Addiction can affect anyone. It doesn’t consider race, gender, background, age, etc. It also doesn’t care if the person afflicted is one of your loved ones. It hits hard and can prove to be disastrous for a marriage. In America, the divorce rate for first marriages is already at a staggering 41%.
Addiction, particularly when only one of the spouses is drinking or using heavily, can as much as double the risk of divorce. Factor in the indirect effects of addiction such as financial difficulties, infidelity, and abuse, and the impact is even more significant.
However, just because your partner suffers from an addiction does not necessarily mean you’re relationship is doomed. Many marriages are able to move past addiction as long as both sides put in the work required for a successful recovery from addiction.
On the other end, some marriages won’t be able to continue due to the damage addiction can cause. Whether it’s because someone is unable to stay sober or they have done such harmful things that it’s best for their spouse to just move on.
Addiction’s Effect On Relationships
Recovery from addiction is not easy, as the addict’s brain has become rewired to heavily crave the substance. As such, relationship related priorities are deprioritized, with the need for the addictive substance overriding all other thoughts. Getting their hands on their drug of choice reigns supreme in their brain.
It’s more important to them than family, food, shelter, work, and so on. The addict’s spouse is left picking up the pieces from their neglect and has to overcompensate for their absent partner.
It’s not uncommon for someone who is married to an addict to try and ignore the issue at hand as well. Addiction can get swept under the rug by someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge that the person they love has a real issue with substances. The addict’s habits can fester and grow even stronger because they think it’s something that they can get away with.
Because of this, it’s very important for the addiction to be confronted out in the open. Many people find the help of an interventionist or therapist to be very effective at this juncture. If the addict hopes to find lasting recovery, accountability is absolutely crucial.
This seems like it isn’t very difficult, but addiction can be very ugly. People don’t want to look at something like that and especially don’t believe it can happen to them or their loved one. Getting to the root of the issue quickly and directly can save a lot of trouble for the future, as well as gauge just how seriously the addict wants to recover.
Tools To Help Save Your Marriage To An Addict
Recovery: The Early Going
It’s important to remember that once your spouse gets sober issues will still crop up. Oftentimes referred to as the “pink cloud phase”, couples believe that once the addict finds sobriety things will become perfect between them.
We’re all still humans, however, and life happens. Many issues may arise during early recovery. Cravings, triggers, and emotions can all be very overwhelming in the first year of sobriety. No one wants to relapse, but sometimes relapse is part of the journey to sobriety, with one study finding that 85% of addicts relapsed during their first year of sobriety.
Even if a person only uses one time during their relapse and immediately gets sober again, the distrust and hurt that results can be monumental. Someone who doesn’t suffer from a substance use disorder can’t fully understand why their partner would do something like that again after all the hurt it caused.
The paranoia it can cause can bring a lot of marriages to an end. If someone in the relationship is a chronic relapser it is even worse. Their spouse might never be able to believe they won’t use again. Wondering why things would be any different this time around.
The couples that are able to move past addiction are the ones that put in the work. There are many tools available to both the addict and the loved one of the addict to ensure their marriage doesn’t come to an end if that’s what they both desire.
Utilizing Tools to Recover Together
There is a wide range of actions a couple can take to recover, both individually as collectively. Since addiction undermines trust a great deal, it’s important to gauge progress with action versus more talk. Here are some of the top actions you and your spouse can take to ensure long term recovery:
The logical first step in the recovery process is to find a treatment center for your addicted spouse. The type of facility best for them will vary greatly based on their individual needs. Factors include their substance of abuse, history of abuse, co-occurring issues and insurance / financial resources.
Some of the benefits of treatment include:
- Individualized therapy to address your spouse’s underlying trauma and other related issues that are contributing to their addiction.
- A supportive environment for them to develop the tools and knowledge they need to get sober and achieve lasting sobriety.
- Couples therapy which allows both spouses a safe and productive sounding board to develop a new, healthier foundation for their relationship. This is just the first step as ideally therapy for the couple with continue for months, and in some cases even years, after treatment. This is also the perfect way to facilitate a smooth transition into aftercare support groups like AA and Al-Anon.
The ideal continuum of care for addiction treatment that has been found to provide the greatest likelihood of sobriety starts with detox at a medical facility, then continues on to inpatient treatment for roughly 90 days at a residential treatment facility. Next up is outpatient treatment, which the addict attends short term in conjunction with living in a sober house. Again, this will depend largely on the individual and their needs.
AA / NA
The 12 steps of recovery are a fantastic resource for someone who suffers from an addiction. AA (alcoholics anonymous) or NA (narcotics anonymous) will help someone suffering from addiction have a program of recovery that they can practice in order to find lasting recovery. Time will tell whether or not the marriage will recover if the addict is taking things seriously or is likely to relapse again. But the most important thing is action. Questions to ask / actions to observe include:
- How many meetings is the addict attending per week? It’s strongly suggested that early on, the recovering individual attends 3-5+ meetings a week.
- Has the addict gotten a sponsor? Recovery largely takes place by working the steps. A sponsor is required to mentor you through this process and the addict should be in regular communication with them for this reason.
Al-Anon is a support group for people who have someone close to them that are afflicted by a substance use disorder. It’s very difficult to rebuild the trust that has been lost but both parties establishing their own recovery is one of the best ways to move forward. By having their own program to work, neither will have as much time and energy judging the other.
Al-Anon is not a space for someone to go and complain about how badly the addict in their life hurt them, but rather a place to help them detach in a healthy manner. Not in the sense that they will be told to leave them and move on, but rather in a healthy way where they are at less risk for codependency.
It’s not uncommon for the people who are in the relationship to become dangerously intertwined. Their life can become consumed by whether or not they will be able to continue their relationship after all of the distrust. Al-Anon helps find a way to help yourself move on and understand that you are not the cause of their using, as well as not being the cure.
There Is Hope
While you have no control over your spouse’s actions, holding them accountable and insisting they take these actions will lead them in the right direction. And by doing your part and taking action yourself, even if the marriage does result in divorce you will be in a much better place mentally and emotionally to move forward with your life.
As long as both individuals are willing to commit their time and effort to make use of the aforementioned tools, recovery from addiction is not only possible but probable. In fact, many have used this as an opportunity to strengthen and improve their marriages.
Jack Agatston lives in Atlanta, GA and works at The Summit Wellness Group. He has a passion for recovery and is dedicated to sharing his message of hope with others through his writing and his daily work in the treatment industry. www.thesummitwellnessgroup.com