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How to Deal With a Drug Abusing Husband or Wife

Addiction eventually masters your life. Even if you are able to manage a substance use disorder for a while, this progressive disease will spread to every aspect of your life. Addiction primarily affects the reward center of the brain. Your reward center will start to treat drugs or alcohol as one of the other life-sustaining, rewarding activities that it’s designed to encourage, like eating, sleeping, and forming social bonds. Drugs are powerful motivators, and they can become more important to your reward center than regular everyday tasks. You may start neglecting hygiene, your personal responsibilities, your relationships, and even your health. Addiction often leads to problems with your health, social life, finances, and legal standing.

However, the relationship that often takes the biggest hit is your marriage. Loved ones and spouses are often deeply affected by a substance use disorder. As many as 45 percent of couples in one study decided to split up because of issues involving drugs or alcohol. Not only does addiction change the dynamic of a relationship directly, but it can also affect indirect variables that can put a strain on a relationship like finances and legal issues. For many, dealing with addiction in a spouse can seem like an uphill battle with very little hope of recovery. However, treatment can help a person escape from active addiction.

In many cases, the turning point towards recovery often comes because of a friend or family member. It’s often thought that a person needs to hit rock bottom and decide for themselves to go to treatment for it to be effective, but that’s not necessarily true. It is true that you can make decisions for your loved one, and you can urge them to go, even if they don’t believe it’s necessary.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), court-mandated treatment can be effective even if the person isn’t ready to change when they first enter treatment. It stands to reason that a person that’s going to treatment just to appease their spouse can also achieve sobriety.

Recognizing the Signs of Addiction

It’s important to recognize the signs of a substance use disorder (SUD) to begin helping a spouse that might be struggling with it. It’s possible for your spouse to hide an issue in the early stages of a disorder, but addiction eventually becomes difficult to conceal. However, catching a substance use problem early can help avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction like legal problems or health issues.

Substance use disorders can be mild, moderate, and severe. It typically follows a progression from mild to severe, but severe addiction can come on quickly. SUDs can have varying signs and symptoms at different levels of the disease. And other drugs can cause different physical symptoms.

However, SUDs often start with abuse, which can have a few common signs including:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Runny nose
  • Sudden weight change
  • Tremors and slurred speech
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Cognitive issues like forgetfulness
  • Changes in friend group or hangout spots
  • Loss of interest in usual hobbies or activities

When drug abuse turns into a physical dependence, a person might start drinking or using at odd times, especially in the morning. At this point, drugs will no longer be used to achieve a high or to socialize. Instead, they will be used to feel normal and to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Dependence is marked be increased tolerance to the drug, using multiple times per day, or using alone. Dependence is a chemical issue, and it affects the brain’s chemical pathways. Addiction, on the other hand, affects different parts of the brain and can be longer lasting, even if you go through detox.

Addiction is officially diagnosed as a severe substance use disorder and its typically identified by compulsive drug use despite significant consequences. For instance, if alcohol use starts to cause health problems and you are still unable to quit, you might have developed an addiction.

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How to Avoid Enabling

Sad woman in need of couples therapy

Enabling is a when a loved one’s actions allow an addicted person to continue in their addiction. In some cases, it can be difficult to tell the difference between enabling and helpful behavior. For instance, if your spouse is arrested because of a DUI, should you pay the money to bail them out? As a spouse, your instincts may be to do whatever it takes to protect the person struggling with addiction. But bailing someone out of jail may be shielding them from the consequences of their drug use, which can prolong their addiction.

Common examples of enabling behavior include lying to cover for them, paying your own money to help their financial situation, sacrificing your health and wellbeing, allowing illegal or dangerous activity in your home, and allowing them to step over boundaries. Even ignoring the problem can be considered enabling. If you have been abusing a substance, but no one in your life seems to have a problem with it, you might think it’s actually a big deal. When people call you out, it hurts, and it might upset you, but it will, at least, cause you to be more aware of the issue.

Does that mean you can’t help at all?

By no means! It’s essential to set clear boundaries, and let them know you won’t help them continue on their path of addiction, but that you will help them seek help or get into a treatment program. Hard lines are often a wake-up call to spouses who don’t think their substance use is a problem. Plus, knowing that you are there to help as soon as they decide to seek help may encourage them to seek treatment.

Should You Seek Couples or Family Therapy?

In addiction treatment, you may have the option to visit them during the treatment process, attend a therapy session, or even participate in family therapy.

A patient talking with a therapist about couples therapy

Getting involved in treatment can help you learn how you can help your spouse in their recovery, it can help them understand how their addiction has affected you, and it can also help to heal some of the wounds and resentments that may have come from addiction.

However, family involvement in treatment will be up to the client and their therapist. If your spouse isn’t ready to involve you in family therapy, don’t feel bad or take it personally. In addiction treatment, there may be a wide variety of underlying issues to address including depression, past traumas, guilt, shame, and mental health problems. The treatment priorities are often set based on the greatest needs. However, after treatment, if you and your spouse decide that couple’s or family therapy is a good idea, clinicians can help connect you to additional services.

Seeking Addiction Treatment

If a loved one seems to be struggling with a substance use disorder, getting them to consider treatment might be a challenge. Many loved ones think that their spouse will never agree to treatment. But it’s important to note that most people who achieve recovery at one point thought they didn’t need treatment. To learn more about addiction treatment and how you can approach your family member to get them to seek help, speak to an addiction treatment specialist at Pathway to Hope. Call 844-311-5781 to learn more about your therapy options and how they might be able to help your loved one achieve freedom from active addiction.


Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1970, January 01). Chapter 1 Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy from

Khaleghi, K., Ph.D. (2012, July 11). Are You Empowering or Enabling? from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, April). Is legally mandated treatment effective? from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). How can family and friends make a difference in the life of someone needing treatment? from

Parker, B. L., Ph.D. (2008, October 18). The Death of a Dyad from

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