How to Help a Drug Addict if You’re Married to One
It isn’t easy to navigate the waters of marriage when your spouse is a drug addict. A delicate balancing act is needed to make sure that you help your partner without losing yourself in their addiction. Furthermore, the fear of loss can be overwhelming when you’re married to a drug addict.
There were approximately 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016—so many that overdose has become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.
Here is how you can help a drug addict while holding onto your own health and happiness at the same time.
Are you married to a drug addict?
In 2013, the DSM was updated to define substance use disorder as a problematic pattern of use that causes clinically significant distress or impairment, shown by at least two of the following signs occurring within the past 12 months:
- Taking a substance in larger amounts, or over a longer period of time than intended.
- Having a persistent desire or making unsuccessful attempts to quit, cut down, or control use of a substance.
- Spending a large amount of time on obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance.
- Experiencing strong cravings or desire for a substance.
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at school, work, or home due to recurrent substance use.
- Continuing to use a substance despite experiencing recurring or persistent interpersonal problems that are caused by or worsened by the effects of use.
- Giving up important occupational, social, or recreational activities due to substance use.
- Repeatedly using a substance in situations and under circumstances when it is physically hazardous.
- Continuing to use a substance despite having a recurring or persistent psychological or physical problem that is likely caused by or worsened by substance use.
- Developing a tolerance, demonstrated by needing to take more of a substance to achieve the same effect, or experiencing a diminished effect with the continued use of the same amount of substance.
- Experiencing the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for a substance when attempting to cut down or quit, or taking the substance or a related substance in order to relieve or avoid symptoms of withdrawal.
Two or more of the experiences on this list occurring in a 12-month period indicates the presence of a substance use disorder, and the more of these signs the individual experiences, the more severe the disorder, and the more urgent it is to seek treatment.
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How to Help a Drug Addict: Tips to Remember
1. Research addiction and recovery.
Learn everything you can about the disease of addiction, addiction treatment, and the process of recovery. This will help you better understand what is happening to your family, and what it will take for you and your spouse to make healthy changes to create a drug-free life. It will also help you move past blaming your partner for the addiction so that you can understand that your spouse did not choose to become an addict and that they need an expert, professional treatment to recover from this disease.
You also want to find out about the best drug addiction treatment centers near you, as well as which ones are covered by your insurance, and/or offer affordable payment options. Learning how to help a drug addict requires first discovering what treatment options to turn to as soon as your spouse is ready for treatment. Any delay will only give them the chance to change their mind.
2. Prepare yourself, then start communicating.
It can be frightening to initiate a serious conversation with your spouse about addiction, but it is necessary when you are married to a drug addict. Before you actually speak to your spouse, you may want to practice the conversation in advance, while following a few simple guidelines:
- Speak calmly, without judgment or hostility
- Be honest, while making sure your partner understands the honesty comes from a place of love.
- Bring up specific examples, not to guilt them, but to be sure they can’t dismiss what you’re saying as an overreaction
If you’re worried about getting too emotional or blanking on what you want to say, try writing things out ahead of time so you can get your thoughts in order. Then choose a time to speak when your spouse isn’t high or drunk, so that they will be able to hear, process, and remember what you say to them. If the conversation doesn’t go well, don’t give up. They may think about it and come back asking for your help later. If not, you may want to consider enlisting friends and family to help you stage an intervention.
3. Once you’ve gotten your spouse into treatment, support them through recovery.
Get involved in your spouse’s treatment by participating in family therapy, and working on issues and lifestyle changes that you can make to support their recovery. Be there for your spouse, but understand that they also need the time and space to focus on themselves and the many difficult changes they need to make. Stay positive and patient. What’s important is that change is happening, not how quickly it happens.
4. Prepare yourself for the possibility of relapse.
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, and returning to drug use during or after treatment should not be seen as a failure. What matters is that your spouse stops taking drugs again as soon as possible, and then returns to treatment, using the relapse as a learning experience. Perhaps they left treatment too soon, or they need a more intensive level of treatment. Perhaps they tried to return to “regular life” before they were ready, or tried to hang out with old friends who triggered their drug use. Your spouse can work with a counselor to figure out what they need to do differently this time around to promote long-term success.
