Living with a Partner Addict
Coping with spouse addiction can turn your life upside down. All the trust that was built throughout the relationship is gone. Part of any substance addiction will involve your spouse going to great lengths to hide their addiction. While it may seem like a simple solution to divorce a drug addict, it’s usually not that easy. You’ve invested a life with this person and you love them. You share a life together and kids may be involved.
Being a spouse of an addict can be a convoluted venture if you don’t have the right guidance. You may put yourself at risk of being in a co-dependent relationship. Addressing your spouse’s addiction may feel overwhelming. You may not know what to say to an addict you love. This can leave you quietly dealing with a drug addict spouse which makes everyone in the family dynamic miserable. If your spouse is functioning as they normally did in their work or home life, it may be even harder to detect a problem. You might also be on the edge of denial and just beginning to wonder if it’s possible your spouse is suffering from addiction.
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Statistics show that two-thirds of domestic violence stems from alcohol abuse. If your spouse abuses drugs, they will shut down communication on you to hide their addiction. Substance abuse and addiction lead to unhappy relationships, further problems for everyone involved and usually separation/divorce. Can a marriage survive drug addiction? It certainly can. It starts with knowing how to read the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.
If you’ve never experienced someone with an addiction, here are some signs and symptoms your loved one may be struggling with substance abuse.
What Are the Physical Symptoms of Someone Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?
- Change in sleep patterns – An addicted spouse is most certainly going to affect you. Your relationship will deeply suffer and often you won’t even be sleeping with them often. People who are abusing drugs can sleep for long stretches of time when not using and stay up for days on end when they are high. Lack of sleep can cause irritability and an inability to work or function properly.
Studies have been done in length about sleep architecture changes and substance abuse. For example, cocaine will suppress REM sleep and decreases the total amount you get to sleep. Amphetamines are similar. The sativa constituent of Cannabis causes sedation while cannabidiol will cause you to be more active. Heroin causes the user to wake and fall asleep with a slower progression of getting to the REM state. Alcoholism causes major changes in sleep but is also affected by behavioral changes. A sign of alcoholism is that your spouse will stay up past everyone so they can peacefully enjoy drinking.
- Disordered eating – Living with an addict you love can be very concerning. Using drugs can cause metabolic changes in the body. Someone who uses alcohol may gain a lot of weight while heroin users lose weight quickly. How addiction affects the spouse is often a sense of concern. This is especially true when your partner stops eating. Nearly half of people who have eating disorders will abuse drugs and alcohol. Their connection as a co-occurring disorder is strong.
Studies have found that 35% of addicts abusing drugs and alcohol will have an eating disorder. The most prevalent substances that coincide with eating disorders include:
- Hygienic habits change – When someone is in the throes of addiction, they may start to ignore some essential self-care habits, including hygiene. If you are noticing less self-care (such as showering or not doing laundry), this may be a red flag. When you wonder why do addicts hurt the ones they love, Know that their lack of care for themselves proves they’re not even loving themselves.
- Eyes – Eyes can become itchy, dry, and bloodshot. Pupils may be dilated due to reactions to certain drugs. The yellowing of eyes, along with skin, can be a symptom of liver dysfunction. The redness happens because the tiny blood vessels on the eye get dilated, causing inflammation. If your spouse is a heavy drinker, they may have depleted the body’s nutrients that would normally promote eye health. This is known as alcoholic optic neuritis. Signs like this are an important step to knowing how to deal with a spouse with addiction. When confronted, they won’t be able to deny the physical symptoms you can so clearly see.
- Nose – Sniffling, sneezing and bloody noses can be indicators of huffing or inhaling of substances such as paint or powders. Snorting cocaine would be the most common way to use it. The nose filters air and allows you to breathe. When someone snorts chemicals up their nose, they burn the skin lining of the nose which is delicate. It can be extremely painful and occurs through excessive snorting.
- Physical marks – Injection sites at the creases of elbows or between other appendages may create “track marks” or visible scars and cuts on the body. If you are living with an addict, they will probably try to prevent you from seeing the proof of drug abuse. This might include wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants even in hot weather.
- Itching – Chronic itching and skin picking can be caused by drug interactions that interfere with histamine in the body. An addicted spouse may also feel like their skin is crawling. They may even perceive bugs crawling on them that aren’t there. This can occur when abusing cocaine or methamphetamines. This includes Ritalin and Ativan.
- Skin color – The skin, the body’s largest organ, can be affected by drug use. Alcohol use can make the skin blotchy and red. Methamphetamines can cause sores on the face, in the mouth and on other areas of the body. Malnutrition, exhaustion, and dehydration can cause the skin color to change and spots may appear. A spouse addict may begin to appear old very quickly.
