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Married to an Addict

Addiction affects all aspects of life, including intimate relationships. However, there is hope for relief and resolution if your partner is struggling with substance abuse. Taking care of yourself while supporting, but not enabling, your partner is crucial. Getting your partner into rehab can facilitate recovery and a healthy, drug-free relationship.

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Key Facts

  • More than 40 million people in the United States had a substance use disorder (SUD) in 2020. Addiction is very common.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are some of the most common reasons for seeking marriage counseling and divorce. 
  • A quarter to half of men who commit domestic violence also have substance abuse issues. Addiction increases the risk for violence, aggression, and abuse.

How Does Being Married to an Addict Affect the Relationship?

Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction can cause a variety of issues for both parties in a relationship. Substance abuse can lead to a multitude of physical and mental health issues that can be difficult to manage. 

  • Financial issues: Addiction is characterized by compulsive substance abuse, an inability to consistently fulfill obligations, and a decline in work production. This can lead to frustration as well as financial issues, as a person who is addicted to substances will often miss a lot of work and even potentially lose their job. They will also often spend a lot of money on obtaining drugs or alcohol, which can contribute to money problems.
  • Legal troubles: Addiction can also result in legal conflicts or trouble with law enforcement due to illicit drug use, obtaining these substances illegally, or committing crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Legal troubles can put additional strain on a relationship.
  • Abuse: Drug and alcohol use can increase aggressive and abusive behaviors and physical, sexual, and verbal abuse are common in intimate relationships with an addict. Child abuse and neglect can also be a factor with an addicted parent.
  • Mood issues: When your partner is an addict, they are likely to have intense mood swings that can be difficult to predict and manage. They will often isolate themselves, and as a partner, you can feel left out. The relationship will often be strained, and this can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment.
  • Dishonesty: Addiction can lead to a lack of trust, as the person struggling with substances will often make promises that they do not keep. They will often say they are going to do one thing and end up not being able to follow through. 
  • Stress: High levels of stress are common when you are married to an addict, and this can lead to significant conflict at home. This adds to the volatility of an already unstable relationship.

How Does Being Married to an Addict Affect You?

A partner’s addiction can do more than harm your marriage. It can also have a deep impact on your mental health and self-esteem.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy points out that relationships touched by substance abuse are often very unhappy ones. As the abuse gets worse, the parties develop an emotional distance. 

They often fight about the drinking or the drugs, which can cause the addicted person to self-medicate with substances. More fights begin when the sober partner notices the increased substance use. This downward spiral is hard to escape.

While you’re not responsible for your partner’s habits, you may feel very alone inside your marriage. You may feel like your life revolves around your partner’s decisions, so you have no agency or goals of your own. You may also feel guilty that your marriage isn’t providing an ideal environment for your children.

If you’re struggling with these issues, find a counselor for one-on-one care. Your therapist could help you develop good coping skills that might serve you well in the future. You could also attend support groups made just for partners, such as Al-Anon. Connecting with understanding peers could help you learn more about how others deal with the same issues.

Difference Between Supporting Your Partner & Enabling Them

While you want to support your partner, it is important not to enable them. Enabling is any behavior that allows the person to keep abusing substances. 

Here are some ways to tell if you are enabling your partner:

  • You make excuses for their bad behaviors, such as explaining away the substance abuse due to high levels of life stress.
  • You cover up or lie about why they failed to fulfill an obligation, such as telling their boss they were sick when they were too drunk or hungover to make it to work.
  • You excuse their abuse of you or someone else, often with the excuse that “they are just not themselves” in the moment.
  • You neglect your own needs to take care of them when they are intoxicated or recovering from intoxication.
  • You deny that a problem exists, continuing to “look the other way” when it comes to their substance abuse and addiction.

Enabling behaviors allow people struggling with addiction to keep harming themselves and others. Enabling does not actually offer any support. 

As long as you continue to make it easier on them to keep abusing substances, they are going to continue to do so. Enabling your partner does not force them to see the problems related to their addiction, much less face them, and it does more harm than good. 

What Is Codependency?

Codependency involves forming relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, or abusive. Mental Health America says codependent behavior is typically learned by watching or imitating other family members. If you grew up in a home with addiction, you may have learned these habits from a parent.

People who have codependency have low self-esteem, and they often look for something outside themselves to make them feel better. While people like this have good intentions, they can take on too much for a person with addiction. Instead of allowing a person to face the consequences of addiction, they buffer and allow it to continue.

In a relationship like this, the addicted person keeps using. The codependent person keeps covering it up. Both people are deeply unhappy.

6 Things You Should Do When Married to an Addict

  1. Accept that a problem exists. Acknowledge the issues at hand and decide to find a way to deal with them.
  2. Evaluate and stop enabling behaviors. When you make excuses or lie for your spouse to help them out of an embarrassing or potentially damaging situation, you are allowing them to continue abusing substances instead of recognizing and facing the problems that come with addiction.
  3. Take care of yourself. It can be easy to become completely consumed with your addicted partner and taking care of them, often at your own expense. You can’t effectively help them if you are drained and depleted.
  4. Create and stick to healthy boundaries. It is okay to deny them something if it is going to be harmful or damaging to you. If there is any kind of abuse going on, seek professional help and keep yourself safe.
  5. Educate yourself on addiction and treatment options. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better off you are to help your loved one. It can be extremely helpful to understand how addiction works, what the signs are, and how to get help for a loved one. Research local treatment options and know what choices you have for support and recovery.
  6. Seek support. This can come in the way of other family and friends or a local support group for partners of addicts, such as Al-Anon. It can feel isolating to live with an addict, and it is beneficial to have others to lean on and talk to.

