Dealing With an Addicted Spouse

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Living with an Addict

Alcohol and drug abuse is strongly linked to conflict and abuse in relationships, both verbal and physical. Some of the factors that cause conflict include financial difficulties, legal issues (getting into trouble with the law because of drunk driving or illicit drug use) or conflict over child custody, among other things. When intoxicated or drugged, one suffers from impaired judgement and often acts irrational, causing anger and resentment.

Another common issue of being married to an addict is that the addict’s partner is often consumed with helping them, likely neglecting their own needs. The partner may feel that it is best not to involve parents, children, relatives or friends, causing the partner to feel very lonely. Additionally, the partner may find themselves taking on more responsibility at home – with childcare and with providing money – fostering negative feelings.



The spouse of an addict will often become codependent on the addict. Codependent people generally rely on their spouse to provide self-esteem and safety in an unhealthy way, causing them to lose their own identity and independence at the same time. This also has a negative effect on the addict since this enables the negative behavior further. Examples of enabling behavior might include:

Allowing your spouse to neglect their responsibilities, lying to cover up for their behaviors, letting your spouse abuse you, neglecting your own needs to help your spouse, and protecting your spouse from any consequences of their actions.

If you think you may be codependent on your addicted spouse, know that you are not assisting the recovery process. On the contrary, it causes the addict to deny the problem and will also hinder the recovery process.

Supporting your Spouse

The following suggestions will help you to support your spouse in recognizing their issue and in assisting the recovery process.

  1. Educate yourself. The more you understand your spouse, the more likely it is that they will trust you and allow you to assist in the healing process. Ensure that your spouse feels that they can communicate with you and share how they are feeling without being judged or looked down at. Understand that healing is a long and grueling process, and don’t expect to see dramatic change right away.
  2. Focus on the problem and not on the person. Recognize that addiction is not a personality flaw- your spouse is a person with a problem. Also, it is likely that your spouse has changed and is almost unrecognizable when in a drunken or drugged state. This will cause sadness and even a sense of grief as you mourn the partner that you have lost. You may start to view your spouse differently, forgetting that they are primarily a person and not just a ‘drug-addict.’ It is equally important not to blame yourself for your spouse’s addiction and ensuing behaviors, nor should you take literally the negative comments that your spouse says about you when they are not lucid.
  3. Don’t demand that your spouse go for help. You may be tempted to force your spouse to go to rehab or see a therapist but this is counterproductive. Addicts must admit themselves that they need help and be willing to put in the work necessary to achieve sobriety.


Supporting Yourself

Throughout the process, ensure that you do not lose your own vitality. Taking care of yourself is important for you and for the recovery of your spouse:

  1. Establish what you can and cannot do to support your spouse. This helps to ensure that you do not get resentful by constantly engaging in unhealthy self-sacrifice. Empathy, acceptance and patience and are necessary to practice, as long as it doesn’t lead to neglecting your own needs. Bear in mind that your spouse will likely test your boundaries and you will need to stay firm.
  2. Use “I feel” and “I need” statements. The word “you” often feels accusatory and will put the addict in self-defense mode, which is not conducive to effective communication. Share your feelings without blaming or putting down, as emotion is more likely to elicit empathy and closeness.
  3. Understand that things will not go back to the way they were. Your spouse has changed and so have you, therefore the relationship will evolve. In fact, you may strengthen your relationship during the recovery process, and it may even be a lot stronger than it was originally. Work on letting go of resentments so that you can achieve this.


Al-Anon 12-Step support groups are popular for spouses of addicts. They are attended by anyone affected by addiction such as relatives or friends of an addict.

Until your spouse is ready to admit that they have a problem, you can try to research your options and find the best rehab program for your spouse. In that way, you will be able to help your spouse on their journey to recovery from the moment they are ready.

When they are ready for rehab, reach out. We are literally standing by, waiting for your call. Your spouse can get their life back, and you – your marriage.

For more information for how drugs and alcohol ruin relationships, read our online resource.

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