- Seizure activity – If your addicted mate has no past or familial history of epilepsy, seizure activity can be explained by the use of illicit drugs. All drugs directly affect the brain and many can cause a seizure if misused. Delirium tremens in heavy, long-term drinkers will occur if they withdraw from alcohol.
- Substances and drug paraphernalia – If these items are found around the house, car and/or office, it’s a certain indicator that substance abuse is taking place. If you are a husband or wife of an addict, be conscious of these items hiding around the house:
- Rolling papers and cigars
- Roach clips
- Bongs and hookahs
- Tin foil
- Needles and small spoons
- Straws, paper tubes
- Small mirrors, razor blades or cards
- Surgical/dust mask
- Lollipops and pacifiers
- Aerosol cans, tubes of glue, balloons, nozzles, or rags
Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of Drug Abuse Your Spouse May Be Experiencing
- Acting secretively, suspiciously – Spouses will begin to act secretively because they are hiding something. For example, a drug addict husband shows no remorse for the lies he tells. Supporting a partner in addiction can take a lot of patience because you’re constantly being lied to. Drug use can cause people to not act as they would normally. In efforts to hide their addiction, they may act more secretive or lie.
- No longer interested in hobbies – You may notice when living with an addict that they stop doing the things they used to do. They lose interest in things that used to matter. When drugs are abused, addicts often give up their normal hobbies like reading, exercising, playing video games or sports. This is also a big red flag for adolescents who may stop attending their extracurricular activities.
- Mood swings – Your addicted partner will be going through major changes in their life as they get more dependent on their drug of choice. The up’s and down’s of high’s and withdrawals can make someone upset and irritable. If you notice mood swings, anxiety, or unreasonable reactions to events, take note. When dealing with a drug addict spouse, you may find that they are remorseful one moment and on the defense the next. As symptoms of addiction worsen, they will go through more intense withdrawals. This can cause depression, irritability, fatigue, and anxiousness.
- New friends – It’s not easy to know how to deal with a spouse with addiction. They may start to spending time with new, questionable people. Drugs have to come from somewhere. If your spouse is making new friends with suspicious people, it may be because that’s how they are obtaining their drugs. These may also be people that use drugs together and bond over their mutual addiction.
- Loss of friends – Just as they make new friends, they begin to let go of long-term meaningful relationships. When drugs take over an addict’s life, they often abandon their friends for their drug of choice. They stop hanging out, seeking friendship and their friends may take notice of changed behavior.
- No longer motivated – A drug or alcohol abuser may no longer be motivated to do basic things like chores, shower and go to work or school. When not using, they may be lethargic and depressed. When your addicted spouse is addicted to substances, the brain becomes affected. The dopamine levels that are heightened through drug use stop being naturally produced. This causes overall exhaustion and fatigue that make it hard to do anything.
- Poor job performance – One of the hardest parts on how to deal with a spouse with addiction is the fear that they will lose their job. Drug addicts can get to the point where all they care about is getting their drug of choice. Their workplace may be reaching out to you or giving warnings to your spouse on their work performance. They may be taking more (unexplained) time off or leaving work early.
- Inattentive – Drugs may be preoccupying the addicted partners’ mind leading them to have a hard time holding a conversation and complete tasks. Some spouses talk about their loved one becoming a “shell of their old selves.” They are no longer interested in you or anything that gave them pleasure in the past besides the substance they abuse.
What Are the Specific Drugs My Spouse May Be Using? Know the Signs
Every drug has different side effects. Some depress the central nervous system, while others create hallucinations and excite a person. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of specific, common substances.
Heroin or Other Opioids
With abuse of prescription opioid painkillers on the rise since the ’90s, heroin has become a commonly used substitute for the prescribed pills. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.”
Signs your partner is using prescription opiates or heroin may include:
- Track marks and collapsed veins – Is my husband doing drugs behind my back? This might be something you’ve wondered. Nothing is more tell-tale than the marks of heroin use that can be found on the body. Since heroin is usually intravenously administered, your loved one may have markings on their body at injection sites.
- Dramatic weight loss – Opioids can change the body’s metabolism. Often dramatic weight loss occurs.
- Odd drug paraphernalia – You may find white powdery residue, foil, gum wrappers, small plastic bags, and pipes. Look out for this evidence of drug use which could indicate your spouse is an addict.
- Other body changes – Women may lose their menstrual cycle while using heroin and other opioids. Alcoholics may experience a change in their body. Often, the stomach will get bigger due to the liver being incapable of managing the toxins.
- Constant drowsiness – When on an opioid, the central nervous system is depressed. When dealing with a drug addict spouse taking opioids, you may find them to be out of it quite often. Opioids make users euphoric but sleepy and “out of it.” They are unable to hold conversations, drive a motor vehicle, and also may not be able to walk.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, cocaine is an illegal drug. As a street drug, cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with things like cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine.”
