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If you love an alcoholic or addict, you know how terrible the disease of addiction is. You also know that it has a direct and indirect impact on you. If you’re married to an addict, you suffer from seeing the person you love go down the drain. 

Sadly, many relationships completely dissolve due to addiction in one spouse or the other. Because addiction is so widespread, it comes as no surprise. Estimates of numbers on several addictions include:

  • 12 to 13 million alcoholics in the U.S.
  • 1 to 2 million cocaine addicts in the U.S.
  • 8 million Americans are believed to have an eating disorder
  • 2 million American citizens are believed to be pathologically problematic gamblers

The Burden of Being Married to an Addict

You are also dealing with their irrational behavior, illness, lying, cheating or any number of unacceptable behaviors. Besides that, you may be legally bound to this person. That means that you may bear the burden for any damages they may cause.

There is no doubt that addiction is one of the biggest challenges a marriage will face. Additionally, it’s one of the most frustrating in that as a rational, non addicted person, you look at the addict and ask, “Can’t you see what you’re doing to us?” “Why won’t you stop using?” or, “If you really loved me, you would stop.” 

So, looking at the numbers above, it would appear that there are just as many millions of people suffering from the effects of living with an addict. With just the numbers previously listed, if we assume that half of these are married, there are 12.5 million spouses suffering from just this limited selection of addictions.

married to an addict

Addiction is a Progressive Disease

Due to the fact that substance use disorders are progressive, the only path for an addict and their spouse is a downward slide if they don’t get help. However, addiction is a disease that tells the addict that they don’t have a disease. Different from other diseases, such as cancer, that might draw on a person’s survival instincts, addiction wants its victims dead (but there is a saying that it’s content to just make the person miserable).

Having to get a divorce from your addicted spouse is many times the last resort. It’s unfortunate and heartbreaking, but it sometimes is the only choice you have as the non addict. This is especially true when there are children involved. But children need a stable adult around and when addiction is present, both parents are unavailable and there is little to no stability and consistency in the home.

Deciding What To Do When Married to an Addict

These questions can help you decide what steps you can or should take next.

  • Have you admitted to yourself that your spouse is an addict?
  • Have you discussed with your spouse that they are an addict?
  • Is your life chaotic because you live with an addict?
  • Have you gotten help for yourself from an expert on addiction?
  • Have you tried to get help from an addiction expert for your spouse?
  • Have you attended counseling together from a therapist who is trained in addiction and family systems? 
  • Have you experienced serious negative outcomes due to your spouse’s addiction?
  • Have you informed your spouse that you are leaving unless they stop using?
  • Would you actually leave?
  • Have you tried a trial separation?
  • Have you considered an intervention?

Warning Signs Your Spouse Has an Addiction

Many people don’t realize their partner is an addict when they say their vows. At other times, the addiction is something that develops later in the marriage. Unfortunately, this is an issue millions of couples face.

Maybe you’re not absolutely sure your spouse is an addict, and maybe you’re right. Below are some warning signs. Physical signs are the easiest to spot when they happen to a spouse or loved one.

Physical Signs of Addiction

  • Bloodshot eyes or pupils larger or smaller than usual
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • The decline of physical appearance and personal grooming habits
  • Runny nose or sniffling
  • Bad breath
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Slurred speech, tremors, or impaired coordination
  • Frequent blood nose
  • Unusual odors on clothing, breath, or body

Keep in mind that symptoms may also vary depending on what kind of substance your loved one may be using and some of these signs may be from an illness such as a cold or flu. But still, prolonged symptoms may be a sign of addiction.

Spouses and loved ones notice changes in behavior long before other people since they’re so familiar with the person. If you see any of these behaviors, you may need to consider the possibility of drug abuse.

 Behavioral Signs of Addiction

spouse of an addict
  • Giving up enjoyable activities such as hobbies, sports, and socializing
  • Difficulties in relationships because of using
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Taking part in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Sudden change in friendships (new, unusual group of friends)
  • Taking prescription drugs after they are no longer needed
  • Getting into trouble regularly, including fights, accidents, illegal activities, and driving under the influence
  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work, or home
  • Sudden change in favorite hangouts and hobbies
  • Unexplained financial problems and need for money.
  • Borrowing or stealing money

Psychological Warning Signs of Addiction

Psychological signs are usually the last to be identified. That’s because they commonly build up slowly as addiction becomes worse. Signs include:

  • Appearing overly fearful, anxious, or paranoid
  • Having no motivation
  • Appearing tired or “spaced out”
  • Having periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness, or instability
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Increased irritability or angry outbursts
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude

Are You Codependent?

