Being a partner of someone who has an active substance use disorder (SUD), or who is in recovery from one, can surface many emotional and interpersonal challenges. If you have not directly experienced a substance use problem in your lifetime, you may take the consequences of your partner’s SUD personally from time to time. You may wonder how their substance use has gotten this extreme, or wonder why they initially started using substances in the first place.
Wherever you stand, it is important to recognize that you are not alone in your questions and concerns. Watching your spouse struggle with addiction is not an easy experience for anyone. Luckily, there are things that you can do to help increase your level of understanding when it comes to what your partner is going through. As you work to grow compassion for your partner, it is essential that you become educated on the facts about addiction. With education, you can work to create realistic expectations for your partner in your relationship as well as engage with their treatment experience to the best of your ability.
Debunking the Myths About Addiction
There are several myths about addiction that many people consider to be facts. These so-called “facts” originally developed from decades of misconception and lack of education about how SUD functions in the brain. Misconception and misunderstanding are what lead to stigmas and stereotypes, and many of these stigmas are still being adopted today.
By understanding these myths, you can better understand what your partner is truly going through.
Myth #1. Addiction is a choice
While an individual’s initial decision to use substances may be a choice, addiction is not voluntary. Over time, the continued use of drugs or alcohol actually changes brain chemistry to the point where the brain is motivating substance-using behavior. When substance use is repeated, the shift from voluntary drug use to compulsive drug use happens quickly.
Myth #2. An individual must be willing to change for drug treatment to be effective
Most of the time, individuals seek out drug treatment because it is court-ordered or because a loved one urged them to do so. Rarely does an individual choose to seek out treatment solely on their own. With that being said, most treatment facilities now offer psychotherapy approaches that are designed to motivate change. Motivational interviewing (MI) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are two approaches that can help individuals find the desire to change their unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, especially those connected to repeated substance use behaviors.
Frequently Asked Questions by Spouses
As you work to increase your knowledge surrounding addiction, you may come across several questions about the substance use of your spouse. By answering these questions, you can achieve more clarity and understanding of the addiction and recovery process.
Question #1. What are the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction?
If your spouse has an undiagnosed addiction or is in recovery from a SUD, you may want to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of addiction so that you can better recognize it in your loved one (and in yourself). Individuals with SUD often downplay their problems and actively work to hide their symptoms. If you are concerned, look for the following warning signs in your spouse.
Behavioral warning signs may include:
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behavior
- Frequently getting into legal trouble
- Neglecting important responsibilities at work, home, or school
- Unexplained financial problems
- Increased drug tolerance
- Loss of control over substance use
- Loss of interest in activities once found enjoyable
- Using drugs to self-medicate
Psychological warning signs may include:
- Seemingly fearful, anxious, or paranoid with no direct cause
- Lack of motivation
- Sudden mood swings
- Increased aggression and irritability
- Unexplained changes in personality or attitude
Question #2. How do I voice my concerns to my spouse regarding their substance use?
Before you voice your concerns to your spouse, spend time researching addiction. Learn about the different reasons why people use drugs, the risk factors that increase an individual’s likeliness of developing an addiction, and the most effective treatment approaches for treating SUD. All of this information is helpful when learning how to voice educated concerns as well as potentially holding an intervention for your loved one.
When you are ready to talk with your spouse, introduce the conversation from a place of compassion. Ask your spouse about their experience and feelings regarding their own drug use. If they do not see any problem with it, you may have to carefully point out warning signs that you have seen surface. Whether or not they acknowledge that they have a problem, keep the tone of the conversation as compassionate and supportive as possible. Offer your time and support to help get them connected with community resources and programs to start their recovery journey. If they are hesitant, encourage the two of you to get connected with a family treatment program to help kickstart your healing journey together.
It is important to remember that all of us have limits. Especially when you have a spouse with a SUD, it is essential that you create boundaries with your loved one to promote a level of respect that the two of you both deserve. Although you are supposed to support your spouse through their recovery journey, you have to honor your own needs as well. If necessary, consider seeking support through community programs with others that are going through the same experience as you are.
Having a spouse with a SUD can be emotionally challenging. Especially if you have not experienced addiction yourself, you may have many questions about the truth of addiction and recovery. It is important that you do your own research about the process of addiction and recovery so that you can better understand what your partner is experiencing. Addiction is not voluntary as repeated substance use alters an individual’s brain chemistry. Spero Recovery is a residential treatment facility that offers gender-specific programs for men and women. Our mission is to help improve the quality of life of both those in recovery as well as the lives of their family and community members. We know how overwhelming it can be to have a spouse struggling with addiction. We are here to help your loved one achieve long-lasting recovery. For more information, call Spero Recovery Center today at (303) 351-7888.