Handling Your Spouse’ Substance Abuse Problem

In the movie, When A Man Loves a Woman, Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia play a picture-perfect couple whose family is threatened by the wife’s addiction to alcohol. The story chronicles Ryan’s alcoholism, and how it has caused harm to their marriage and family, as well as her struggle towards recovery and the succeeding adjustments that prompted them to seek marriage counseling.

The movie depicts a happy, “perfect” mom (when sober) who then transforms into one that “loses” her child in the shopping mall, drives her kids around drunk, leaves her husband with the responsibility to take care of her and the children and engages in risk-taking and anti-social behavior. Andy Garcia plays the role of the caretaking and enabling husband, who is at a loss after his wife’s recovery.

Addiction’s Effect on a Marriage

Drugs. Alcohol. Prescription medicine. Although to the abuser, his or her choice of poison seems to be the only world, the people who love him or her are affected. In most cases, the non-addicted spouse bears the brunt of the burden of a spouse driven by addiction. The spouse may need to take on roles that should have been played by the addicted spouse. The non-addicted spouse may be forced to cover up the other spouse’s addiction (i.e. call work and explain that the spouse is “sick”, act as both the father and mother to the children). This need to cover up can drain the person and strain the relationship.

As the addiction spirals deeper and deeper, it will drive the couple further apart. Fights and arguments will ensue and with an addicted spouse, the fights can turn violent. What results is an environment that is not healthy for a marriage to flourish.

As in the movie, the spouse with substance abuse problems is not the only one with issues. The non-addicted spouse also needs to thresh out some negative emotions (anger, guilt and bitterness) and behaviors (bad communications habits or codependent patterns) as well.

Is there hope for an addicted spouse to beat his or her cravings? Is there hope that the marriage can become stronger as they weather the storm of addiction? As a spouse of an addict, what can you do to support him or her and help your spouse being the slow and painful journey towards recovery and healing?

The non-addicted spouse can also do well to accompany his or her spouse to Utah marriage counseling to help them patch up the cracks that the addiction has wreaked on the marriage.

For a spouse that is interested in being a partner “in sickness and in health” and supporting the addicted spouse towards healing and recovery while maintaining a strong marriage, here are some tips:

– Learn about the addiction. Recognize that there are different levels of substance problems – substance use, substance dependency and substance abuse. Getting yourself educated about addictions can lead to better insights towards why your spouse is addicted, what he or she is dealing with and what you can do to be supportive.
– Supporting your spouse through counseling and treatment. Very often, addicted spouses are unwilling to go into any treatment program. You can talk to a Provo substance abuse counselor for help on how you can encourage your spouse to think about moving towards recovery. When your spouse is ready, you can consider supporting him as he goes to Utah counseling.
– Seek family counseling. Often, to properly support an addicted spouse, it is helpful to go for family counseling in Utah to help equip you (as the spouse) and other family members (children, close relatives) with the proper coping tools. This is so that family members can show their love and support for the addicted member but not enable his or her negative behaviors. This can also help sustain the addict’s positive (and healing) behaviors and ensure that his or her recovery is lasting.  It is also important to admit that there are issues in the relationship that results from the addiction. You may need some sessions for Utah counseling to help.
– Learn how to act and react.  The addict has fallen into a trap where he or she feels helpless and hopeless, so overcome with his or her addiction. This can trigger negative behavior such as getting into shouting matches, name calling and fighting. It may also mean trying to “reason it out” with the addicted spouse. Doing these behaviors will not help your spouse. What you can do is to learn ways to react and reinforce any positive behavior by your spouse. This includes providing your unconditional love and support but at the same time not being enabling of his addictive behavior.
– Explore healthy coping mechanisms for yourself. The situation with an addictive spouse can lead to pent-up stress and anger. You need to have a healthy outlet for these for your to be able to cope with the situation you are in now. These can include relaxation techniques, doing hobbies you enjoy and eating the right kinds of food.


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