Married to an addict: How to deal with an addicted spouse

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Married to an addict: How to deal with an addicted spouse2021-12-07T23:30:11+00:00


Loving an addicted spouse

Are you married to an addict? Is your significant other’s drug problem impacting your marriage and you don’t know what to do? If you have searched for “how to help my husband with drug addiction” hoping for answers and still feel lost, you are not alone. Dealing with an addicted spouse is not easy and addiction is a lifelong disease.

The consequences of drug abuse and alcohol abuse are numerous. Being married to an addict, you have likely experienced many. Substance use disorders do not just affect the individual abusing drugs or alcohol. Rather, they have many real and significant impacts on those closest to the addict and alcoholic, especially on intimate relationships. When a wife or husband is an addict, it is highly likely that their partner will also suffer the negative consequences of addiction.

Signs of drug use in a spouse


Drug abuse can take many forms. While some individuals are able to use substances on occasion, others find themselves in the throes of addiction and severe drug dependence quite quickly. If you are uncertain whether or not you are are married to an addict, it is important to understand a bit more about addiction.

Oftentimes, substance use disorders occur in stages. These stages can happen over time or quickly, depending on the individual, their drug of choice and other factors. If you are concerned that your husband or wife is abusing drugs and you are unsure whether or not they have a substance use disorder, consider the following stages that addiction can occur in:

  1. Your loved one uses drugs recreationally on occasion. Drug use is infrequent and in social settings only.
  2. Your husband or wife has increased their drug use and is now using substances on a regular basis. They are neglecting family, friends and other commitments and may be concerned about losing access to their substance of choice.
  3. Your spouse has become more tolerant to the effects of substances and is addicted. He or she is preoccupied with finding and using drugs and has abandoned previous interests, relationships and commitments.
  4. Your husband or wife’s is dependent on drugs and unable to live without them. His or her physical and mental health has deteriorated.

Am I married to an addict? 

Drug addiction can harm a marriage in many ways. As a spouse, you may be concerned about changes in your loved one’s behavior. If you think you might be married to an addict, there are several signs to look for that might mean your wife or husband is addicted to drugs. Signs of drug addiction in a spouse include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Rapid weight loss or weight fluctuations
  • Poor hygiene and changes in appearance
  • Extreme bouts of energy or lethargy
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Seizures
  • Changes in sleep patterns, insomnia, excessive sleeping, or falling asleep rapidly after periods of high energy
  • Health issues including flu-like symptoms
  • Scratching, changes to skin color, sores, redness, blotches, track marks, scabs, scars, cuts or burns on body and mouth (depending on the drug)
  • Excessive sneezing, sniffling or bloody noses from cocaine use
  • Lack of interest, isolation or increased arguments to avoid questions
  • Avoiding friends and family to spend time alone or with new groups of people
  • Less interest in normal activities like work, school or family time
  • Frequently missing work or school and failing to meet personal or professional commitments
  • Unkempt appearance and less attention to personal hygiene
  • Evasive or secretive behavior
  • Financial problems, a lack of money, and incidences of stealing from family, friends or others
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Legal issues

Of course, not all symptoms must be present for an addiction to exist. Additionally, some of the symptoms of addiction may vary based on the particular effects of a drug. For instance, abusing opioids  like fentanyl can have certain effects on the body, including drowsiness. On the other hand, physical symptoms of stimulant abuse like crack cocaine, methamphetamine, methedrine and benzedrine sulfate can include extreme increases in energy, for example. Mixing substances, or polysubstance abuse, can have its own affects on the body and behavior, depending on the combination of substances.


How does addiction affect those married to addicts

Drug addiction and alcoholism can have a number of negative impacts on a marriage or relationship. Research has shown an important link between alcohol use and dysfunction in families and relationships.  According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, drug addictions and alcoholism can affect a marriage in the following ways:

  • Time spent away from the marriage, as an addict or alcoholic dedicates more and more time to procuring and consuming their substance of choice
  • Increased emotional distance between partners
  • Higher levels of stress in the relationship
  • A greater number of arguments, which, in some cases, can escalate into domestic violence
  • Financial losses due to money being spent to feed one partner’s addiction

Increased conflicts

The distress caused by one partner’s substance use disorder can lead to more arguments about the issue, which then propels a vicious cycle in which the addict or alcoholic uses to escape the conflict their addiction has caused.  This can become a downward spiral of continued conflict and followed by unhealthy coping behaviors like drinking and getting high. Being married to an addict can lead to a great deal of uncertainty and guilt. Spouses may want to help, but they don’t always know to deal with an alcoholic spouse or drug addict. Though you want to know how to deal with a husband, addiction often gets in the way of healthy communication.

