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Helping a Spouse

What to do When Your Spouse is Addicted

People with alcohol or substance use disorder are just as likely to get married as those who do not have these issues. About 12 million of the 20 million people in the U.S. with an active drug or alcohol addiction are married. Unfortunately, addicts are 20% more likely to get divorced than their non-addicted peers.

Marriage is hard enough without throwing substance abuse into the mix. Although the divorce statistics on addicts and their marriages are less than optimistic, a marriage can still survive addiction if the person afflicted is willing to get treatment, and their families are supportive. For those married to an addict, all hope is not lost. There are several things that spouses can do when their loved one struggles with addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Helping a Spouse

How to Stay Safe

Unfortunately, domestic violence and addiction live close to one another. The correlation between domestic violence and addiction rates can range anywhere between 44% to as high as 80% in some studies. If physical, emotional, or financial abuse of the spouse or children is happening within the relationship, the abused spouse must leave for their safety and the safety of any children involved. If you or a loved one is being abused,  please contact the toll-free domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. All calls are confidential, and representatives can help you find safe housing for you and your children.

What can a spouse do to salvage their relationship?

If a spouse is safe from abuse, there are several things they can do to try and save their marriage from addiction.

Most people do not willingly enter into a marriage with a drug or alcohol abuser. Spouses may not become addicted until after they tie the knot. Some people are also very good at hiding their disorder from a partner. In some cases, addiction can start slowly, and spouses can be caught unaware. Early in the relationship, a person’s drinking problems may not seem like a sign of addiction.

Education is vital in understanding how this behavior starts, why it happens, and how a spouse can protect themselves and the rest of the family while still supporting their addicted partner. Understanding what addiction is can clear up misunderstandings, and give insight into how a husband or wife can approach their spouse about getting into treatment.

Realizing that the person you fell in love with and vowed to build a life together with is choosing a substance over your marriage can be devastating and painful. Sometimes the pain is so great, that people will choose denial over reality to spare themselves from emotional distress.

A husband or wife may also choose denial because of the stigma associated with drug or alcohol abuse. They may downplay their spouse’s behavior to themselves or friends or other family members to avoid judgment. In some cases, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed that they’ve chosen to marry a person with these issues. But denial only delays getting the addicted spouse into rehab, and getting the family members into therapy. Facing a spouse’s addiction head-on gives family members a chance to focus on the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.

Enabling behavior is the cousin of denial in addicted families. When a spouse lies for the addict, they are enabling their behavior. When they fix a problem the spouse’s drinking or drug use has caused, they are engaging in enabling behavior. Families enable addicts because they still love their addicted spouse and do not want to see them in pain. They may also fear that the consequences of the spouse’s addictive behavior will directly affect them. Unfortunately, enabling is like putting a bandaid on a severed artery. It only prolongs the addictive behavior and creates worse problems for the family and the addict.

Drug and alcohol addiction never affects just the addict. It touches everyone who is involved in the addicted person’s life. A spouse’s and their children’s behavior becomes shaped by the addiction the longer they live with and enable an addicted person. Children and spouses of addicts can develop anxiety, depression, or other issues because of the stress of living with addiction. They may give up on their dreams and goals to tend to a person’s addictive behavior. These are symptoms of codependency. For spouse’s and their children, they can significantly benefit from therapy for codependent behaviors and symptoms.

When someone is suffering from addiction in their family, they can feel completely alone. It’s also not uncommon for spouses of addicted partners to feel shame and stigma talking about their family problems. But 12 million other marriages suffer from addiction. There are support groups available for spouses of addicts where they can talk and vent their frustrations in a supportive, encouraging environment with people who are dealing with the same problems. Support groups operate under a system of voluntary disclosure. So even if a spouse is not comfortable sharing, they can still join a support group and gain valuable insight into what techniques or treatment methods have worked for other families touched by addiction.

Even in the best of times, marriages can be fragile. When a spouse is addicted, it can bring distrust, shame, anger, and anxiety into the marital relationship. But there is hope, and divorce is not an inevitability. Attending marriage counseling, joining a support group, and stopping enabling behavior can encourage an addicted partner to get the help they need. There are 23 million people in the U.S. who were once addicted to drugs or alcohol but have achieved and maintained sobriety.

If your spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can be devastating and painful. The caring and experienced addiction counselors at Windward Way have supported thousands of patients and their spouses during recovery from addiction. Please contact Windward Way today to learn more about how their counselors can help you or a spouse recover from alcohol or drug abuse.

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