In the United States, there are over 12 million alcoholics, at least 2 million cocaine addicts, another 2 million people with gambling addiction, and 8 million people with eating disorders. These are not the only addictions either. Gaming, shopping, sex, pornography, and opioid addictions ruin lives too.

It is important to remember that these tens of millions of Americans with addictions do not operate in a vacuum. Their actions ripple outward and affect many people, starting with their spouses. If your spouse is an addict, the first thing to know is that you are far from alone. Divorce is not always necessary to get through a spouse’s addiction, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. Here are some other things you should know if your spouse has a drug addiction.

What Is Codependency?

First of all, codependency is not weakness or “giving up.” It is, in many cases, a survival mechanism, something spouses do in order to survive in a family that is rocked by addiction. Codependency is a set of maladaptive behaviors that spouses and others develop in order to try to control the relationship. Of course, no one can control an entire relationship; breaking the cycle of codependency requires that you recognize this.

Addressing codependency requires that the codependent spouse address his or her own needs and give up the need to “rescue” a spouse. In some cases, a person’s refusal to call in sick for the drug-addicted spouse, or simply learning to take care of one’s own needs rather than always putting the addict first can help start the recovery process. Codependency, by contrast, can indefinitely postpone recovery.

Divorce Is Not Always an Addict’s “Rock Bottom”

Is divorce the only way a sober spouse can move beyond their partner’s addiction? Sometimes, the answer is yes, and there is no need to feel guilty about doing what is necessary to protect oneself and one’s children. While some addicts’ recovery can be prompted by the threat of divorce, that is not true of all addicts. In other words, if you choose to pursue divorce, do so because it is necessary to your and your children’s well-being, not because you think it will help jump-start your partner’s addiction recovery.

For many addicts, even divorce and losing custody of children is not “rock bottom,” and if this is your spouse, it is not your fault, though your spouse may try to pin blame you. The addict is the only person who can make that ultimate decision that it is time to pursue treatment for addiction, and you cannot control the conditions that will prompt that decision.

On the other hand, you may decide that divorce is not the route you want to take for personal reasons. If so, it is important to realize that you have a right to make that life decision as well. In the event that you feel that you can maintain a strong relationship with your addicted spouse, you may want to consider the benefits of family therapy to help heal the wounds that addiction may have caused in your marriage. This is one way that you and your spouse can move forward toward a more healthy relationship.

When Intervention Is Necessary

Interventions are difficult, but sometimes there is no other option for the spouse of someone with a drug addiction. Help is available for interventions, and sometimes the intervention delivers the necessary focus the addict needs to begin changing his or her situation. Interventions should be pre-planned and participants should be well-prepared to lovingly confront the addict with the consequences that addiction has wrought.

Normally, an intervention includes a pre-arranged treatment plan that begins with detox and proceeds to rehabilitation. It is also crucial that you, as the spouse of someone with a drug addiction, take care of your needs in the time surrounding the intervention, because you will be required to demonstrate great strength during this time.

Taking Care of Yourself and Your Boundaries Is Essential

Whether or not divorce becomes necessary, and whether or not an intervention is needed, it is absolutely essential that you take care of yourself and your own boundaries, particularly if you are raising children. If you do not have the resources for individual counseling, groups like Nar-Anon and Al-Anon can be tremendously helpful with establishing boundaries and learning how to lovingly detach from your spouse’s addictive behaviors. Even small communities usually have Al-Anon meetings on a regular basis, and they can be wonderful for keeping you grounded and focused on what is important when you are married to someone with an addiction.

If your spouse has a drug addiction, you are not doomed to a life of abuse or divorce. Help is available both for your spouse and for you. You cannot make the decision to start recovery; only your spouse can do that. However,  you do have the power to protect yourself and your children and to set and maintain boundaries so that you can have a productive life despite your spouse’s addiction. If you would like to learn more about addiction, or services available for loved ones of addicts, we encourage you to learn about our admissions.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.