Intimate partner violence

The evidence supports a link between negative consequences in intimate relationships and drug and alcohol abuse. For instance, a 2000 study found that in relationships where one partner drinks significantly more than the other, there was a greater likelihood of relational distress and incidents of physical violence. Another longitudinal study that followed couples during the early years of marriage found greater marital dissatisfaction in relationships where one partner was a heavy drinker.  Similar results were found in marriages where one partner used illicit drugs. A 2007 longitudinal study examining couples’ relationships during the first four years of marriage found lower rates of marital satisfaction in pairs when one member used or abused illicit drugs.

The costs of addiction

Drug and alcohol abuse affect our nation in a big way. The consequences can be quite costly. An estimated 440 billion dollars is spent annually in the US on costs related to alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription painkillers, including related crime, lost work productivity and health care. Moreover, substance abuse can be deadly. Despite a small drop between 2017 and 2018, drug overdose death rates in the U.S. have increased nearly fourfold over the past two decades, growing from 16,849 in 1999 to 67,367 in 2018, according to the CDC.


I’m married to an addict. What now?

Your husband or wife has a substance use disorder and you want to know, what now? Being married to an addict is not easyIt is important to figure out how to deal with a drug addicted spouse effectively while still taking care of yourself. If your many attempts to get your spouse to stop using substances have failed and your out of ideas, you are not alone. Most people do not know how to deal with a husband, addiction and all of the negative consequences that come along with substance use disorders. A spouse’s addiction can put a great strain one’s relationship, finances, physical health and emotional state.

Oftentimes, partners are unaware of the ways in which they enable their loved one’s substance use disorder.  A good question to ask yourself is, “Has my partner gotten any better in terms of their addiction?” If the answer is no, you might want to take a closer look at the ways in which you may be enabling their addiction. Remember, you are not at fault or responsible for your significant other’s addiction, but you are not helping but protecting them from its consequences.

Dos and Don’ts of living with an addicted spouse

Sharing a home with an addicted spouse is not easy. Between your significant other’s substance use, the arguments and the many other negative consequences of addiction, loving an addict can be quite scary and frustrating. So how can you best manage this difficult situation? Well, the following list of Dos and Don’ts may be helpful if you want to know how to deal with a husband’s addiction or a wife’s substance use disorder:



  • Recognize that there is an issue: Addiction is not something that goes away by simply ignoring it. Avoiding the problem only makes things worse. It is important to address the issue and seek treatment as you would for any other disease. 
  • Set boundaries: Setting and communicating clear boundaries of what you will and will not tolerate is key to avoiding enabling addiction and protecting your own wellbeing. Just as critical is communicating and implementing consequences for the breaking of a boundary. For example, if you are married to an addict and you tell them that when they are high they can not stay in the house, it is important to follow through by enacting the stated consquence.
  • Take time to learn about the disease of addiction & the recovery process: Many people have misconceptions about substance use disorders. Educate yourself so that you better understand what your partner is going through, how you can be supportive without enabling and what to expect during recovery.
  • Support your spouse’s progress: If your spouse is dipping into the waters of recovery, in early recovery or already in treatment, be supportive and encourage them. Attend meetings or counseling sessions when invited, recognize their accomplishments (no matter how small) and try to avoid criticizing them. The support of a spouse can be instrumental in the recovery process. 
  • Look for professional resources: It may be helpful to speak with an addiction specialist who understands substance use disorders and what recovery looks like. You may want to contact an addiction rehabilitation center to find out about the treatment options availble for when your spouse is ready to start their recovery journey. Contact the Liberty Ranch to learn more about the options available to you and your loved one.
  • Get your own support: Substance use disorders take a huge toll on loved ones, who often benefit from seeking their own support. Consider individual  therapy and family support groups such as Nar-Anon and Families Anonymous. These are welcoming enviroments where can share your struggles, worries and issues with others going through similar problems. Such groups can be extreme helpful to those who feel alone, providing a sense of community in addition to educational resources.



