When your spouse has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it can have lasting detrimental effects on their lives and the lives of people around them. Those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse can become secretive, withdrawn, aggressive, and unpredictable. This behavior often causes friction in relationships and can be emotionally distressing for the whole family.
If you are concerned about your partner’s drug or alcohol use, it is important to educate yourself about addiction, know the options for treatment, and learn how to best support your spouse through the recovery process.
Addiction Affects Family Relationships
There are many negative ways addiction impacts the family system:
- Addiction takes an emotional toll. When an individual is struggling with addiction, it can be an intense emotional burden on their partner. As that partner, you may feel anger, frustration, sadness, or fear when living with an addicted spouse. Constant worrying about your spouse can increase stress and have an impact on your own mental health.
- It negatively affects intimate relationships. You may find that your relationship feels more tense and strained. You may be arguing more frequently. Arguments can increase when discussing your partner’s drug or alcohol use and the problems it’s causing your family.
- Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to an increase in aggression and violence in the family. There is evidence that alcohol use increases the instances and severity of intimate partner violence. Substance use occurs in 40% to 60% of cases of intimate partner violence. There are many other factors that contribute to violence in the home, but drugs and alcohol use can be culprits. If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.
- It often creates a financial burden for the family. Those dealing with addiction can spend large amounts of money on alcohol and doing drugs. They may lose their job or not be able to keep stable employment because of their addiction. All of this can significantly decrease the family’s income.
While struggling with addiction can have many harmful effects, there is help available. The sooner your spouse begins the treatment process, the quicker your family can start to work toward healthier relationships and habits.
When your spouse decides to quit drugs or alcohol, there are many things they will need to maintain long-term recovery. This includes:
- Learning about their addiction triggers
- Developing healthy skills to combat these triggers
- Processing difficult feelings around substance use
- Addressing underlying issues like co-occurring mental health disorders
That is why inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment is often necessary. They need space and time to tackle these issues with the help of behavioral health professionals trained in treating substance use disorders and mental health issues. Your spouse may need to undergo medical detox from drugs and alcohol. Medical professionals will help them around the clock with research-backed medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. They’ll be safe and as comfortable as possible. The next step is addiction recovery treatment. The type of treatment your spouse need depends on their individual needs and the extent of their substance abuse.
Treatment options include:
- Residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Sober living facility
Your family can and should play a role in your spouse’s recovery. Some programs incorporate family members into the treatment process via family therapy sessions or family event days. There are sometimes other ways that loved ones are involved in the treatment process as well.
Involve Your Family in the Recovery Process
Effective treatment options for drug and alcohol addiction involve the whole family. As a spouse, you are a partner in your loved one’s experience and can play a key role in setting up and creating boundaries that support both of you. A treatment approach that focuses specifically on you and your spouse is behavioral couples therapy (BCT).
Behavioral couples therapy works to reduce substance use by teaching couples to interact more effectively. This type of therapy has shown to help reduce substance use while also increasing relationship satisfaction and family functioning.
Substance abuse impacts more than just you and your husband and wife; it affects the entire family system. That’s why family therapy is an important part of addiction recovery. Family therapy helps you recognize strengths and resources that can help your spouse maintain recovery. You’ll also identify how addiction has impacted the family system, and ways to move forward.
How to Pay for Treatment
There are a variety of ways to pay for addiction treatment. For example, some health insurance plans have a behavioral health component for substance abuse treatment that covers all or a portion of drug rehab. You can contact your insurance provider to find out if your health insurance covers addiction treatment or reach out to specific treatment programs to find out more about their payment options.
Recovery After Treatment
Maintaining recovery is a lifelong process. Once your spouse has completed a treatment program, there are ways you can support them in their continued recovery at home. You can start by removing any drugs or alcohol from the house. Then you can work together to make decisions about how to best support their recovery.
- Discuss high-risk situations with your spouse and develop a plan for handling them together. High-risks situations can include being around people or places that may be addiction triggers. You can work together to decide how best to navigate these situations.
- Come up with sober activities that you can do together. For example, if you and your spouse drank together frequently or went out to bars often, you will want to come up with new sober activities to do together. This can help your partner avoid triggering situations and allow you to bond as a couple in new ways.
- Set healthy boundaries with your partner and enforce them. Healthy boundaries are an important part of any relationship. Setting limits and expectations with your partner around their drug and alcohol use and their role in the family unit is crucial.
- Discuss how to cope with relapse if it happens. It is important to be realistic about the recovery process. Relapse can and does happen. Developing a plan of action may help your spouse get back on track sooner if they relapse.
Having these conversations may seem scary and uncomfortable, but there necessary. Open and honest communication about these topics along with developing a relapse prevention plan are important for maintaining recovery and having a successful marriage after sobriety.
Additional Support for your Spouse
While there are many universal ways to support your spouse, men and women experience drug and alcohol use and treatment differently. For example, men have higher rates of substance abuse and seek treatment more often. Women tend to face more barriers when seeking substance abuse treatment. These barriers can include lack of family support, greater stigma associated with going to treatment, and childcare responsibilities. Therefore, when discussing getting help with your wife, it may be beneficial to emphasize your support for treatment and develop a concrete plan for fulfilling family responsibilities while she focuses on her recovery.
Additional Support for Your Family
Children need help too. Figuring out how best to talk with your child about the addiction can be daunting, but there are a few key points to remember:
- Reinforce the idea that addiction is a disease. This means just like other diseases, with the right treatment, there are ways to effectively manage symptoms.
- Explain that while sometimes your spouse makes bad choices because of their addiction, that does not mean they are a bad person.
- Explain that addiction is not their (your child’s) fault. Sometimes children think their parents’ behavior is because of something they did or said. Make sure to explain to your kids that sometimes your spouses’ choices are impacted by their addiction and that has nothing to do with them.
- Keep communication open. After addressing your spouse’s addiction with your children, encourage them to ask questions and process their thoughts and feelings with you.
Pay Attention to Your Needs
Supporting your spouse and family is important but so is addressing your own well-being. Being married to an addicted spouse can be stressful and overwhelming. Coping with a spouse’s addiction in healthy ways takes work. Make sure you are paying attention to your own needs. This means maintaining self-care activities such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. You can also attend support groups for loved ones, including spouses of addicts, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These groups allow you to learn more about addiction and connect with others that have also been affected by drug and alcohol abuse.
What if my Spouse Won’t Agree to Treatment?
If your spouse won’t agree to treatment, there are professional resources available. Interventions can help motivate loved ones to get the help they need. An intervention brings family and friends together to address the individual’s addiction while encouraging them to seek treatment. Interventions are most successful with the guidance of an addiction professional, which can include counselors, social workers, and interventionists.
You can’t force your spouse to get addiction treatment, but you can hold healthy boundaries that don’t enable their addiction. You can also make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you can be strong for yourself and your loved one. Practice good self-care, consider seeing a therapist, and lean on support groups for loved ones of addicted people.