One of the most challenging experiences in a marriage is dealing with the toll of addiction. Whether the spouse has had long-standing challenges with substance use or whether their challenges have just begun, addiction spares no one in a relationship. Luckily, there are resources available to help your spouse get the help they need. Recovery is not an easy road but is possible.
Though you may feel like your spouse is being reckless and irresponsible by continuing their drug use despite the consequences, understand that addiction is a chronic condition that becomes deeply embedded in the brain. Luckily, with proper support, mentorship, and guidance, your spouse can recover. You, too, should prioritize your emotional, mental, and physical health over the long road towards recovery ahead.
Here are 5 strategies to help your spouse who is struggling with a drug addiction.
1. Understand How Addiction Works
It’s easy to get upset, angry, disappointed, or frustrated with a loved one who is struggling with addiction. This is especially true in the case of a spouse who may be neglecting their family or work responsibilities or may be putting other family members in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
Because of this, it’s important to remember how addiction works. While you may be tempted to blame your spouse for their lack of self-control or see their drug use as a moral failing, remember that addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower. Instead, addiction is a complex physical, emotional, and psychological condition that can be very difficult to overcome.
Addiction takes root in the brain as addictive substances actually change the way the brain works, from the types of chemicals it produces to the way it controls memory, decision making, problem solving, and risk taking. While your spouse does have the willpower to stop using drugs, their brain and body may be making this process very difficult. Understanding how addiction rewires the brain can make it easier to understand why your spouse is acting the way they are.
2. Set Boundaries
As a dedicated partner in a relationship, your first instinct may be to pick up the slack for your spouse as they struggle with addictive behaviors. You might make excuses for their behavior, tolerate their drug use at home, or allow them to engage in dangerous behavior near your family. This might feel like the right thing to do to protect your spouse from the consequences of their addiction.
Unfortunately, addiction does not respect your efforts. The best step you can take for your spouse is to set firm boundaries. Inform them, for example, that they can’t continue to use drugs in your home, and explain the consequences if they continue with their behavior. Only by setting firm boundaries can you begin to push your loved one towards recovery.
If your loved one breaks those boundaries, don’t be afraid to enforce the consequences. This may be as basic as requesting your spouse not to spend time with drug-using friends in your home, or as complex as temporarily relocating for your safety. Avoid creating conditions where you are enabling your spouse to continue their self-destructive behavior, even if this means setting tough boundaries and enforcing them.
3. Encourage Treatment
Most individuals who struggle with addiction don’t accept the offer of treatment the first time. While it might seem logical that your spouse would want to overcome their addiction, their brain has become trapped in a cycle of unhealthy patterns that is difficult to break. They may also be afraid of the emotional, physical, and mental consequences of stopping their drug use or going “cold turkey.”
For these reasons and more, it’s important that you encourage your spouse to seek appropriate addiction treatment for their needs. Even if they don’t listen to you the first—or tenth—time, you need to continue emphasizing the need for your loved one to get professional help. A reputable addiction treatment provider can help individuals safely stop taking drugs and move into treatment in a controlled and supportive environment.
Luckily, there are resources available to help you, including medical and addiction treatment professionals who can recommend the right treatment for your spouse. And though you might feel like you are endlessly repeating yourself, your spouse needs to hear that treatment is the proper way out of their addiction dilemma.
4. Educate Yourself
Prior to your spouse’s struggle with addiction, you may not have known much about how substance use and addiction actually work. Now, unfortunately, it is your responsibility to learn more about how this common and devastating struggle actually works on the brain and body.
Luckily, there are a variety of resources available to help. One excellent place to start is the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which hosts a variety of in-depth articles on addiction and treatment. One good article to start with is “Addiction Science” which discusses how addicted individuals’ brains and behaviors are impacted by addiction.
You can also reach out to your physician, who can help connect you with resources. Addiction treatment providers are also excellent resources for better understanding of treatment options and how addiction treatment actually works in practice. While you can’t enroll your spouse in a program without their consent, you can learn more about the different types of addiction treatment, including inpatient and outpatient options, and how the treatment process works.
5. Develop Coping Strategies
As your spouse struggles with addiction, you may find that more responsibilities around the house fall on your shoulders. You may be paying more of the rent or mortgage, working longer hours, or taking on more childcare responsibilities. If your spouse loses a job, you may find yourself taking on a second job or making other major sacrifices for your family.
This may lead you to become angry, frustrated, resentful, or bitter. These emotions can drive a wedge between you and your spouse, and may lead to long-term alienation, hostility, or even the breakdown of your marriage. It’s important to find a healthy outlet for these emotional responses, as well as find support from others who have experienced the same challenges.
Seek out support from other family members and friends who understand what you’re going through. If you are having a difficult time talking with people you know well, try a program like Al-Anon, which brings together the loved ones of individuals struggling with addiction. These anonymous group meetings can help you feel less alone and allow you to safely process the complex emotions that addiction can trigger.
Recovering from addiction is a major challenge even for individuals who are eager to get sober. If your spouse is resistant to change, understand that you won’t see results overnight, or even in a few months. But you don’t have to walk this path alone. From addiction treatment providers to peer support groups, there are countless organizations dedicated to both helping your loved one and guiding you through this process.