  • Avoid the problem and hope it will go away. Admitting that your loved one has an addiction is scary. Avoid ignoring the signs of drug use in a spouse. If you are searching for answers to questions like how can I stop my wife from using drugs or how to help my husband with a drug addiction, you probably already have more than an inkling that there is a serious issue. Drug addiction does not go away on its own. Though there is a great deal of shame and stigma surrounding the disease of addiction, like many other serious diseases, it requires treatment and support. Denial will only allow the problem to grow. 
  • Enable your loved one’s addiction. Oftentimes loved ones inadvertently enable their spouse’s drug problem by rescuing them from the consequences of their addiction. This migh mean covering for them, continuing to provide them with money or bailing them out of difficult situations. Though in the moment, saving them may feel right thing to do, this often prevents your spouse from seeking the help they need because they always have someone to pick up the pieces. Take time to learn about codependency and enabling behaviors so that you can support your spouse in positive ways while setting boundaries and taking care of yourself.
  • Blame yourself or your spouse for their addiction. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failure, and blaming yourself or your significant other from their addiction is counterproductive. Blame and shame only drives addiction. It is highly likely that deep down your spouse wants to stop using drugs, but are physically and mental dependent, which usually requires long-term treatment and continued management. Of course, you can and should hold your spouse accountable for their actions, but judgement and shame is not productive. Just the same, you are not responsible for your spouse’s addiction. You may feel a great deal of guilt and fear. You may have even made mistakes or enabled their addiction, but this does not mean you are at fault. You can not control their decisions. Blaming yourself will only add to the difficulties you are already facing. Instead, seek support and educate yourself about the disease. This will empower you and teach you how to deal with your husband’s addiction or your wife’s addiction more productively.


Should I stay married to an addict?

This is a complex and difficult question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It can take time to make this decision and there are several factors to assess. You may consider speaking to a couples therapist or a specialist in addiction who works with couples. They can help you figure out how to deal with an addicted spouse more effectively, develop boundaries, and assess whether or not you want to stay in your relationship. If domestic violence is a concern, there are many resources such as The Hotline that offer free and confidential support online, by phone or via text and will help you create a path to safety. Everyone deserves to have safe and healthy relationships. Being married to an addict does not mean you should have to endure abuse.

Many spouses of individuals with substance disorders feel like it is their responsibility to save their loved one. A supportive spouse can be helpful, especially during recovery, but one’s recovery is really up to them. You can not force someone to get clean and sober. This impetus can lead spouses to neglect themselves and their own wellbeing in attempt to rescue their husband or wife. It is important to prioritize your own safety and health, both physical and mental. A loved one’s addiction is not your fault and guilt or a sense of duty should not keep you in a relationship that has become too damaging to your own wellbeing. 

You have to ask yourself what you truly want and how much you can take. Therapists can be extremely helpful in working through this process. However, if you are thinking about threatening divorce in hopes that your loved one will stop using drugs, you may want to.


How to help a spouse with drug addiction find treatment


If you’re wondering how to help your husband with drug addiction or what you can do to support your wife, it is important, first and foremost, to recognize that your spouse’s treatment journey is their own. Being married to an addict leads many to feel like it is their job to help them get better. You can be there to support them, but you can’t force them to recovery.

If your spouse recognizes their addiction and is ready for treatment, you should try and seek help as soon as possible. This means figuring out which type of treatment is best for his or her situation and helping find a quality rehabilitation facility that follows evidence-based, data driven approaches to treatment. There are a number of different types of treatment programs that address specific populations and needs which might suit your spouse’s particular situation.

Should my spouse go to inpatient or outpatient treatment?

Another key decision will be figuring out whether an inpatient or an outpatient rehabilitation program is best for your loved one. This decision is personal, and will depend on his or her specific needs. Inpatient programs are more intensive and require the individual to live onsite in a supervised environment throughout the duration of the program. Outpatient programs do not include the residential component, allow for work and family obligations to be met while completing treatment, and are usually less costly. Liberty Ranch offers an evidence-based and cost-effective intensive outpatient treatment program, that allows clients to manage work and family responsibilities while attending part-time rehab.

Overall, identifying what type of program is best for your spouse will depend on their current situation and needs. However, if your loved one’s life has become truly unmanageable and and he or she requires 24 hour-a-day supervision, inpatient treatment might be necessary.


Dealing with an drug addicted spouse in after treatment

The early stages of treatment can be especially difficult for your spouse, but also for your relationship. If you want to know how to help a husband with a drug addiction during treatment or what to expect when your wife is in rehab, expect this period to be emotional and challenging. Your spouse is learning new ways to cope with stressors that don’t involve the use of alcohol and drugs.

Being married to an addict in recovery is not easy. There is a lot of emotional processing taking place, as he or she will have to address a number of painful underlying issues related to his or her addiction. This requires significant life changes for you and your partner. Addressing unhealthy patterns of behavior might also result in big changes to your relationship. A positive treatment program should integrate family counseling into your loved one’s treatment plan at some point during the process.