Signs your addicted spouse may be abusing cocaine:
- Anxious behavior – This stimulant drug makes people feel energized (even if they haven’t slept in days). They may be talking more quickly and unable to sit still. They will often get a bit agitated while they talk or act boisterous. Physically, your addicted partner may also get the sweats.
- Falling asleep after periods of wakefulness – Again, people using cocaine or other stimulants may be energized while using, but while coming off the drug may sleep for unreasonably long periods of time. Often, people with a cocaine addiction will go on benders for days. They don’t get any sleep so when the cocaine does finally run out, they are severely depleted of nutrients and sleep.
This commonly used substance is easy to obtain because of its legal status. Many people misuse alcohol but some fall victim to addiction from it. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older (6.2 percent of this age group) had alcohol use disorder. This includes 9.8 million men (8.4 percent of men in this age group) and 5.3 million women (4.2 percent of women in this age group). Many people in the U.S. are supporting a partner with addiction and trying to help them with recovery.
Some signs your loved one may be addicted to alcohol include:
- Drinking at any opportunity – When you are the partner of an addict, you may notice that they take every opportunity they can to drink. They create special occasions out of everything that allows them the opportunity to drink. Also, they habitually drink during certain times of the day. When they just get home, during lunch breaks and all weekend. You may start noticing your loved one is never without a drink in hand. This is often sugar-coated by natural reasons why it’s okay to drink. The problem is, your addicted spouse is doing it because his body is going through withdrawal.
- Hangovers – If you notice that your spouse is always hung over, this is a sign that they’re a problem drinker. Your loved one may be having trouble getting out of bed in the morning day after day. The withdrawal symptoms of alcohol can cause headaches, dehydration, and fatigue. This is usually a chronic problem for someone who drinks excessively often.
- Secretly drinking – It’s hard supporting a partner with addiction, especially if they are trying to hide their problems. Your addicted partner will add alcohol to drinks like soda or juice to make it seem like they are not drinking. An even bigger red flag is if they are doing this at inappropriate times like at venues where alcohol isn’t allowed or in the car while driving
- Binge drinking – Alcoholics often have a higher tolerance for alcohol. This is obviously due to the amount they drink. Drinking every day causes tolerance to increase so it takes an addicted spouse more alcohol to get the desired effect. An alcohol abuser may drink five or more drinks in a short sitting as opposed to over the course of many hours.
How to Help Your Spouse Beat Addiction Without Enabling Them
Can a marriage survive drug addiction? It can but there needs to be some understanding and patience on your part. There also needs to be the desire to abstain by your addicted partner.
If you are currently married to a spouse with an addiction, there are some things that you may want to consider doing for yourself. When you help yourself, you also help your addicted spouse. Being in a relationship with a recovering addict could bring a lot of depth to your relationship.
Avoid Denial – It is hard to come to terms with the reality that your spouse is addicted to a substance. The stigma associated with addiction causes you to automatically avoid the reality going on in your house. Denial can put you in a situation or co-dependency which causes you to lose yourself within someone else’s problems. Facing addiction is key.
Read Up On Addiction – The person you love is still in there. You will understand this better as you begin to read up on what addiction does to a person. There is group support for family members of addicts that can bring you a better understanding. Also, a treatment specialist and online information can be helpful if you’re supporting a partner with addiction.
Learn About Codependent Relationships – It’s important to understand how you fit into your spouse’s addiction. How is it affecting you or your children? You might be experiencing problems within your psyche from handling an addict as a spouse. When you focus all your effort on a spouse who is addicted, you end up with your own codependency disorder. If you can come to understand that, you can start to make changes.
No More Enabling – It’s hard to know what to say to an addict you love. The thing is, when you say nothing, you enable them to continue to hurt themselves. It might seem like the nice thing to do but you’re allowing your spouse to continue their substance abuse while you say nothing. You are likely going to have to give your partner an ultimatum. If they refuse treatment, there will be consequences. Life after leaving an addict, should it get to that point, may bring you peace if they refused to get help.
Find a Support Group – It’s important to talk with other people that know what you’re going through. Support groups for spouses dealing with addiction from their loved ones can help you find the tools you need to help. They also make you feel less isolated and you have a greater understanding of what your addicted partner is going through.
First, it’s important to remember your addicted spouse isn’t who they used to be. In their addiction, they only live for their high, and although you should not forgive them for the things they do while high, it’s important to detach yourself. They must be allowed to suffer the consequences of their addiction, and you must be allowed to live your life safely away from their drug abuse. The most important thing you can do is have an honest conversation with them and help them get into a good rehabilitation facility. Only then will they be able to get the help they need.