Overcoming addiction in your marriage

Is a drug addiction tearing your family apart? Do you suspect that your spouse may have become addicted to alcohol or drugs? Are you sick of the lies, the deceit and the pain?

Drug abuse is an ugly disease that even the most virtuous and highest achieving people in our society can fall victim to.

And unfortunately, this means some marriages also fall victim to drug abuse. When a spouse develops an alcohol or drug addiction, this usually has devastating effects on their marriage and family life.

Although there are many other types of harmful addictions a person can have (e.g. gambling), today we are going to specifically be focusing on drug abuse and what you can do if your spouse is an addict.
However, if your spouse is struggling with another type of harmful addiction, you may also find the advice in this article helpful.

How does addiction start?

Drug and alcohol abuse affects men and women in our society from all walks of life – no country, age group or socio-economic class is free from it.

Often addiction arises after drugs are used as a coping mechanism. Alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs may be used to start with as a way to ‘take the edge off’, reduce pain or ‘have a little fun’ – especially if the drug user is going through a rough patch in their lives.

But then these addictive substances start being relied upon. Chemical changes take place in the drug user’s brain, making them crave the release and euphoria the drug gives. They start being unable to receive the same kind of release from other sources of pleasure in their lives.

Once addicted, being able to keep taking the drug/s becomes such a priority to a user that he or she is willing to neglect their friends, family, faith, responsibilities and even physical health in order to keep it up.

This is not simply just a mental CHOICE the drug addict makes – their whole physiological system is affected by the addictive drug, making it near impossible to resist. Once these changes have taken place, withdrawal from the drug can cause the addict to feel extremely ill, weak and depressed.

Soon, the drug use starts to cause conflict in the drug addict’s family relationships. They will begin to fight with their spouse about their drug use, which causes a lot of tension at home.

And often to deal with this conflict, the addict again turns to drugs to take the edge off. And thus it becomes a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle.

Signs your spouse is abusing drugs:

Often you will notice some changes in your spouse’s physical appearance when they start to abuse drugs. They may lose or gain weight suddenly, look more dishevelled and have a lower level of personal hygiene. Their eyes may often be bloodshot, with smaller or larger pupils than usual.

Their appetite and sleeping patterns may change, and often there will be a drop in their attendance and performance at work. You may notice unusual smells on their breath or body, and they may show signs of physical tremors, impaired coordination and slurred speech.

Your spouse may have a sudden need for money and try to withdraw it without you noticing. You may also notice that they are spending time with different people or in different places. Or alternatively, that they are not spending time with their old friends.

Their general behavior will become more secretive and they may start getting into trouble with the law or within their social groups (e.g. getting into fights).

You may notice an unexplained change in your spouse’s personality or attitude. They may have sudden mood swings, during which they become excessively angry, irritable, giddy or hyperactive.

You could also notice a drop in your spouse’s general levels of motivation and they may appear more tired or spaced out than usual. They may also appear anxious, paranoid or fearful for no apparent reason.

Does this sound like your spouse? Continue below to find out the steps you can take to try to help your spouse to recover from their drug addiction and save your marriage.

How addiction harms a marriage:

When a spouse starts to abuse drugs, it begins to affect every aspect of the marriage. A relationship that used to be based on trust becomes poisoned with lies, deceit and excuses.

When a spouse starts to protect their addiction more strongly than their marriage and family, relationships disintegrate. The drug abuser cannot be relied upon to be a safe parent, or a supportive spouse. Suddenly, the drug abuser’s spouse finds themselves struggling to cope with the workload of two.

Drug addiction takes quality time away from a marriage and creates emotional distance between a husband and wife. Because the alcohol or drug use may not be tolerated at home, the addicted spouse will often spend time engaging in this behavior elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for verbal or physical abuse to go hand-in-hand with drug addiction. But even when this is not present, the behavior of an addicted spouse can make normal married life impossible.

Their inconsistent, unreliable, erratic and sometimes dangerous behavior can cause their spouse to feel a huge amount of stress and sense of powerlessness over the situation.

Due to the common misguided stereotype that only ‘bad people’ and ‘low lives’ become addicted to drugs, addiction can bring many feelings of shame to a drug abuser’s family.

As a result, the married couple or family may start to isolate themselves from friends and family in order to try and hide the problem. This means that at a time when they need it most, the drug addict’s spouse often feels that they have no social support.

Addictions can also put huge financial strain on a marriage. The addict may start withdrawing money from the couple’s accounts to spend on drugs. They also may stop bringing in income due to lack of attendance at work, being fired or spending time in rehab.

Basically, drug addiction can quickly break down the foundations of even the strongest relationship, and steps need to be taken towards change in order to prevent the marriage from cracking under pressure.