Ways to be supportive to a spouse in treatment

Once your partner is in treatment, it is important to educate yourself on the recovery process. Peer support networks can be especially useful in helping you learn about what an addict goes through during treatment while connecting you to resources.

There are a number of ways you can support your spouse both while they are in treatment and once they leave rehab:

  • Encourage them to follow through with all of their treatment recommendations
  • Reinforce the importance of abstinence to their sobriety
  • Avoid situations where substance use is common. This might include family events and get togethers with individuals with whom they previously used drugs or alcohol
  • Encourage them to seek out a sober communities, peer support networks and participate in sober social activities
  • Work on developing healthy communication patterns
  • Help them cope with their stress by listening, avoiding judgement, and finding solutions
  • Patiently work with them to process their emotions by using the skills they acquired in rehab
  • Learn about their recovery and understand what may trigger a relapse
  • Create a prevention plan and know what to do and who to contact in the case of a relapse

The support of a loved one can be instrumental to your partner’s recovery. However, the road to recovery is not a short one. Being married to an addict in recovery, you will face many challenges. It may include relapses and even require both of you to reconsider whether your relationship is working for both of you. Being patient with your spouse; providing positive, non-critical support; praising his or her progress; and trying to forgive are all elements critical to your spouse’s sobriety.  Prepare for setbacks during this time. They are a natural part of the recovery process.

Encourage your spouse to attend meetings 

Many find going at sobriety alone to be an especially difficult task. Reintegrating back into everyday life and staying clean following an inpatient or outpatient treatment experience can be a great feat. And while it is doable, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can  provide a helpful outlet to those struggling with sobriety. These 12-step programs offer a supportive, peer-run environment where addicts and alcoholics can connect with others who have dealt with substance use disorders themselves.

Programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as NA and AA, allow individuals dealing with substance use disorders to share with others going through the same thing. They can help the addict in your life better understand the struggles of addiction and sobriety. Moreover, there are meetings widely available in most areas in the U.S. and membership is open to anyone.

During meetings, AA and NA members are free to share about their experiences and challenges with sobriety and life in general.  Personal support is provided in the form of a sponsor who can offer person-to-person advice, support their sponsee in following the 12 steps, keep them accountable and provide emotional support.  Meetings are not just for those who have received addiction treatment, as some may forgo rehab and begin their sobriety journey directly with the support of AA or NA.

Don’t expect for relationship issues to disappear

Do not expect treatment alone will not solve all of the problems in your  marriage or relationship. Many find couples therapy to be an effective way to deal with problems that have resulted from their spouse’s substance use disorder as well as to address pre existing problems and conflicts in the relationship. This might be an option worth considering at some point during your loved one’s recovery journey.

However, while it is important to know the positive ways in which you can support your spouse or loved one on their road to recovery, your physical and mental wellbeing should always be a top priority. Be able to recognize if your relationship has become harmful, toxic or abusive and practicing self care above all.

Resources that can help you deal a husband’s addiction or a wife’s recovery

12 step programs are not just useful to individuals with substance use disorders. The principles can also be helpful to loved ones, as they too suffer the consequences of addiction and alcoholism. Recovery is a process that includes and directly affects spouses and family members. It requires active participation in sharing, listening, reconciliation and rebuilding the broken relationships, trust, and family units. In many cases, families of addicts and alcoholics may also require help, advice, guidance or a space to share and process the challenges of substance use disorders. Families Anonymous, Nar-Anon and Al-Anon all provide confidential spaces for families of loved ones to meet, share and support one another.

As the husband, wife or partner of an addict or alcoholic, it is important to seek support for yourself and family, and not just focus on their needs. Being married to an addict creates emotional challenges, and both parties must heal.  Having a group of peers that are dealing with similar struggles can encourage you to support the addict in your life in healthier, more effective ways while providing an anonymous, non-judgmental outlet. It is critical to take care of yourself during this difficult time, and the fellowship of peer support groups like Nar-Anon Family Groups Families Anonymous,and Al-Anon can be an instrumental part of this process.



If you or your loved one are in a dangerous or emergency situation, please call 911 or contact your local emergency services. Otherwise, the following resources may be helpful to your or your loved one in dealing with their addiction.

Peer Support Networks

If you are looking for a peer support network to provide guidance and support for the addict in your life, use the meeting locators to find an  Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting near you.

For spouses and family members with a loved one dealing with addiction, use the Nar-AnonAl-Anon, and Families Anonymous locators to find a nearby peer support meeting.

Treatment Resources

If you want to learn more about treatment options for your or your loved one, contact Liberty Ranch for a free consultation

Informational Resources

NIDA Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

NIDA Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders

PublicHealth Addiction Resources