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10 Things to Do When You’re Married to an Addict

Being married to an addict feels like a betrayal. Drugs and alcohol are their priority, not you and your family. You may have tried everything you can think of to help your addicted spouse. It’s not working. You’re starting to accept you can’t beg, cry, scream or coddle them into sobriety. Here’s what you can do.

Help Yourself

Most importantly, you need to take care of yourself. It’s nearly impossible to take other steps if this doesn’t happen first. Having an addicted spouse taxes your coping resources. It’s all-consuming. Resources like therapists and support groups for loved ones of addicts are useful. You’ll receive support and learn how to cope. They’ll teach you to put healthy boundaries in place with your loved one. You’ll learn how you could be enabling your addicted spouse’s substance abuse. Enabling behaviors are sometimes tricky to identify. They feel like you’re helping your loved one, but they really do more harm than good. A trained professional can help you recognize and change these behaviors. You’ll become more resilient. You’ll also learn how to effectively communicate with your addicted spouse.

Educate Yourself on Addiction

Understanding why your spouse is addicted can help you be more empathetic. When you communicate from a place of empathy, you get better results. Substance abuse is a chronic disease of the brain. People can’t “just quit” once they’re dependent on drugs or alcohol. Drug addiction and alcoholism change the brain. They also frequently co-occur with mental illness. People with depression, anxiety and other co-occurring disorders may abuse substances to cope with psychiatric symptoms. Alcohol and drug abuse can also bring on psychiatric symptoms. Self-medication is a vicious cycle. These facts don’t excuse your loved one’s behavior. It doesn’t invalidate your feelings of anger and sadness. Those emotions are legitimate reactions. Addiction education serves you by helping you understand how your addict spouse got here and what they need to get better.

Detach With Love

Detaching with love is a strong theme in support groups for families of addicts. It means loving your addict spouse enough to let them make their own mistakes. It means accepting you can’t control them. It means taking care of yourself even when your loved one doesn’t take care of themselves. These acts are easier said than done. When you’re married to an addict, you may play roles like:

  • Caregiver
  • Excuse maker
  • Parent
  • Bonder
  • Nurse
  • Fixer

Detaching with love helps you and your addicted spouse. It shows them you believe they’re capable of taking responsibility for their life. It sends the message you love them but dislike their addiction. Detaching with love helps you overcome issues like codependency. You’re able to focus on your own well-being when you’re life doesn’t revolve around your addicted spouse. It sounds simple enough, but can be extremely difficult to execute. That’s why seeing a counselor is just as important for you as your loved one.

Avoid Blame

If your spouse is addicted, the blame game might be a common theme. You blame them for their addiction. They blame you for driving them to alcohol or drug abuse because you nag or stress them out. No one wins the blame game. It keeps you in a cycle of defensiveness. Productive conversations don’t happen in a space filled with blame. Addiction treatment addresses blame, shame and other issues that come with the territory. Until your addicted spouse is ready to get help, you can work on blame for yourself. A mental health professional can help you explore blame. You’ll learn ways to communicate that don’t put your addict spouse on the defense. This way they’re more likely to “hear” you.

Be Consistent with Boundaries

Setting boundaries is hard, but then you must also continue to enforce them. Alcoholics and drug addicts test boundaries. Substance abuse wires their brains to continue alcohol or drug abuse at any cost. If you’re married to an addict, consistency is key. Be clear about what you won’t tolerate and the consequences of their actions. When they cross your boundaries – and they likely will – enforce those consequences. If you let them get away with something once it sends a message that behavior is acceptable.

Don’t Isolate

Being married to an addict makes your world feel small. Your whole life can revolve around their substance abuse. You may find yourself avoiding family and friends. It’s easier than making up excuses for your addict spouse or talking about it. You can’t even imagine activities where you’ll meet new people. You don’t have the energy to keep such a huge part of your life secret. You fear they won’t understand. Your instinct may be to isolate, but you need support now more than ever. Consider attending support groups for loved ones of substance abusers. Being around others who understand is comforting.

Practice Self-Care

An addicted spouse can deplete you emotionally and physically. Taking care of yourself is critical. The metaphor of an airplane emergency is often used in addiction. Flight attendants always tell passengers to put their oxygen masks on first before assisting others with theirs. The same concept holds true when you’re married to an addict. You can’t help them if you don’t help yourself first. Practicing self-care helps you stay resilient. It gives you strength to hold boundaries and attend to your own needs. In the end, this is good for both you and your loved one. Taking care of yourself may include:

  • Eating right
  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Exercise
  • Mindfulness
  • Attending support groups and therapy
  • Hobbies
  • Spirituality activities

Stage an Intervention

An intervention could be the wake-up call your addicted spouse needs. Hearing from family and friends about their concerns can be powerful. Interventions are more effective when led by a trained interventionist. This person can guide the conversation and make sure everyone is communicating respectfully and honestly. An interventionist can also answer your loved one’s questions about drug rehab. They can recommend addiction treatment programs and help with the transition into care.

Prepare for Rocky Roads

Addiction is a chronic illness. Unfortunately, relapse is often a part of it. Addiction relapse rates are around 40-60%. This is similar to other chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Relapses don’t mean that treatment didn’t work or the person will never get better. Relapses are opportunities to learn from mistakes and move forward. Your addicted spouse won’t be “cured” in drug rehab. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process. The work isn’t over after time in a treatment facility. You can support them by:

  • Attending couples or family therapy
  • Encouraging them to attend support groups
  • Continuing to hold boundaries
  • Knowing warning signs of relapse

Know When It’s Time to Leave

People don’t go into marriage expecting to leave it. You didn’t want to be married to an addict. An addicted spouse doesn’t need to be a deal breaker, but sometimes it is. Only you know your limits. Can you continue living like this if they refuse drug rehab? A mental health professional can help you decide what’s best for you.

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