Addiction can take a serious toll on marriage – especially when one spouse is an addict an the other is not. It may result in much turmoil in the home, such as financial struggles, emotional abuse, disagreements, legal conflicts, embarrassment, and even physical abuse.
The cumulative effects of these stressors can be great.
According to “Does Drinking Affect Marriage?” from the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Research Institute on Addiction, “Alcohol and substance use are among the most common reasons given for a divorce – the third most common reason for women and eighth most common for men. It is also one of the most common reasons given for seeking marriage counseling.”
And during a nine-year study entitled “Concordant and Discordant Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana Use as Predictors of Marital Dissolution” researchers found that: “Nearly 50% of couples with a discrepant drinking pattern (only one partner drinks heavily) divorced, whereas only 30% of couples who drank at similar amounts (neither or both partners were heavy drinkers) divorced in this time.”
However, addiction doesn’t always have to end in divorce. There are actions that can be taken to help your addicted spouse get sober.
5 Steps to Help Your Addicted Spouse Get Sober
1. Understand that Addiction is a Disease
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking behavior that is difficult to control despite the consequences. Many people argue that addiction is a choice, and they are correct that the abuser initially made a choice to use the substance that they are addicted to. However, the minds of addicts are naturally wired differently than the average human being.
A normal person can take one drink or one drug and have the ability to stop. In the brain of an addict, the chemicals produced by drugs are recognized as a reward, causing the addict to immediately crave more of the drug. Addicts then develop a physical dependency and tolerance on a substance, where more of the substance is needed to produce the desired effects. Addiction results from the obsessive mental cravings produced and the intense physical dependency on a substance.
Once a person is an addict, they no longer have control over the amount or frequency in which they drink or drug due to the changes these behaviors have on the brain’s reward system. It is important to understand that addiction is, in fact, a disease, because that means that it can be treated effectively.
2. Recognize Codependency to Help Your Addicted Spouse Get Sober
It is normal to develop codependent behaviors when a spouse is struggling with the disease of addiction. In a codependent marriage, you usually have a loving desire to help your addicted spouse by assuming responsibility for their emotions and behaviors; your intentions are to keeping your spouse safe. However, this sort of relationship is not healthy – in fact, it can enable the addict to continue their addiction indefinitely.
For example, you may feel that you’re protecting your addicted spouse by offering to drive them to the bar or to pick up drugs so that they don’t get a DUI and face legal consequences. In reality, it is only enabling them to continue using drugs or drinking.
Codependency may begin to consume the life of the sober spouse who is only trying to help. They may begin to put the needs of their struggling partner ahead of their own, leading to self-neglect. Similar to when you’re on an airplane that is quickly losing pressure, you can’t help another person before making sure your own needs are met first.
3. To Help Your Addicted Spouse, Set Boundaries and End Enabling Behaviors
After recognizing a codependent relationship, you must take steps to end codependency in order to stop enabling the addiction. If you find yourself lying or making excuses for your partner, you are enabling your addicted spouse to continue using without facing consequences. It may be difficult to put an end to the enabling behaviors involved in protecting a loved one, but it is essential in helping a spouse get sober. Refusing to participate in codependent behaviors is the toughest – but the best – way to love someone in active addiction.
The family must allow the addicted person to experience the consequences of their drug use on their own. In an extreme case, if this person does get a DUI, let him or her face the legal consequences that result. An addict is more likely to get help with their addiction when they are facing extreme consequences that will negatively impact their lifestyle.
You must stick to these boundaries once they are firmly set in place. If the addict learns that you will eventually give in to their needs, they will begin to manipulate you into protecting them once again.
4. Attending Family Therapy can Help Your Addicted Spouse Get Sober
Once an addicted spouse no longer has you enabling them, it will make it much harder for their drug/alcohol abuse to continue. At this point, family therapy can be a great way to help both individuals in the relationship. Participating in therapy together provides a safe space for couples to talk with each other and begin to understand how their relationship has been affected by substance abuse.
Therapy will allow both people to build coping skills, develop effective communication techniques, and resolve problems and arguments peacefully. In addition, if there are children in the family, they can also attend family therapy in order to give them an opportunity to heal as well.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that individuals who participate in family therapy have a better chance of staying sober than those who don’t. Therapy will help provide the skills needed in order to maintain long-term sobriety. Individuals will learn coping mechanisms for their emotions, healthy habits to incorporate into their lifestyle, and life skills to be applied in the home.
A therapist can help in developing a treatment plan that will optimize the addict’s chances of maintaining sobriety. This may involve various methods of therapy, such as group therapy, where the addict and spouse can work with other couples who have struggled with addiction in marriage. This allows the couple to learn about different situations that may occur as well as how to handle them successfully.
5. Continuing Care to Help Your Addicted Spouse Remain Sober
Addiction therapy is usually short-term, so it is important to develop an aftercare plan for the addicted individual. In order to maintain sobriety, it is important to ensure that your spouse is attending a support group where they can engage with and learn from other individuals who also struggle with addiction. There are many types of support groups available for both individuals in the marriage and it is important that both spouses participate in these groups because addiction affects both spouses, not just the addict.
Other measures that can be taken to prevent relapse include:
- Removing all drugs and alcohol from the house
- Continue healthy habits such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, and a nutritional diet
- Speak openly and honestly with one another
- Remain supportive and understanding
- Refrain from spending time with others who drink or drug
- Watch for signs of mood swings, depression, isolation, or secrecy
- Seek outside help if needed.
Recovery from substance abuse is possible. It takes time, patience, and understanding in order for a marriage to heal from the damage done by the addicted spouse. Though addiction may have lasting effects on a marriage, it doesn’t always have to end in separation or divorce.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She works for a digital marketing company that advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. www.louisvilledrugrehab.com