How to Support Your Partner with Alcohol or Drug Addiction

If your partner is struggling with addiction, you might be understandably concerned but not know what to do or how to help. The situation can be challenging and stressful for you both and take a toll on the relationship. By learning more about how to help a spouse with substance abuse, you will be better equipped to provide support and encouragement and understand when it’s time to seek professional help.

How to Better Understand Your Spouse’s Addiction

You may be better able to help your loved one with addiction when you educate yourself about this disease. Educating yourself about addiction can help you better understand what your spouse is going through. People sometimes mistakenly think that addiction is a moral failing, or that someone can just stop using a substance through willpower alone.1,2 But addiction is a chronic, relapsing medical disorder, and the brain changes caused by compulsive substance use can make it extremely difficult for someone to stop using, even if they want to.1

It is not your job to diagnose your partner with addiction. Only a qualified professional can diagnose a substance use disorder (SUD), the clinical term for addiction. However, learning about the possible signs and symptoms of SUD can help you recognize when it might be time to seek professional help. The diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder includes: 3,4

  • Using a substance more frequently or in higher amounts than originally intended.
  • Expressing a desire to cut down or stop substance use but being unable to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining or using a substance, or, and recovering from its effects.
  • Cravings, or an intense desire to use the substance.
  • Being unable to meet obligations at work, home, or school because of substance use.
  • Continuing to use the substance despite social or interpersonal problems that are caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  • Giving up important activities because of drug or alcohol use.
  • Using drugs or alcohol in situations where it is physically hazardous to do so (such as while driving or operating machinery).
  • Continuing to use substances despite having a physical or mental health condition that is likely caused or worsened by substance use.
  • Tolerance, or needing to use more of the substance to achieve previous effects.
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms upon decreasing or ceasing use.

How Can I Get My Husband or Wife Into Rehab?

It’s understandable to want to know how to help an addicted spouse or significant other get into rehab fir drug or alcohol addiction. While you can’t force an adult to seek addiction treatment if they are not yet ready to do so, you can take different steps to provide encouragement and support, such as the following:2,5,6,7,8

  • Choose a calm, quiet time to talk to your partner about their substance use when you are both sober.
  • Write down your concerns beforehand so that you can organize your thoughts.
  • Discuss your concerns with your partner’s substance use in a direct, yet non-confrontational manner. Approach them in a loving, caring way using “I” statements, such as “I am concerned about the effect your drinking/drug use has on your health,” or “I have noticed you’ve been calling in sick a lot to work, can we talk about it?”
  • Avoid blame, accusation, or stigmatizing language (e.g., addict, junkie, alcoholic). Focus on the behavior of substance misuse, not who they are as a person, and avoid shaming statements.
  • Use active listening and empathetic language to encourage them to share their feelings, such as “I know this is hard for you. Can you tell me more about what’s going on?” or “I hear you saying that you’re frustrated and stressed. Is that right?”
  • Research addiction treatment options and show them the results you’ve found. Explain that you are willing to help them get into rehab, whether that means making calls, looking into different facilities and amenities, checking if their health insurance covers addiction treatment, exploring ways to pay for rehab, or taking them to the rehab facility yourself.
  • Consider enlisting the help of a sober escort if your loved one is going to rehab in another city/state or if you are unable to escort them yourself. This is someone who offers transportation and support to safely get your loved one to treatment and appointments.
  • Communicate your boundaries. Examples include not tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior and not allowing drugs or alcohol in the home. Once you have conveyed your boundaries to your partner, stick to them.

How to Cope with a Spouse’s Drug or Alcohol Addiction

drug addiction treatment through group setting

It can be challenging to know how to help a significant other with alcohol or drug addiction. Addiction wreaks havoc not only on the addicted person but everyone who loves them, and often the spouse is the family member who feels the biggest impact.9 bottom Although you want to support your partner and encourage them to get the help they need, it’s also important to take care of yourself. You can’t help someone else if your own needs are unmet; it’s not selfish to make time for you, and it can also help you be a better partner.

Some of the ways to cope with a spouse’s addiction can include:

  • Seeking social support from compassionate and understanding family and friends.
  • Attending self-help groups designed for loved ones of people struggling with addiction. This might include groups like Al-anon, Nar-anon, or SMART Recovery for Friends and Family.
  • Going to couples counseling or attending workshops offered by couples’ therapists.
  • Attending family counseling sessions, either onsite at a rehab during treatment or with a professional in private practice.
  • Engaging in individual counseling sessions to discuss your concerns and feelings and to obtain advice about how to cope.

How to Support Your Spouse After Addiction Treatment

Loved ones can be an integral part of the recovery process. Post-treatment can be a time of adjustment and change, but there are resources to help support both partners on the recovery journey. Some of the ways you can support your partner in recovery might include:9,10

  • Taking part in ongoing couples counseling. This can help address and repair relationship issues that may have occurred due to the addiction.
  • Encouraging your partner to stick to their aftercare plan. For example, you might encourage them to continue to attend self-help meetings, engage in alumni programs offered by the rehab, or use apps designed to assist in recovery. Laguna Treatment Center offers family support in our recovery app.
  • Avoid enabling. This is a crucial part of the entire recovery journey; it might feel like you’re helping your partner but enabling only perpetuates the addiction. Enabling can mean different behaviors, such as calling in sick for your partner, bailing them out of jail, making excuses to others for them, or giving them money to buy drugs or alcohol.
  • Maintaining healthy boundaries. It can take time and hard work to set and maintain boundaries, but it’s important to protect yourself and let people know what you will and will not tolerate.
  • Practice self-care. Set aside time that is just for you each day. Engage in an activity that you enjoy, talk with trusted friends and family, meditate, or do something that helps you release stress.
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