Ultimate Guide for Spouses of Addicts

How Does Addiction Affect Relationships?

Any relationship is going to have conflicts, but being married to an addict can make you recalibrate how you handle relationship problems. If you knew of your spouse's substance abuse before marrying them, you indicated how substantial your love for them is. Alcohol and drug abuse or not, this is someone you care about.

However, when times are tough, your spouse's addiction can feel like a real hurdle. You might start to see any negative action from them as rooted in addiction. There needs to be trust between partners for a marriage to stay healthy.

drug addiction and substance abuse treatment - couple in a therapy session

The spouse of an addict deals with a certain kind of pain. They have to balance their love for someone and their dislike for something they do. Addiction is a health concern, not a moral one. Nonetheless, it can be a struggle not to see it as both.

Those struggling with addiction can do immoral and illegal things. Stigmatization plays a large role in this. The urge to sneak around isn't helped when one knows the risks of being caught.

Nonetheless, the spouse of an addict shouldn't be expected to sit back while addiction manifests. Ignoring or downplaying addiction severity means enabling. Showing love towards your spouse can occur without ignoring the weight of their addiction.


Overcoming an addiction from substances or alcohol can be a very hard journey, and it’s important to have a trusted facility and staff by your side while you do it. Behavioral Health Centers is here to offer all our resources so you can live a happier and healthier life.

Recognizing the signs of addiction

Recognizing drug or alcohol addiction problems in your spouse can be hard. You may not like the worst for your partner but the need to recognize the signs of these symptoms is paramount in saving your relationship. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines this chronic disease as affecting the brain's reward, motivation and memory functions in ways which make someone crave substances or other behavioral habits to fulfill their desires at any cost - even if it means neglecting other areas like work or family responsibilities. They'll often ignore these things because what matters most is satisfying their addiction.

Setting Boundaries

Coping with spouse drug or alcohol abuse means putting your foot down and stating what you won't tolerate. You may have established this early in your relationship or when their addiction was first realized. Alternatively, they may be things you need to continually set and remind them and yourself.

You married this person because you love them, but marriages are built on more than just love. They need to contain mutual trust and respect. If you're unable to set boundaries with your spouse, addict or not, you're risking a very unhealthy union.

Your boundaries should be determined by your needs. Don't temper these based on lower expectations. If you need your spouse to hold down a steady job, don't let yourself be manipulated into accepting less. Reasonable requests don't make you a nag. They show how much genuine concern you have. With support for spouses of addicts comes the teaching of confidence.

Enabling vs. Supporting

We encourage being supportive when you're married to an addict, but we condemn enabling. At first, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. This will help you clarify things and to stop enabling behaviors before they happen.

When you support someone, you're doing all you can to help them. Some of these things can be difficult because they require confronting someone on their behavior. A parent who punishes their child for misbehavior is being supportive. By addressing the issue and enforcing discipline, they're showing they believe the child is capable of being better.

Therapy session of a woman and her addicted spouse recovering from a substance use disorder

Enabling is Damaging 

Enabling can look and feel like supporting, but it's deeply damaging. Both and addict and the spouse of an addict are harmed. The addict doesn't receive the help they need, and their spouse is left pretending everything is okay.

Being an enabler means living in denial. You can't bear knowing that your spouse has an addiction that's causing intense danger to themselves and you. Therefore, you act as if there's not a problem. Any troubling signs like emotional volatility or the inability to perform basic tasks are treated as flukes. If they seem to be sneaking around, you try to ignore it.

Ultimately, it's up to an addict to decide whether or not they want help. However, staying silent or shrugging off harmful behaviors can do significant damage. Your spouse is an adult and should be treated as such.

Let them know that you aren't responsible for their actions, but you're not going to let things slide. It wouldn't be supported for spouses of addicts if we told you that addiction is nothing to worry about.

Why You Should Consider Couples Therapy

As the spouse of an addict, you both need to keep your mental health in check. Couples therapy can provide this. It can show you and your spouse how to be there for each other and unlearn toxic behaviors.

Your spouse might need private therapy sessions, as well. If their addiction is connected to trauma, a more-confidential setting can be a lot more comfortable. However, relationship issues often need an objective third-party. Your couples therapist can examine the situation as both of you have explained it and offer solutions. Support groups including your family members can also help with your spouse's recovery process.

