A Guide for the Spouse of an Addict

husband is an addict

If you love someone who is suffering from substance abuse, then you know what a terrible experience it is. You also know that it has a direct and indirect effect on you. When you are in a relationship with a person with a substance use issue, you also suffer from seeing the person you love go spiraling down the drain.

Unfortunately, many marriages dissolve because of addiction in one spouse or the other. And since addiction is so widespread, it should come as no surprise. Estimates of several addictions include:

  • There are 12 – 13 million alcoholics in the United States
  • 1 to 2 million people are addicted to cocaine
  • about 2.1 million Americans have an opioid use disorder
  • 8 million are believed to have an eating disorder
  • 2 million Americans are thought to have a gambling addiction

At Achieve Wellness we have effective resources to help people suffering from addiction learn to cope and manage their conditions to successfully maintain recovery.

Addiction Warning Signs

Most of the time, people don’t realize their partner is an addict when they take their vows. At other times, the addiction is something that develops later on in the marriage. Sadly, this is a problem millions of couples must deal with.

You may not be sure that your spouse is an addict, even though you see some red flags that you’re trying to explain away. Physical signs are the easiest to recognize when they happen to a spouse or other loved one.

Physical Signs of Addiction
  • Eyes are bloodshot or the pupils appear larger or smaller than normal
  • Appetite changes
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Deterioration in appearance and grooming habits
  • Sniffling or a runny nose
  • Bad breath
  • Unusual odors on clothing, body, or breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Frequent bloody nose

Bear in mind that symptoms may vary due to the type of substance your spouse may be using. Also, remember that some of these signs may be caused by an illness like the flu or a cold. Still, ongoing symptoms might be a sign of addiction.

Behavioral Signs
  • Relationship problems because of substance use
  • Cutting back or stopping enjoyable activities like hobbies, sports, and socializing
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Being secretive or behaving suspiciously
  • Change in friendships–having a new, unusual group of friends
  • Taking prescription drugs after they aren’t needed anymore
  • Regularly getting into trouble–fights, accidents, illegal activities, and driving under the influence
  • Dismissing responsibilities at work, at home, or school
  • An unexpected change in hobbies and favorite hangouts
  • Unexplained need for money and financial problems
  • Stealing or frequently “borrowing” money
Psychological Signs

Typically, psychological signs are the last to be recognized. This is because these signs tend to build up slowly as the addiction worsens.

  • Angry outbursts
  • Increased irritability
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Lacking any motivation
  • Seeming to be overly fearful, anxious, or paranoid
  • Unusual periods of increased energy, instability, or nervousness
  • Changes in personality or attitude without explanation
  • Appearing to be tired or “spaced out”

The Challenge of Being Married to an Addict

married to an addict

In addition to their irrational behavior, lying, illness, cheating, and any other unacceptable behavior, you must deal with these things because you are legally bound to this person. This means that you may legally bear the burden of any damage they cause.

There is no question that addiction is one of the greatest challenges a marriage will face. It is also one of the most frustrating because, as a rational, non-addicted person, you may see your spouse and ask, “Why can’t you see what you’re doing to us?” or “Why won’t you just stop?” or “If you love me, you’ll stop.”

What Can You Do?

Getting a divorce from your addicted spouse is often the last resort. It’s heartbreaking, but sometimes it is the only choice you have left as a non-addict. This is particularly true when children are involved. Children need and deserve a stable adult around, but when there is addiction involved, both parents are often unavailable and there is little to no stability and constancy in the home.

Here are some questions that may help you decide what actions you can or should take next:

  • Have you tried to get help for your spouse?
  • Have you talked to your spouse that they are an addict?
  • Have you sought help for yourself from an addiction expert?
  • Have you acknowledged to yourself that your spouse is an addict?
  • Has your life become chaotic because you are living with an addict?
  • Have you gone together to counseling by a therapist that is trained in addiction?
  • Have you had serious negative experiences due to your spouse’s addiction?
  • Have you indicated to your spouse that you will leave if they don’t stop using?
  • Have you considered an intervention?
  • Did you ever try a trial separation?
  • Would you leave?

The Path Forward

Because all addictive illnesses are progressive, the only direction for an addict and their spouse is a downward trajectory if they don’t get help. Nevertheless, addiction is a disease that fools the addict into believing that they don’t have a problem

The Codependency Issue

In a relationship where an individual is married to an addict, there are two people, the addict and a codependent person. Codependency is defined as a set of dysfunctional, compulsive behaviors that are learned by family members to help them survive in a family that is going through pain and stress. As adults, co-dependent people tend to get involved with people who are:

  • Unreliable
  • Emotionally unavailable
  • Needy

A codependent individual will try to control everything within the relationship but can’t. The spouse of an addict can recover when they finally begin to concentrate on their own needs instead of putting up with bad treatment or trying to effectively “rescue” their spouse.

