Discovering, realizing, or even simply finally accepting that your spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be devastating. You love this person. You have bonded your life to his or hers. You imagine your future together, and you want it to always be happy, healthy, and positive. Unfortunately, all of that is surely clouded and may even feel uncertain now that you have come to terms with the fact that addiction has taken over your loved one’s life, and in many ways, yours as well.
However, the first thing you must know and that you may find somewhat comforting is that you are not alone. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15.1 million adults 18 and over – 6.2% of the people in that entire age group – have an alcohol abuse disorder in the USA today. Drug addiction is just as prevalent and not much better; a 2015 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that 4% of Americans met the criteria for drug use in the past year, and about 10% had a drug use disorder at some point in their lives. Further analysis of these figures shows that as many as 23 million adults in the United States have struggled, or do struggle, with problematic drug use. Sadly, addiction is widespread in our society today, and an addict’s addiction does not just effect his or her own life; it extends into the lives of those around him or her, including friends, children, relatives, and husbands and wives.
While the focus of addiction is always the addict, the spouses of all of these individuals are suffering right alongside their addicted spouses. As the husband or wife of an addicted person, you will certainly feel your spouse’s pain and struggles, and you too will be affected by his or her decisions, behaviors, and actions. In order to save yourself, save your loved one, and save your marriage, you need to act fast in order to help turn things around, and to begin getting every one and everything back on track.
How Did You Get Here?
You didn’t set out to get married to an addict. Of course not. The person you fell in love with may not have been an addict at the time, or he or she may have been very good at hiding the addiction. Perhaps the addiction developed after you were together a short time, or perhaps it took many years to take root and grow. Alternately, maybe heavy drinking or occasional drug use seemed normal early in your relationship, and it took years for you to really understand it’s role in your loved one’s life and the problems in both your lives that it creates.
However, no matter what the case, it’s important that you don’t blame yourself for the addiction in any way. It is not your fault. Even if you encouraged your spouse to have a few more drinks, or even if you indulged in substance use and abuse alongside him or her, you are not responsible for your spouse’s addiction. With that in mind, you are also not responsible for putting an end to the addiction either, but there are some things you can do to help.
How to Help
There are countless reasons an addiction is bad for any human being. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” Untreated addiction can result in a wide variety of negative life consequences including health problems, career problems, relationship problems, financial problems, legal problems, and even death. When any of these things are happening to someone you love, you feel it too – especially the last one. Short of that, though, your spouse’s addiction can be very stressful and difficult for you because the person you are married to may no longer seem to be anything like the person with whom you fell in love. You may feel as if you are married to someone you don’t know at all, but the reality is that person is in there. He or she just needs help – and lots of it – and a desire to change. You can offer the former, but the latter is up to the addicted individual. He or she has to want to make a change, and until then, all you can do is hope for the best. Unfortunately, while an addict is in the throes of active addiction, he or she will almost always choose the drug or alcohol over you.
What to Do
When your spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are several things you should and can do.
- Face the facts. If you are reading this post, then you have probably already begun to realize or have completely accepted that your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, which is a good first step. You have to step away from denial and accept that there is a problem before anything else can be done, and the same goes for your addicted spouse.
- Learn about addiction. There are countless resources available to you online, at the library, and through other sources to educate yourself about addiction. Learn all you can about your spouse’s drug of choice and you will begin to understand him or her as well as the problem much better. Once you are armed with information, it will be easier to cope with your husband or wife’s addiction, and it will be much easier to develop a plan of action.
- Understand codependency. A part of you will want to think, “Well, he/she is the addict. That’s his/her problem, not mine,” but unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way. Since you are married, and especially if you have children together, your spouse’s problems are everybody’s problems. The longer you (and your children) live in a home with an addict, the more you will be shaped by it. By understanding codependency, you will be more able to make changes needed to help your loved one.
- Stop enabling. Most enablers don’t even realize they are doing it. There are likely things you are doing that are supporting your husband or wife’s addiction. If you are giving him or her money, making excuses for him or her, or are being overly forgiving when you shouldn’t be, you are probably enabling the addiction. Educate yourself on what it means to be an enabler, and change your ways.
- Find support. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, you are definitely not alone. Many people are in the same situation as you are and are married to someone with a drug or alcohol problem. As a result, there are many support groups out there for people like you. The most famous are AlAnon and NarAnon which exist specifically to offer support to families of people suffering from addiction. They both have chapters in nearly every city in the United States and many other places around the world. There are others support groups as well, or, if you don’t feel as if a support group is right for you, seek out individual counseling for help.
- Set boundaries. If your spouse refuses to get help, then the negative consequences of his or her actions will just continue. At that point, you need to make a big decision – will you stick around and get pulled down also, or will you decide to leave? This is a huge, life-changing decision for both of you, but you may need to leave to save yourself. And, who knows – it may even save you both.
- Practice self-care. As the spouse of an addict, your probably spend more time than you realize taking care of your husband or wife. This can be exhausting and draining and may be making you unhealthy. You need to make sure that you take care of you; be sure to get the support that you need, take time for yourself, and do what you need to do to make yourself happy and healthy.
If your spouse or loved on is addicted to drugs or alcohol, please give us a call at Clear Sky Recovery. Our ibogaine detox treatment may be just what is needed to inspire a change. At our facility in Cancun, Mexico, we have treated countless individuals and have helped to get them back on a clean, sober, and healthy path. Our intake specialists are standing by to offer your support and answer your questions. Getting your spouse into treatment and onto the road to recovery is not easy, but we are here to help you through the process. We look forward to hearing from you.