Living with a Partner Addict
With growing rates of many types of substance addiction across the U.S., more and more husbands and wives are waking up to the stark reality that their loved one, their partner for life, and their marital spouse “in sickness and in health” is a full-blown addict – either addicted to legal or illicit drugs (with a substance use disorder – SUD), or alcohol (with an alcohol use disorder – AUD). Sometimes, it can even be both.
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, renowned German philosopher and essayist
In fact, an addicted spouse is one of the most common reasons cited in divorce papers, the cause of many marriages that end in failure and, ultimately, that end up floundering hopelessly in the divorce courts. Obviously, if children are involved as well, the whole emotional conundrum becomes even harder to solve, and, sadly, the prospect of actual treatment becomes more remote.
“Get your loved one the help they need. Our substance use disorder program accepts many health insurance plans, this is our residential program.”
Coping with spousal addiction can turn your entire life upside down. All the trust that was built throughout the relationship slowly disintegrates, and then is gone. A major part of any substance addiction that involves your spouse will result in great lengths being taken to hide their addiction. Yet, while it may seem like a simple solution to divorce a drug addict, it’s usually not that easy – on any level. You’ve invested fully in a life with this person, and, put simply, you love them. You share an adult life together – one that’s often difficult to walk away from.
Being the spouse of an addict can be a complete and utter personal nightmare if you don’t have the right guidance and assistance, as some form of codependence may also be intrinsic in the relationship. Addressing something as huge as your spouse’s addiction may feel just too overwhelming – for the codependent partner, it may even be something they often try to ignore or dismiss, or simply make excuses for.
For example, you may not even know what to say to an addict you love. This can leave you quietly trying to deal with a drug-addicted spouse, a dysfunctional family life, and confused and miserable children – often as confused and miserable as you.
Additionally, if your spouse is a high-functioning addict, with things appearing quite normal in both work and home life to those looking in from the outside, it may be even harder to detect a problem, let alone confront and deal with it. You might also be on the edge of denial yourself, and beginning to wonder if it’s really possible that your spouse is suffering from something as serious as addiction.
Did you know that statistics clearly demonstrate two-thirds of domestic violence stems directly from alcohol abuse? Certainly not an environment that is at all good (sometimes, even bearable) for you or your children.
The intimacy and communication that are bedrocks of all good marriages slowly disappear as the addicted spouse will shut down all normal communication with you to hide their addiction. Can a marriage where communication, intimacy, and trust seems lost actually survive a chronic, relapsing disorder like drug or alcohol addiction?
The answer to this may surprise you – it can. It all begins with knowing how to accurately read the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. This article will provide you with “29 Clear Signs That Your Spouse is an Addict.” 29, you ask? Believe it or not, there are even a few more than that…
Spouse Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?: The Physical Symptoms
- Change in sleep patterns –An addicted spouse is certainly going to affect you on a whole host of different levels. Your relationship will suffer, and often you won’t even be sleeping with them. People who are abusing substances can sometimes sleep for long periods of time when not using, and then stay up for days on end when they are high. Lack of sleep can cause irritability, and an inability to work or function properly.Many medical studies have been conducted to research changes to normal sleep architecture and substance abuse. For example, it has been found that:
- Cocaine will suppress REM sleep, and decrease the total length of time you sleep.
- Amphetamines have a similarly detrimental effect.
- The Sativa constituent of cannabis causes sedation, while cannabidiol will cause you to be more active.
- Heroin both causes the user to wake and to fall asleep and results in a slower progression to the REM state.
- Alcoholism causes major negative changes in sleep quality, but sleep patterns can also be affected by behavioral changes -for example, a clear sign of alcoholism is that your spouse will stay up well past everyone else so they can continue drinking.
- Disordered Eating Habits –Substance use and abuse can cause metabolic changes in the body. For example, a heavy drinker may gain a lot of weight, while a heroin user will lose weight. How addiction affects the spouse in this way is often a cause of concern. This is especially true when your partner stops eating. Additionally, studies have found that 35% of addicts abusing drugs and/or alcohol will also have an eating disorder – known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. The most prevalent substances that coincide with a co-occurring eating disorder include:
- Poor Hygiene Habits – 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 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 is the most common way to ingest 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.
- Chronic 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.
- Changes in 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 skin color to change and spots may appear. A spouse addict may begin to appear old very quickly.
- Unexplained Seizures – If your addicted spouse 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 & Associated Drug Paraphernalia – If these items are found around the house, car, and/or office, it can be a clear indication 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
- 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
“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our inpatient program.”
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.
- Lack of Interest in Normal Pastimes & 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.
- Abrupt 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 ups and downs 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 Friendships – It’s not easy to know how to deal with a spouse with addiction. They may start to spend 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.
- End of Existing Friendships – Just as they make new friends, they begin to let go of meaningful long-term 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.
