Addiction is a disease that impacts all aspects of life, especially intimate relationships. If your partner struggles with drug or alcohol abuse and addiction, there is hope for some relief and resolution. Addiction is a treatable condition.
It is important to take care of and protect yourself while also supporting (but not enabling) your partner. Optimally, you can get your partner into rehab, so you can work toward recovery and a healthy relationship that is free of drug and alcohol abuse.
Key Facts About Being Married to an Addict
- 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.
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.
Codependency is also common in marriages involving an addict, as the relationship is bound to be one-sided. You can easily sacrifice your own needs to keep taking care of the person who is abusing substances.
In a codependent relationship, there is often a “giver” and a “taker.” The giver can often give up their entire vision of self to become the caregiver to the other, thereby continuing to enable their destructive and irresponsible behavior.
5 Things You Should Do When Married to an Addict
- Stop denying that a problem exists. Denial is common in addiction. However, it does not help either of you when you do not acknowledge the issues at hand and decide to find a way to deal with them.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
RIA Reaching Others: Does Drinking Affect Marriage? (October 2013). University at Buffalo Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions.
Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence. (1997). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Experienced Psychosocial Problems of Women with Spouses of Substance Abusers: A Qualitative Study. (November 2019). Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences.
So You’re Married to An Addict: Is Divorce Inevitable? (September 2011). Psychology Today.
Intimate Partner Violence and Drug-Addicted Women: From Explicative Models to Gender-Oriented Treatments. (September 2014). European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
Codependency. Psychology Today.
Al-Anon. Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, Inc.