When the one you love is disappearing in a storm of addiction, it is incredibly difficult to know how to help them – and protect yourself. Considering your own feelings and reaching out for professional help are critical in making the right decisions for you and your spouse.
Being married to someone who has an addiction presents a myriad of complicated and painful decisions that often boil down to staying in the relationship, or packing up and leaving. You have watched as the person you love has changed and struggled as a result of their addiction. You have also likely experienced firsthand the impacts of their addiction – the lying, the emotional distancing, professional or legal implications, and more. You may understand and accept that addiction is a disease that fundamentally alters the brain, that it takes more than simple willpower to overcome it. But what do you do when your spouse isn’t seeking help, or can’t seem to beat the addiction?
There are no easy answers to what to do when you are married to someone with an addiction, but there are some factors to take into consideration that may clarify your thinking on how to proceed.
Understand What Addiction Is, and How it Works
As public awareness about mental health and addiction increases, there is a greater understanding that addictions are far more complicated than a lack of will or moral fibre. Addiction is a chronic health condition that requires healthy lifestyle changes as well as lifelong care and management. In this way, addiction is quite similar to diabetes, heart disease or asthma. While addiction cannot be cured, it can be successfully treated and managed so that people can live long, healthy lives.
Addiction is a complex disease, but clinicians and scientists now believe that most people become involved in potentially addictive behaviours because they relieve some type of discomfort – emotional, physical, or psychological. Using drugs or alcohol, or engaging in activities like gambling or sex for example, stimulates the reward centre of the brain and evokes a pleasurable response. Addiction occurs when this reward pathway is over-activated and becomes dependent on the substance/behaviour for a feeling of relaxation or release. While the types of addiction may vary – from drugs to alcohol to food to gambling to pornography and more – the way that addiction changes the brain remains very similar.
Because addiction alters the pathways of the brain, overcoming it requires professional clinical care. Just as it would be ineffective to tell someone with asthma to try harder to breathe, it isn’t enough to tell someone with an addiction to just stop. A combination of therapies, targeted lifestyle changes, and the introduction of new coping mechanisms are usually necessary for people to successfully recover. Relapses are common amongst those recovering from addiction, and it can take time to feel stable in recovery.
You may choose to seek out educational materials on your own in order to learn more about addiction, how it manifests, where it comes from, and ways to overcome it. This knowledge can give you a sense of where your spouse is in the stages of addiction, and in a best case scenario, empower you to support your spouse in confronting and beating their addiction.
Clarify Where You Are at With Your Spouse’s Addiction
It is important to sit down with yourself and pull out the reasons why you are still married. What is driving your decision to be in this relationship at this moment? Some common reasons people stay married can include:
- Love – you still love your spouse, care about them, and desperately want them to get better.
- Financial stability – you are dependent on your spouse for regular costs of living, housing, a vehicle, etc.
- Societal pressure – family, friends, or religious beliefs may be pushing you to remain in the marriage.
- Fear of being alone – what you’re dealing with is really hard, but being on your own seems lonely and scary.
- Your spouse is trying to get better – they’ve identified that they have a problem, and even though they haven’t overcome it yet, they are making an effort.
- You have children – if there are children involved, you are likely struggling between deciding whether the impacts of their parent’s addiction or divorce would be more damaging.
Sorting these into internal versus external factors can also be useful. For example, are you personally ready to leave the relationship, but your financial situation or pressure from your family is causing you to have second thoughts? Or are you self-sufficient and supported by other loved ones to leave, but you don’t think divorce is the best option? Getting a clear sense of what is motivating you to be in the situation you are can give you some ideas on what your next steps are.
It’s important to remember that if your spouse’s addiction is causing them to be abusive, either emotionally, verbally, or physically — removing yourself and any children from the situation and seeking professional care should be immediately prioritised, regardless of whether you ultimately choose to remain married or to separate.
Talk to a Professional
Addiction is complicated, and therefore your feelings about it are likely to be the same. Talking to a therapist, particularly one familiar with addiction and marriage issues, can help you sort through your thoughts and get some ideas on how to move forward. Some possible options for professional help could include joining a support group for family members of people with addiction, or contacting an individual therapist or addiction specialist.
Entering therapy will give you tools not only to learn more about the nature of addiction and how to prevent yourself from inadvertently enabling it, but also to heal yourself from the impacts of your spouse’s addiction. It is very important not to forget the importance of taking care of yourself, as addiction has the potential to seriously impact those close to it, with long-term effects. If you are to be successful in maintaining your marriage, you must also maintain your mental and physical health.
Starting Anew at the Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand is a unique, residential treatment centre specialising in treatment of addiction and mental health disorders. We offer a special six-week Signature Addiction Programme for individuals suffering from substance addiction; behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders. The fundamental objective of our programme is for each client to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by equipping them with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges, thereby eliminating the desire to use again.
Family Treatment for Addiction
Our team of specialists understands that addiction affects not just the addict, but also has a severe impact on the family – often without the family being fully aware of it. It is imperative to address the symptoms in the family in order to also increase the chances of long-term recovery for the addict. Towards the end of the client’s treatment, we engage the family in a series of educational and clinical consultation sessions – these are done either on-site or remotely.
If you need someone to talk to about options for your spouse, we can help. Call us today to learn more about our programmes.