It’s important to keep in mind when trying to help your spouse who has fallen prey to drug dependency that it is going to be a long road to recovery, as addiction is a physiological problem that takes more than simply a desire to get better to fix.

But don’t give up hope – if you can be strong and commit yourself to doing everything you can to help your spouse, you will get through this together.

Steps YOU can take to help your drug-addicted spouse:

1. Above all, always make sure you and your children are safe.
If you or your children are being physically, verbally or emotionally abused by your spouse, or feel endangered in any other way, remove yourselves from your home environment immediately and go somewhere you will be safe.

Call the police and also tell someone you can trust about what is going on. Seeking help about an abusive spouse does not mean you don’t love them. It means you are taking the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family.

2. Stop any behaviors enabling your spouse’s addiction.
One of the first essential steps you need to take in helping your spouse is to stop any of your own behavior which is actually enabling your spouse’s drug addiction to continue.

For instance, if your spouse is an alcoholic, you need to stop drinking yourself. Because even though your own drinking may be controlled, you are still encouraging your spouse’s drinking behavior by showing that you are keeping up a relationship with the drug yourself.

You have to set an example and cut these things from your OWN life if you want your spouse to take you seriously.

You also need to stop making excuses for your spouse or covering for them when they aren’t able to make commitments due to their problem.

For instance, when they are too hungover to go to work or look after the kids. Calling in sick for them or making other excuses is just enabling their behavior to continue.

Once your spouse realizes that you are no longer a partner in their disease, they will be left with the options of either accepting help or progressing in their disease ALONE.

3. Get informed.
Gain knowledge about addiction, how it works and the treatment options available in your area.

Having knowledge about the treatment options available for the drug addiction your spouse has will help to prepare you for supporting your spouse in the best possible way, as well as giving your spouse a firm ultimatum about getting rehab.

I highly recommend that you also find out about the drug addiction support groups in your area. You may be surprised to find that there are many support groups available, to both the drug users themselves and also their families.

Support groups are not only valuable sources of information about addiction and treatment, they are also great sources of social support - from people who are going through the same struggles as yourself.

4. Reach out for help.
Don’t keep addiction a secret for the sake of trying to protect your family. Your spouse has a disease and he or she needs help.

As mentioned above, a drug or alcohol support group could be an amazing therapeutic tool for both you and your spouse right now.

You also deserve all of the help and support you can get. Even though opening up to others is hard and you risk their possible comments and judgments, you need to tap into your inner strength and realize that this step is necessary in order to help your spouse.

Turn to the people in your life who have always been there for you and love you unconditionally and let them know what is going on. Sharing your struggles will actually come as a great relief, and these people you trust can help to lift your load.

Spending some time outside of your home right now, with people who are healthy and positive is crucial to your well-being.

Remember, every person and every marriage has problems – you are not alone.

5. Give your spouse an ultimatum.
If your spouse’s drug addiction is continuing despite your many requests for them to stop, you need to gather your inner strength and give your spouse a clear ultimatum.

Tell your spouse that you love them and want to help them, but that things cannot stay the way they are. Either they agree to receive rehabilitation treatment with your support, or you are going to move out.

While you can't force your spouse into recovery unless they want it, you can give them the alternatives. But bear in mind you need to be prepared to follow through with these, as idle threats will only make the problem worse.

At this point, your spouse may get defensive or angry, but you need to be prepared to distance yourself from them if they are not prepared to accept help. This may be what they need to make them realize the severity of their behavior.

Don’t give up and keep offering your help to your spouse, but do also be firm with the boundaries you set.

When your spouse is being a danger to themselves, to you, or to your children, this is a situation where ‘tough love’ can be necessary.

6. Support your spouse through treatment.
If your spouse decides to accept that they do have a problem and need help, you and your spouse can start the process of healing by seeking professional substance abuse counseling together.

Research has shown that involving the addict’s spouse in the treatment at necessary stages is very important in helping the treatment to succeed.

Encourage your spouse and recognize the efforts they are making towards recovery, which are likely to be extremely hard for them both mentally and physically.

7. Repair your marriage.
Drug rehab is likely to be an essential step in saving a marriage suffering from addiction problems.

However, even after treatment for addiction, you and your spouse need your marital problems (outside of the addiction) to be addressed and treated, in order for true healing and reconnecting to take place.

If your marital problems are not tackled at the same time as the drug treatment, they could hinder your spouse’s progress and contribute to any later relapses in their drug use.

Both you and your spouse need to be treating each other gently right now and allowing the time to learn to love, trust and take care of one another again.

Getting through a drug addiction in your marriage will be extremely tough. But the marriages which do make it through to the other side have the opportunity to come out stronger and closer than ever before.

Brooke Ryan

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