If you’re suffering from the effects that an opioid addiction can have on a marriage, you’re not alone.
Whether you’re the one combating addiction or are the partner picking up the pieces of substance abuse, it may be comforting — though still devastating — to realize that this is a somewhat common issue in the United States.
How can an opioid addiction affect a marriage?
Opiates come from the poppy seed and are prescribed to dull pain. Oxycodone and Vicodin are the two most commonly prescribed opioids, and users often tend to mix them with other drugs in a potentially deadly cocktail.
When one spouse develops or relapses into a substance abuse problem, everyone in the family feels the effects. While this can take an enormous toll on a family, it’s crucial to remember that addiction is a disease. After a certain point, the person affected cannot make a decision to stop using because their brain has been rewired. Whether the family stays together is often based on many factors, including:
- Safety of the family: If family members are in an unsafe situation due to substance abuse, safety should be prioritized.
- Amount of strain the family relationships can endure: Sometimes family members can only handle so much stress and find they can no longer put their own needs aside.
- Practical needs like health insurance and financial stability: Some families stay together because of their health insurance situation or because they cannot financially survive alone.
- Willingness of the substance abuser to seek counseling or treatment: Is the person with the problem ready to move forward with their own treatment and begin repairing the marriage?
- Severity of the addiction: Addictions occur at various lengths and levels. Is this a recent problem, or are you at your breaking point as a married couple?
- Availability of treatment: Location, finances, employment situation, and insurance coverage all play into whether treatment is readily available.
- Wider support network for recovery: Are extended family members and friends able to help? With more support, couples can recover (or move on) faster.
- Financial situation: Couples facing unemployment, underemployment, and low wages are more likely to divorce during difficult times than affluent couples.
The path to substance abuse is different for everyone. For many, opioid addiction occurs after an initial prescription of opioids following an injury or car accident. Some chronic pain patients receive opioids for pain management as well. Others who experience opioid addiction may have had negatively impactful childhood experiences.
In other cases, substance abuse can occur when one or more partners aren’t happy in their relationship, home life, or job. They feel stress and turn to opioids to dull the emotional pain. In fact, therapists report that those in marital therapy for substance abuse are much more unhappy than couples seeking therapy for other reasons.
Opioid Use, Separation, and Divorce
If you’re already separated, you may find that you or your spouse may begin to use opioids use as a means of coping with the divorce. This is a common coping mechanism — especially for men — and it can accompany the difficult mental state that follows separation and divorce.
Single or divorced men in treatment are more likely to relapse than married men, while opioid abuse rates are highest among single and divorced men with a GED or high school education (versus a college degree).
While women also suffer from substance abuse issues, men are societally conditioned to avoid speaking about their emotions or expressing them. This can make it challenging for men to seek therapy or to express feelings through words or actions beyond violence — and since they often feel they can ask for help with an existing problem, they can go further down the path of opioid addiction.
Treatment Options for Families Dealing with Opioid Addiction
If your relationship has suffered as a result of opioid addiction, don’t lose hope. There are multiple treatment options available to help. Optimal treatment programs address issues from biological, psychological, and social angles, providing holistic options that can integrate the spouse. What does this look like?
- Social health repair: Substance abuse damages relationships, including marriages. The substance pulls focus and takes money and time away from the relationship, leaving much damage to repair.
- Psychological health repair: Many with substance abuse problems abuse opioids as a means to treat symptoms of another issue or underlying cause. Treatment programs can analyze, diagnose, and responsibly prescribe non-opioids to help patients cope with pain — both physical and mental — and avoid opioids in the future.
- Biological health repair: Physical withdrawal symptoms when coming off opioids are real, and many who are addicted to opioids have chronic pain or other physical issues that still need managing. A robust treatment program integrates with regular healthcare to focus on overall biology and physical wellness.
Moving forward, public health officials are tasked with providing more general support, starting with improving communications about opioids between the government, local communities, medical professionals, and patients. This also means providing more prominent resources to married couples facing substance abuse issues. The government is aware, considering opioid deaths between 1999 and 2014 nearly tripled.
If your marriage is affected by an opioid addiction, consider open communication, marital therapy, and an honest look at whether the person with the addiction is ready and able to move forward with a treatment program. Some couples choose to part ways while others can get back on track — the choice is up to you and your spouse.