What To Do When Your Spouse Has an Addiction

Written by Journey Pure Staff

Married couples know that having a spouse is not always a walk in the park. Of course, most married couples share a strong bond fueled by the love they have for one another, but that does not mean they are immune from adversities in their marriage. They may experience stress related to unemployment or having a child with a disability, or they may struggle to overcome infidelity or forget how to communicate effectively with one another. This is all normal, but sometimes the challenges people face in their marriage can be overwhelming to the point where things become unmanageable. 

The disease of addiction is one of the most common diseases in the United States, with more than 21 million people actively addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Active addiction in a marriage can be like a cancer that feeds off of everything and everyone it touches. Without the proper care, attention, and effort, one’s addiction can cause the end of a marriage. 


One of the most insidious aspects of addiction is that it can be occurring right out in the open and people can still manage to convince themselves that it is not happening or that it is “not that bad.” Even the most informed and experienced individuals can fail to see the extent of their spouse’s substance abuse. While it can be unbearably difficult to start looking for honest answers to what is occurring in your marriage, doing so is critical if you want to have a healthy, happy marriage.

It is a common misconception that everyone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol acts the same. Just as there are people in the world who lose everything to addiction, there are many who still manage to remain a functional member of society. Despite these differences, however, there are symptoms that are commonly shared amongst all individuals experiencing addiction, and they include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Changes in eating habits (eating more than usual or not eating much at all)
  • Mood swings that can be unpredictable and unreasonable
  • Deceitful behavior that can include lying about whereabouts and hiding drugs, alcohol and related paraphernalia
  • Isolating oneself in order to use 
  • Frequently engaging in activities where it is perceived to be normal to drink or use drugs (e.g. spending the day fishing so that he/she can drink) 
  • Financial problems related to spending money to uphold his/her habit
  • Continuing to drink or use drugs despite the known consequences of doing so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to drink or use (depending on the substance, these symptoms can include headaches, tremors, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle pains)

If your spouse is in fact struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, all hope is not lost. And while the feeling of knowing that you are married to an addict or alcoholic is extremely upsetting and overwhelming, there are numerous steps you can take to help your spouse, yourself, and your marriage. 

helping an addicted spouse


To put it bluntly, addiction is hard. It is hard on everyone no matter the size of the impact. But there are things you can do to help make this situation easier to manage and potentially get your spouse into recovery. 

Examine Your Role in the Addiction

You must examine what role you have played in your spouse’s addiction. This part, while not easy by any stretch of the imagination, is vital if you want to affect positive change in your marriage. It is simple to put all the blame on your spouse, but his or her addiction has dragged you into a negative cycle of functioning, too. So, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Am I enabling my spouse? Some of the most common ways that spouses enable their addicted spouses include:
    • Defending their actions to your friends and/or family
    • Covering up his or her mistakes that occurred while under the influence
    • Providing ultimatums but not following through with them
    • Making excuses for why he or she uses (e.g. “he has a really difficult job, he deserves to drink when he gets home”)
  • Am I drinking/using with my spouse (even if I am not an addict or alcoholic)?
  • Am I allowing my spouse to utilize shared funds to purchase drugs or alcohol?
  • Am I planning my days around the needs of my addicted spouse? 

You may be fully aware of how serious your spouse’s addiction is but put forth efforts to ignore the severity of the situation. This is extremely common, as admitting that your spouse has an addiction means that you have to accept all that comes with that. However, by doing that or engaging in any other of the above-listed behaviors will only keep you negatively involved in the continuation of your spouse’s addiction.

Educate Yourself

There are countless resources that can help you learn more about addiction. In many respects, the internet is the most helpful if you want to gain as much information about this disease as possible. There are several organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that can serve as reliable sources for information. When utilizing these and other sites, take the time to find out more about the following:

  • Why addiction is a disease and how it impacts the brain
  • How addiction is treated
  • What type of treatment programs are available for addicts and alcoholics
  • How you can help encourage your spouse to accept treatment
  • What you can do to practice effective self-care during this time

All of your education does not need to come from the internet, nor should it. Reach out to local treatment centers for more information and attend support group meetings in your community. Connecting with the resources around you can help you get an idea of what type of care you and your spouse can receive now or in the near future. It can also help you build relationships with others who can relate to what you are experiencing. 

See a Therapist

While community support groups are amazing resources to have when dealing with addiction in the family, it can also be extremely beneficial to regularly see a therapist, too. Many people get confused by this, as it seems like their spouses are the ones who should be seeking therapy, not them. However, when you are in a marriage where addiction is active, you are being impacted mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — just as your spouse is. You do not have to be using drugs or alcohol to feel the effects of the disease. Seeing a therapist allows you to talk about your challenges, air out your grievances, and start developing a skill set that can help you navigate these difficult waters. 

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is critical if you want to change the direction that you and your spouse’s lives are going. Allowing addiction to run rampant in your marriage does nothing but cause destruction and leave behind mounds of devastation. When you set boundaries, however, you can mitigate the damage to the best of your ability. 

Boundaries that tend to be most effective in this situation include the following:

  • Not allowing any drug or alcohol use to occur in the home
  • Immediately ceasing any actions to cover up for your spouse’s substance abuse
  • Not allowing your spouse to stay in the house when using or under the influence

It is important to understand that boundaries are not designed to get revenge on your addicted spouse, rather to put a stop to an enabling environment. They can also help provide you with some positive control during this difficult time. 

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The disease of addiction is so pervasive and powerful that it can infiltrate even the strongest of marriages, leaving nothing behind by remnants of what used to be. If your spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the most important thing you can do is get yourselves help as quickly as possible. Doing this is far easier said than done, but the good news is that it can be done — and well. You do not need to live a life controlled by the unpredictability of addiction, nor does your spouse. By taking the steps needed to care for yourself, you can empower yourself to affect positive, lasting change within your marriage. 

No one can go through something this serious without the help of others. At JourneyPure at The River, we understand that and then some. We know that if you and your spouse need to put a stop to active addiction, you will need a team of dedicated professionals to help show you the way. We can be that team for you. 

Do not wait any longer to ask for help. There is no shame in needing help during a time like this. Reaching out for help as early as possible can provide your marriage with a brighter future. So, call us today. We can answer all of your questions and help you and your spouse obtain the support needed to end active addiction for good.