- Clear Lack of Motivation – 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 of how to deal with a spouse with addiction is the fear that they will lose their job and upset the family finances. 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 will be preoccupying the addicted partner’s mind, leading them to have a hard time holding a conversation and complete simple 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 Substances is My Spouse Using or Abusing? Know the Signs of Specific Drugs
Every substance has different side effects and, therefore, varying signs of abuse. Some will depress the central nervous system, while others create hallucinations and heighten levels of excitement in a person. Learn more about the specific signs and symptoms of the most common substances here.
Heroin or Other Opioids
With the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers on the rise since the ’90s, heroin has become a commonly used substitute for the more expensive 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.”
Clear signs that your spouse is using either prescription opiates or heroin can include:
- Track Marks & Collapsed Veins – Is my husband injecting 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, and often dramatic weight loss then occurs.
- Obscure New Items in the House (Other 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 Noticeable 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.
“We accept many health insurance plans. Get your life back in order, take a look at our residential program.”
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.”
Clear signs that your addicted spouse is abusing cocaine can include:
- 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 Rapidly After Periods of Intense Energy – 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.
Easily one of the most commonly used substances, alcohol is legal and so easy to obtain. Many people misuse alcohol, eg. simply drinking too much, or mixing their drinks too much, but many consume too much too often, leading to an addiction.
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) have had an 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)
Several of the clearest signs your loved one may be addicted to alcohol can include:
- Drinking at Any Given 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.
- Constant Hangovers – If you notice that your spouse is always hungover, 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.
- Drinking Secretly – 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 Addicted Spouse Without Enabling Them
Can a marriage survive drug addiction?
It sounds a simple question, but the answer is far too complicated and unique to individual circumstances to provide a simple “yes” or “no” response. Clearly, it can, as millions of existing marriages can testify, but there needs to be a lot of understanding and patience on your part. Of course, there also needs to be the desire to quit and then abstain from your addicted spouse.
If your spouse is struggling with an addiction, there are several yet vital things that you may want to consider doing solely for yourself. When you actually begin to help yourself, you are also helping your addicted spouse – a kind of “knock-on” effect.
Sadly, many close relationships with an addict only survive because the sober spouse is inadvertently “enabling” the addict to continue their addiction in a number of ways, eg. giving them money, not discussing treatment, etc. Spouses do this (often without knowing it) because they are afraid the relationship will change drastically if their partner is finally clean and sober. Here are a number of highly effective ways to positively help your addicted spouse, importantly, without enabling them:
- 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 of codependency 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.
The “Do’s and Don’ts” of Living with an Addicted Spouse
Dealing with an alcoholic or drug-addicted spouse will have a massive impact on a person’s life – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. As a source of assistance in these troublesome times for you, here are some of the things you should try to do (and those you should avoid doing) when living with an addict, and when trying to discuss their addiction with them. Please remember, in such difficult times, you are never alone.
The following advice applies not only to you – the spouse of an addict – but for anyone else living in the same home – your children, other relatives, and friends.
- DO try to maintain an atmosphere of normality throughout the day. Adhere to your normal family routine as far as possible – work, school, meals and sleep at the normal time each day.
- DO focus on yourself and the others in your household, especially the children. The physical and mental health of yourself and any children needs to be your #1 priority.
- DO learn to step back, and take a breath. Attempting to step in and save or rescue your addicted spouse at every worrying moment does you no good, or them either. Your addicted spouse may very well need a crisis or potential disaster to happen in order for them to recognize that their behavior is unacceptable, and they need to change.
- DO seek outside support. As we said earlier, you are never alone. There are many support groups and other sources of help and assistance available to you. Additionally, have a trusted group of friends who can listen and support you. Lastly, think about joining a support group like Al-Anon, where you get to speak to people who have had very similar experiences with their own family members. Alternatively, you may want to speak to a therapist to help with your own mental health and wellbeing.
- DON’T give up. Remember, you are not alone, and you are more than capable of handling today. Things can get better, and often do.
- DON’T focus all your time and energy on trying to control or bring an end to your partner’s substance abuse. Try to realize that if they can’t control it or deal with it, then neither can you. Additionally, you must understand that withdrawing from alcohol or certain drugs can be highly dangerous (even fatal) without proper medical supervision. Encourage them to speak to their GP or get in contact with a specialist treatment center to discuss treatment.
- DON’T spend your time and energy on covering up or making excuses for your addicted spouse. It isn’t your responsibility to help them try and keep their abuse a secret.
- DON’T remain in a home if you feel that you and others, particularly children, in your household are either physically or emotionally unsafe. Seek immediate professional support – don’t try to handle the situation yourself.
Obviously, it would be far better if your addicted spouse would agree to treatment. However, getting them to that point is usually a major obstacle in itself, and can even prompt bursts of anger and outrage, especially if they believe that they are not even addicted in the first place. To that end, here is the right way (and, of course, the wrong way) to address their need for treatment when speaking with them about it.
- DO carry out research beforehand, and educate yourself about the different aspects of addiction. This knowledge can then subsequently help you when explaining the types of behavior and signs that are concerning you. It will also help you to identify and understand any attempts your addicted spouse might make to deceive or undermine you. As you are already aware to some degree, addicts develop a whole new skill set when it comes to ensuring their addiction continues.