Whether the addictive spouse’s behavior is seriously destructive or more on the minor side, it is usually the co-dependent spouse who begins the recovery process. Participating in counseling can lead to an awareness of dysfunctional behaviors and help develop healthier coping skills.

The Importance of Avoiding Enabling Behaviors

Of course, you should have empathy. But giving your addicted spouse the benefit of the doubt is like sticking your head in the sand. Bailing someone out might bury them deeper in a hole. If you are the spouse of an addict, and you are making excuses for them, giving them money (against your better judgment), or taking on extra responsibilities, then you are enabling them. This can do more harm than good.

Sometimes spouses enable their addicted partner because they feel like they should be the savior. But the belief that you can save your spouse if you are “good enough” could be more about you being a martyr or a hero than it is about helping. Enabling can become addictive in a situation like this. You become dependent on your need to feel good by helping. Naturally, not everyone who enables their addicted spouse is doing it to make themselves feel good, but they are just desperately trying to find solutions and cope with the situation.


Denial is a typical response to addiction in a family and often includes the spouse. You may be trying to cover up for your partner, make excuses, or tell the employer (and yourself) that your partner is sick, instead of hungover. Have you overlooked the fender bender accident? Do you put up with the lack of physical and emotional availability because of your spouse’s love affair with alcohol or drugs?

Taking Care of Yourself

Addiction treatment often takes the form of marriage, individual, and group therapy. One of the main tasks for recovery includes breaking through denial. Sometimes, this requires a co-dependent spouse to break through their denial and learn about the addiction process. They need to get educated about establishing sobriety, and then it is a matter of getting the addicted spouse to start a treatment plan.

Be Honest

The way to avoid being enabled is by being honest and facing reality. You’ll need to have a direct, difficult conversation with your spouse about your distress and back it up with evidence. This helps prevent the difficulties from being minimized and making excuses. If there is a problem, bring it up and don’t ignore it.

Set Boundaries

Another key is to set boundaries. Setting boundaries with your spouse not only protects you but also helps make sure you don’t slide back into enabling their destructive behavior. Boundaries might include expectations of:

  • Treatment
  • Abstinence
  • Recovery groups
  • An agreed plan in case of relapse

Sometimes, it’s necessary to have an intervention. An intervention is a pre-planned, well-prepared meeting with a professional intervention specialist or addiction counselor. Typically, family, friends, and sometimes co-workers will all come together to meet with the addicted spouse. Intervention goals are as follows:

  • Awareness: To make the person aware of the effects their substance use has on their family and friends.
  • Motivation: To get the person to agree that they have a problem and need help.
  • Plan of action: To create a strategy for recovery using goals and guidelines.
Couples and Family Therapy

Couples or family therapy is also an important part of recovery. Your spouse may not be able to recognize the need for their involvement, but recovery is more successful when both people are involved. The marriage relationship is more likely to become stable and the two individuals can work through the trauma that has been experienced by the addicted partner’s behaviors.

Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT) is a method of treatment that directly attempts to reduce substance abuse by restructuring the couples’ dysfunctional interactions that tend to keep it going. Multiple studies of people who took part in BCT have consistently shown greater reductions in substance abuse than people who only received individual counseling.

You’re the Spouse of An Addict

Spouses of people with addiction often worry about themselves, their lives, and the future of their family members. Their anxiety is the result of their preoccupation with the disintegration of their lives. The pressures of housework, economic problems, unemployment, and the lack of an intimate relationship can all cause them to be anxious and depressed.

Generally, studies have shown that higher levels of alcohol and drug use and higher levels of substance-related issues increase the risk of partner aggression. There is a relationship between addiction and violence in marriage. Substance abuse provides a source of conflict and violence in the family due to the changes in the family system.

Many times, the attitude toward the spouse of an addict is humiliating, and people may consider them the cause of their husband’s addiction. This not only makes these women victims of their husbands but also the community. This often causes feelings of:

  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Suicidal tendencies

This is why you need to focus on getting yourself treated if you are the spouse of an addict.

Your Healthy Recovery

For both spouses, healthy living is an important part of a healthy recovery. Even if the addict isn’t choosing recovery, self-care is valuable for the spouse. You may be able to find support through groups such as Al-Anon, Narc-Anon, therapy, or church groups. You can do any of these things for yourself, whether your spouse is getting clean or not.

Let Achieve Wellness Support You

spouse of an addict

Many couples are eventually able to heal their relationship and begin a new, better, and healthier married life. But it takes some help, hard work, and the right kind of support. You can find this kind of help and support at Achieve Wellness.

We have experienced professionals who can help your loved ones and design a treatment plan specifically for them. And, very importantly, we have family therapy among our therapeutic approaches. Give your relationship a fighting chance and contact us today.


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