9 Specific Behaviors to Avoid When Married to an Addict

You aren’t responsible for your partner’s addiction. However, your behavior could inadvertently make a substance abuse problem easier to support. 

The following harmful actions are common in people who are married to an addict, per a study conducted in 2004:

  1. Provide or borrow money to buy drugs or alcohol. It’s easy to give in to a partner’s request for money, especially if you share a joint checking account. Do your best to make it harder for your partner to feed the addiction.
  2. Provide or borrow money to pay for a partner’s consequences. You’re not responsible for the court fees or parole bonds your partner must pay. Let them deal with the consequences of the addiction.
  3. Purchase alcohol or drugs. You may tell yourself you’re helping by limiting how much you buy or where you buy it. However, you’re still making it easier for your partner to use.
  4. Do your partner’s work or cancel events due to substance use. Don’t buffer the consequences of substance abuse by taking over tasks like laundry or cleaning. Similarly, don’t let your partner’s hangover dictate your social life. Let your partner experience what happens when substances get in the way.
  5. Lie about the substance abuse. Living with addiction can be embarrassing, and it’s reasonable to lie to the people you care about to cover it up. Some people even lie to law enforcement. However, making excuses for your partner can allow the substance abuse to continue.
  6. Use substances with or in front of your partner. It’s common to want to relive happier days when you could share a drink or a hit. Don’t give in and use substances in front of someone with an addiction.
  7. Set rules about when your partner can use. Giving permission for occasional drug use isn’t smart. Insist on sobriety.
  8. Help a partner clean up after their abuse episodes. Don’t nurse your partner through a tough hangover or help them clean up the mess. Let them understand how terrible the consequences can be the morning after.
  9. Conceal or downplay the problem. You love your partner, and you may want to help by hiding their problem from friends, family, and employers. You may also encourage these people to ignore clear signs of addiction in an attempt to help. Let others see the problems your partner faces.

How to Get Your Partner Into Rehab

Addiction is a treatable disease, but it requires the help of a specialized and comprehensive addiction treatment program. To get your partner into rehab, you will first need to stop denying that there is a problem and that you both need help. 

It can be helpful to work with a professional interventionist to stage an intervention. At this meeting, the goal is to show your partner how their addiction is impacting those around them and get them to agree to enter a treatment program. 

When staging an intervention, it is important to choose the right time. There is no point in trying to talk to them while they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You want to try and catch them when they are not high. 

The intervention does not have to be formal or just one conversation either. It might take several small conversations about how their behaviors are affecting you directly before they agree to get help. Again, a professional interventionist can be key to guiding the planning process and the actual event.

Keep things assertive, loving, and empathetic. Stay away from aggressive or negative language. Avoid shame and blame. Instead, stick to “I” statements. 

It is beneficial to research treatment options and availability ahead of time. If your partner agrees to get help, you can then take them directly to rehab following the intervention.  

A Self-Care Guide When You’re Married to an Addict

While it’s crucial to get your partner into an appropriate treatment program, it’s vital to take care of yourself too. These self-care techniques may help:

Access Mental Health Resources

Some addiction treatment programs include family counseling sessions for spouses, parents, and children. While talking with your spouse in a supportive setting is helpful, don’t overlook the power of working with your own counselor. Private sessions can help you come to terms with the trauma and develop new coping skills for the future.

Care for Your Body

Being married to an addict can mean spending a lot of time thinking about your family, the addiction, and your future. Sometimes, moving your body can help you stop focusing on your thoughts, and your mood might lift. Take a walk with your dog, throw a ball with your children, or take a class at the gym. It could do you good.

Consider Meditation

The American Psychological Association says medication is a research-proven way to reduce stress and improve both your physical and mental health. It starts by tuning into your breath (instead of your thoughts) and deepens into observing your body’s sensations without judgment.

Your local gym might offer meditation or yoga classes to help you get started. Or you could download a meditation app and learn the techniques independently.

Find a Community

Join a support group like Al-Anon to talk with other people who are married to an addict. You could learn new techniques and coping skills. 

Also, look for opportunities to spend time with your friends, family, and colleagues. Spending time with others could improve your mood and help you focus on the good things in your life.

Updated April 21, 2024
  1. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. RIA Reaching Others: Does Drinking Affect Marriage? (October 2013). University at Buffalo Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions.
  3. Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence. (1997). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  4. Experienced Psychosocial Problems of Women with Spouses of Substance Abusers: A Qualitative Study. (November 2019). Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences.
  5. So You're Married to An Addict: Is Divorce Inevitable? (September 2011). Psychology Today.
  6. Intimate Partner Violence and Drug-Addicted Women: From Explicative Models to Gender-Oriented Treatments. (September 2014). European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
  7. Codependency. Psychology Today.
  8. Al-Anon. Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, Inc.
  9. Enabling Behavior in a Clinical Sample of Alcohol-Dependent Clients and Their Partners. (June 2004). Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
  10. Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationships. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
  11. Mindfulness Meditation: A Research-Proven Way to Reduce Stress. (October 2019). American Psychological Association.
  12. Codependency. Mental Health America.
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