- DO research the addiction treatment that is available in your locality, area, and state. Therefore, if your partner decides that maybe it is the right time to think about getting treatment, you can show them that the professional support they require is available to them close by.
- DO have the conversation when they are sober – definitely not when they are high or drunk. That way, they are far more likely to listen to what you have to say, to understand it, and to be more rational in their response.
- DO let them know that you love them, you still care and you will be there to support them through their addiction recovery – every step of the way.
- DO tell them exactly the impact that their drug use or drinking is having on you and the others within the home, especially the children. By keeping this part of the conversation centered on yourself and others, it can help them to understand the full emotional impact of their substance abuse.
- DON’T even attempt to talk to them when they’re high or drunk. They are likely to become defensive, and then angry.
- DON’T shout, judge or blame – it never gets anyone anywhere, especially when talking to an addict. Yes, their behavior and its impact have made you and others angry and sad, but you need to understand that your addicted spouse will also be feeling fear, guilt, and shame. Approach the conversation as positive as possible.
- DON’T accept or acknowledge that you are the reason for their substance abuse, and DON’T accept or acknowledge any requests from them for you to change your own behavior. An addict will lie and deceive, so if they say they’ll cut down if you pressure them so much, it’s not – repeat NOT – going to happen. This was never your fault, and you are certainly not to blame for their actions or subsequent behavior. They would still be a drug addict or an alcoholic whether you’re there or not.
- DON’T have unrealistic expectations, even if they say that they are going to cut down or actually stop. Allow for a period of reflection after the conversation, and continue to express yourself as before – openly and honestly. If they want to change, and to seek treatment, firstly, get in contact with their GP, and make an appointment together to discuss the options available to your addicted spouse.
If All Else Fails, Should You Consider the D-Word: Divorce?
Watching someone lose themselves to the depths of an addiction is one of the hardest things anyone will ever have to face, and watching as a spouse is even harder. However, the question, “Should you consider divorce?” is equally as difficult. As simple advice to a highly complex question, you need to consider the following areas:
Are They Trying or Stalling?
Addiction is a highly personal issue, and no matter how much it hurts to see someone suffer and ruin their life, there is nothing that you can do to change their attitude. They need to come to that decision themselves. Agreeing to treatment is vital – it shows they are prepared to try, and so deserve at least your support to do so.
However, if your spouse isn’t trying, eg. agreeing even to a doctor’s appointment, or actively missing appointments, they are not ready to quit and will continue to put the addiction over you. This can be a painful truth, but it isn’t your fault.
As discussed earlier, codependent behavior is the process of remaining with a substance abuser, even after it has been shown that their substance abuse takes priority over their life, and therefore, yours. You need to ask yourself this question, and answer it honestly and truthfully:
“Are you staying with your spouse, because you are convinced they will get better and things will somehow get back to how they were before, even without seeking treatment?”
If the answer is “Yes,” you are not helping your spouse whatsoever, and they will never recover from their addiction. In fact, their life will be much sadder and much shorter because of this.
How Northpoint Washington Can Help You
First, it’s important to remember your addicted spouse isn’t who they used to be. Addiction is one of those conditions that dramatically changes a person’s character because their focus is now only on fulfilling their physical and mental need for their substance of choice. Secondly, it’s vital that you remember you are not alone – professional help and guidance is simply a phone call away.
Northpoint Washington is recognized as one of the best and highly rated addiction rehab centers in the Seattle area, and the state of Washington. We offer a completely individualized addiction recovery plan that is catered to your specific addiction, background, and mental health needs. Located in Edmonds, Washington, only 17 miles away from Seattle, our specialists are available right now to assist you – simply call (844) 832-2796.
Our Treatment Programs:
Residential Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment & Specialized Outpatient Program
Our residential facility offers a 28-day detox and rehab treatment, which is then followed by a specialized outpatient treatment strategy to assist clients to maintain their newfound cleanliness and sobriety. During the initial 28-day stay, clients are able to focus 100% on their recovery, and are provided with:
- A safe & supportive environment
- Professional medical support 24/7
- Medicated Assisted Treatment
- Dual diagnosis to address co-occurring mental health issues
- Education and the tools to minimize the possibility of relapse
Click here to find out more about Drug Addiction Treatment
Click here to find out more about Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Specialized Addiction, Trauma & Mental Health Treatment Program for Military Personnel, Veterans & First Responders
Furthermore, we offer “Frontline” – a specialized treatment program for military personnel, veterans, and first responders, such as the police, fire service, paramedics and ER staff, who are suffering from addiction, trauma and/or mental health disorders and behavioral conditions. Using evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders, trauma, & mental health conditions, our program offers:
- Inpatient, outpatient & aftercare programs
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions
- Addressing the symptoms of trauma & PTSD
- Medication-assisted therapy (as needed)
- Individual, group & family therapy
- Regular communication with commanders & NCO’s