Couple during a family therapy session for drug and alcohol abuse

Don't Let the Stigma Worry You

Media may have dampened your image of couples therapy. You think of couples who are already on the brink of divorce sitting on a couch, infuriated. As the spouse of an addict, you might wonder why anyone would put themselves through that pain.

It doesn't need to be a pain, though. This can be the start of getting your relationship back on track. Therapists aren't magicians. They can't make an addict stop using, or the spouse of an addict stop enabling. However, they help you both realize the thought processes and fallacies that are leading to those.

Perhaps most important is realizing that this isn't you against your spouse. Instead, it's you and your spouse against drug and alcohol use disorder. Coping with spouse addiction means seeing them as an ally. You'll never understand everything they're dealing with, even if you've experienced addiction. However, you can still support them and their recovery.

Treatment Options

Your support means a lot when you're the spouse of an addict, but they need more. To show true support, you need to let them find help from professional sources. There are many types of treatment available, including ones that provide help while allowing your spouse to carry on their normal routine.

These options don't guarantee recovery, because that's never a certainty. However, they provide safe treatment that has helped many people dealing with addiction. If you're the spouse of an addict, these can bring you some hope for the first time in a long time.

Spouses of addicts support group and recovery program


Residential Treatment

This is the best solution if you're married to an addict who you know needs to be undistracted. Residential treatment involves patients being sequestered at a facility. This could involve months of treatment, depending on the severity. Support for addicts' spouses might require them to be apart from their spouses for a long time.

Being away from their daily routine can help your spouse avoid temptations. They can receive stability through programs and schedules. Dual-diagnosis treatment can help them uncover the root causes of addiction. Group activities, such as therapy, can help them feel safe, among others, as they share their concerns.


Intensive Outpatient Program

While residential treatment can be great, it's not practical for all people. If you're married to an addict who can't leave for an extended period of time, look for an intensive outpatient program. These can help them break through barriers while letting them maintain their routines.

Intensive outpatient programs earn their names. Patients need to devote a certain number of hours each week to their recovery. If you're the spouse of an addict who's also working or going to school, you'll need to figure out a manageable schedule together.

There are also non-intensive outpatient programs. While these might not be as demanding, they still require dedication and sacrifice. Any addiction treatment requires awareness and accountability. An addict who cannot find time for their recovery needs to re-evaluate where their priorities lie.

These programs can also be good for patients who have completed inpatient treatment but who need a graceful transition back into their daily lives. Coping with spouse addiction can be easier for you as well because you'll know your spouse is keeping accountable.


Partial Hospitalization Program

A partial hospitalization program involves patients staying at home but coming to a treatment center during the day. They can get help and experience a new environment without altogether changing their daily routine. This sort of treatment can be considered a medium between residential and outpatient treatment.

There is school assistance available for students in partial hospitalization programs. However, if your spouse is working a job with a rigid schedule, this might not be the best option.


Holistic Treatment Options

Recovery means more than just avoiding a substance. Those who believe in holistic treatment advocate for methods that help strengthen patients beyond coping with addiction. Some of these are things you're likely already familiar with.

For instance, yoga and meditation are both considered holistic treatment methods. You likely know about the mental and physical health benefits associated with these. How do they fare as addiction treatment?

Holistic treatment can help an addict center themselves through routine and healthy habits. Drinking herbal tea every morning could be considered a holistic treatment. Some might find a certain spiritual means behind these actions, while others might just enjoy the relief.

If you're married to an addict, don't ignore the potential benefits of holistic treatment. However, don't just rely on it, either. Look into other forms of treatment and encourage them to use holistic treatment to help stay on course. A moment of meditation or going for a walk could help stave off temptation at critical times.


Sober Living Homes

Sober living homes mirror inpatient facilities, but they're meant for transitioning back to normal life. Qualities of inpatient programs are here, such as obeying rules and keeping up with group activities. These can remind your spouse of what it's like to live at home while staying focused on recovery.

Keep in mind; this is not the place for your spouse to try and get sober. The expectation for sober living home residents is that they're able to take care of household duties. It's not just about completing chores. It's about showing they understand how to exercise responsibility.

Help Your Partner Take a Step Toward Recovery


Being the spouse of an addict requires lots of courage and sacrifice. You shouldn't be expected to be perfect, but you should do what you can to help your spouse and your marriage. Support for spouses of addicts like yourself is vital. When you are being supported, you are better equipped to support others.


Reach out to our addiction treatment specialists today by contacting us here. Our team at Behavioral Health Centers is ready to help your spouse overcome addiction.


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