You should also prepare for the possibility of relapse in a practical and emotional sense. Make sure that you have a backup plan that allows you to put some space between you and your spouse if necessary, especially if you have children. Protect your financial security by opening your own banking account that your spouse cannot access and be prepared to move money from a joint account into this account if necessary. Look after any joint assets and your own safety with professional advice and legal help (for custody agreements, protective orders, etc.). Have a list of people that you can call for help, from friends and family who can help you emotionally with sponsors and treatment providers who can help your partner get back on track.
Your spouse can overcome addiction; get them help today!
5. Remember to take care of yourself and your family first.
Being married to a drug addict means supporting them in recovery, but not at the expense of yourself or your children. Make sure to maintain normal family activities, get plenty of sleep, nutritious food, and exercise; spend time with friends and family, get good health care, and find fun and enjoyment wherever you can. Your life should not freeze in place because your spouse is in treatment. Taking care of yourself and your family first will create a happier home for your spouse to return to, providing them with even more motivation to recover.
You should also find support for yourself and your children, and possibly professional therapy so that you can all work through your own issues and the negative consequences that have occurred due to your partner’s drug addiction. Attending fellowship meetings such as Nar-Anon and Celebrate Recovery can help you connect with others who are experiencing challenges similar to your own, providing you with insight and inspiration, and a strength-building community. Remember that you deserve to have a life of your own, and you can’t help your partner if you fail to take care of yourself.
Never guilt yourself into thinking that looking after yourself is selfish. A big part of recovery involves creating a stable place to live and a positive home environment and looking after the needs and well-being of your children and yourself will create the kind of home that your spouse needs for long-term recovery success.
How to Help a Drug Addict: Tips to Avoid When Married to a Drug Addict
1. Don’t ignore or deny the issue.
It is tempting to deny or minimize the destructive behaviors of someone you love, especially with a disease like addiction, which can be full of ups and downs. You may start to wonder if you were overreacting to your spouse’s disturbing behavior yesterday when they are treating you so sweetly today. You may be tempted to think the problem is not a big deal because your spouse is still employed, or still relatively healthy. You may want to blame the drug use on something situational, like a high-stress job, or the fight you had, or financial trouble. But the truth is, you weren’t overreacting, drug addiction is always a big deal, and a drug addict will always find reasons to keep using, no matter how good or how bad their lives become.
If your spouse has a substance use disorder, you can speak with one of our treatment specialists to find the best program for their needs.
2. Don’t be an enabler.
Loving someone means wanting to help them, but when you are married to a drug addict, some kinds of help can actually be hurtful. This kind of “helping” is called enabling, and it only makes it easier for your spouse to keep using. Examples of enabling behaviors include:
- Giving your spouse money for drugs
- Calling into their work with excuses for lateness or absences
- Making excuses or apologies to friends and family to cover up your spouse’s hurtful or embarrassing behavior
- Lying to the police to keep your spouse out of trouble
- Taking care of responsibilities that your spouse has neglected
Stop making it easier for your spouse to ignore the consequences of their actions. If you have children, you do have to make sure that they are properly looked after, even if it means taking on duties that your spouse was supposed to take care of. However, you don’t have to smooth over the argument your partner had with their best friend, or nurse your spouse when they are sick from drug use. As long as the situation isn’t life or death, there’s nothing wrong with letting someone suffer the consequences of their actions. If they pass out on the bathroom floor, leave them to wake up with sore bones and tile marks on their face instead of cleaning them up and tucking them into a comfortable bed. You cannot “fix” a drug addict. Let them face their problems, and use the energy you save to work on yourself instead.
3. Don’t get stuck in a bad situation.
If you or your children are unsafe, or if the suffering has become too much for your or your children to handle, put you and your family first and get to a safe place. Drug addicts can become abusive in many ways, and even gentle drug addicts can bring serious risks to their families in the form of violent drug dealers, financial problems, household or vehicular accidents, STDs, and more. Drug addicts become adept at emotional manipulation, which can fool you into blaming yourself for your partner’s problems. Remember that their addiction is not your fault, and your primary responsibility is to take care of your children and yourself. Be there for your partner when you can, but never sacrifice your safety to their addiction. If an addiction gets bad enough for long enough, even the kindest person can turn cruel and dangerous. Be honest with yourself and get out if your spouse has changed enough that your wellbeing is in danger.
How to Find the Best Drug Addiction Treatment Centers
The first step to overcoming addiction is to find the right addiction treatment for you. Our detox directory will help you find the best drug addiction treatment centers available. You can also call our addiction treatment hotline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.