In addition to the spouse with the addiction, there is frequently a spouse that suffers from codependency. Codependency is defined as a set of dysfunctional, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family that is going through great emotional pain and stress. As adults, codependent people have a tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are:

  • Unreliable,
  • Emotionally unavailable
  • Needy

A codependent person tries to control everything within the relationship, but can’t. Recovery for a codependent spouse occurs when they finally focus on their own needs instead of tolerating bad treatment or trying to “rescue” their spouse. 

Whether the addictive spouse’s behavior seems to be minor or more serious, it is often the co-dependent spouse who starts the recovery process. First, by addressing their own need for assertiveness and improving their listening and communication skills. Counseling can lead to awareness of the dysfunctional behaviors and help develop healthier coping skills.


Naturally, you should have sympathy, but sometimes giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt is like sticking your head in the sand.  Bailing someone out may actually dig them deeper into a hole. If you’re married to an addict and giving them money against your better judgment or taking on extra responsibilities for them, you’re actually enabling them. Instead of helping the addict, you are making the addiction worse.

Some spouses enable their spouse because they feel the need to be the savior. But this belief that you can save your spouse if you are “good enough” may be more about being a martyr or hero than it is about helping. In a situation like this, enabling can itself become addictive. You become dependent on the need to help, to feel good. Of course, not everyone who enables an addict is doing it to feel good themselves, but are just desperately trying to cope and find solutions.


The denial that goes along with addiction is a family problem because it often includes the spouse as well. Spouses may cover up for the partner, make excuses, or call in to the employer and say they’re sick when it’s a hangover. They will overlook the fender bender accident. Most of all, they put up with the lack of physical and emotional availability due to their spouse’s love affair with drugs or alcohol.

Treatment for Substance Use Disorder

Frequently, treatment takes the form of individual, marital, and group therapy. One of the key tasks for recovery includes breaking through the denial. Occasionally, this requires that the codependent spouse break their own denial and also learn about the addiction process. They will need to be educated about establishing sobriety. Then, it is a matter of getting the addicted spouse to start a treatment plan. 

married to an addict

Choosing Honesty

The key to avoiding enabling is being honest and facing reality. You will need to have a direct, difficult conversation about your distress and back it up with evidence. This prevents minimizing the issues and making excuses.  When there is a problem, it needs to be brought up and not swept under the rug.

Setting Boundaries

An additional key is to set boundaries. Establishing boundaries with your spouse not only protects you, it helps to make sure you aren’t enabling their destructive behavior. This might include expectations of:

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


Sometimes, an intervention is necessary. An intervention is a pre-planned, well-prepared meeting with a professional counselor or intervention specialist. Family, friends, and sometimes co-workers will meet with the addicted person. 

The intervention participants confront the individual and discuss the ways the addicted behaviors are affecting family, friends and the workplace. Occasionally, there is a pre-arranged treatment plan that may include hospitalization or an inpatient detox for those who have a serious drug or alcohol problem. The goals of an intervention are:

  1. Awareness: Make the person aware of the effects their substance abuse has on family and friends.
  2. Motivation: Get the person to agree that they have a problem and need help.
  3. Action plan: Create a strategy for recovery with goals and guidelines.

Family and Couples Therapy

Couples or family therapy is also a critical part of recovery.  A spouse may not be able to see the need for their involvement, but recovery is more successful when both spouses are involved. The marital relationship is more likely to become stable and the two can work through the trauma that has been experienced as a result of the addicted partner’s behaviors.

Behavioral couples therapy (BCT) is a treatment method that attempts to reduce substance abuse directly and by restructuring the dysfunctional couple interactions that often help sustain it. In multiple studies, patients who took part in BCT have consistently reported greater reductions in substance abuse than people who only received individual counseling.

Healthy Recovery, With or Without Your Spouse

Healthy living is important for a healthy recovery for both spouses. However, even if the addict isn’t choosing recovery, self-care is important for the spouse. You may find support through support groups such as Al-Anon, Narc-Anon, church groups, or therapy. These can all be done whether or not your spouse is getting clean.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Along with addictions comes the need for compassion and forgiveness for the damage caused in the marriage. Many couples are able to heal their relationship and create a new, better, and healthier married life with some help, hard work, and the right kind of support. 

With time, patience, and endurance, trust can be restored and a new level of intimacy can be attained. By moving past the initial denial and sincerely working each part of recovery, a couple can heal and reclaim a life free of addictive behaviors.

You can get the right kind of support at CNV Detox. We are addiction specialists, trained in the physical and psychological effects of addiction and how to overcome them. From detox to aftercare, we can set you on the path toward a healthy relationship. Don’t give up yet. Contact us now. We will be happy to answer your questions and address your needs.