequences and boundaries are enforced, many addicts come back later and voluntarily ask for help.
Step #7 – If Your Spouse Goes to Treatment, Stay Supportive
In a best-case desirable scenario, the intervention works the way it is supposed to and your spouse goes to treatment. While they are receiving that treatment, there are things you can do to support them:
- Take care of yourself and your family – give them something to come back to.
- Follow the recommendations of the treatment team.
- Participate in family therapy meetings.
- Most rehab facilities have a short “adjustment period” where phone calls and communication with the outside world are suspended. Respect that, and give your spouse the time they need to focus on their own recovery.
- Alternatively, when contact is allowed – visit, write, and call.
- Stay POSITIVE in all of your conversation and letters.
- Be patient – recovery is a process. Your spouse did not become addicted overnight. They won’t recover overnight, either.
Step #8 – Get Help for Yourself
No matter what your addicted spouse decides to do, the next step you need to take is to find a source of support and help for YOU:
- Professional therapy – Seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor will help you deal with all of the negative experiences that drug or alcoholism has exposed you to: domestic violence, trauma, depression, anxiety, PTSD, codependency, etc.
Step #9 – Begin Attending Fellowship Meetings
Beyond professional help, many people who are married to addicts ease their loneliness and sense of isolation by attending 12-Step support meetings. When you hear other people relating their stories that are so much like your own, you will be able to draw strength and inspiration from other people in your same situation. Some support groups that may be in your area are:
- Open Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings
- Celebrate Recovery
Step #10 – Create A Relapse Response
Although it is not quite absolute to state “relapse happens”, it is common enough that you can best protect yourself by being prepared for the possibility.
- Open your own banking account and put money in that you can draw upon if needed
- Have a backup plan where you can temporarily put some space between your spouse and your family, if necessary – a friend’s house, a shelter, etc.
- Get legal help – Protect yourself and your children – Protective Orders, Custody Agreements, etc.
- Safeguard your joint assets – be prepared to move money between accounts, if necessary
- Have a phone list ready for people that you may need to call – sponsors, family members, coworkers, etc.
- Be prepared to send your spouse right back to treatment
Supporting Your Partner Through Recovery
It might be hard for you to believe, but your partner or spouse decided to go to recovery. This is certainly a time for celebration, but first, you need to take a step back. Your job is now to support him or her as much as you possibly can. There are several steps you should take to ensure that you are.
Step #1: Take Care of YOU
How long has it been since you sincerely took care of yourself? Maybe you used to love to get your nails done, but you couldn’t afford it until now. Or, perhaps you used to spend a lot of weekends fishing with the guys, but you had to stop. It’s time for you to re-think the way you’ve been living. You won’t be any good to anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself. Start to do that right now. If you’ve let old hobbies fall by the wayside, pick them back up again. Do you what you need to do to love yourself. It’s not selfish. In fact, it’s one of the most unselfish things you can do.
Step #2: Vow to Stop Blaming
Blaming your partner for his or her addiction isn’t going to get you anywhere. Actually, it will only serve to make the situation much worse. It’s time to stop placing blame. There really is no one to blame but the addiction itself. You should know that it can happen to anyone.
Step #3: Find Ways to Connect With Others in Your Situation
You’ve been through a terrible situation, and maybe it’s been years since life seemed normal. It’s important for you to connect with others who can share in your experiences. Joining an Al-Anon group near you is a great first step. You’ll get to meet others and learn from what they’ve been through as well. It can be so helpful to share your story with others. Sometimes it helps just to be able to talk about how you feel among a caring group of people who understand.
Step #4: Build Your Own Life
As hard as it may be, it’s important for you to cultivate your own interests. For the longest time, your life has revolved around your addicted spouse. They dictated everything you did. That has to change, and this goes along with the first step very well.
Step #5: Rebuild Trust With Caution
This experience has taught you a lot, but you have to learn how to trust again. That doesn’t mean that you don’t use caution. You do need to use caution because you may be the only person able to detect a relapse. Still, give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Being married to an active substance abuser can be chaotic and stressful, but with timely intervention and effective treatment there is hope and recovery for you all.