How to Help Your Spouse or Partner with Substance Abuse

Living with a partner with addiction presents unique challenges and difficulties in your relationship. Intimacy, trust, and communication are all impacted when one or both partners struggle with substance abuse.1 When you love someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may wonder how to help your spouse with addiction.

This guide can help you identify the signs of drug and alcohol addiction, learn how to navigate the difficult conversation about your partner’s substance abuse, and know what steps you can take to help your partner find professional addiction treatment.

Signs Your Husband or Wife is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

It may not be immediately apparent when your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. While it’s important to note that only a qualified professional can diagnose a substance use disorder — the clinical term for addiction — recognizing the signs can be a helpful first step in getting your husband or wife with addiction the treatment they need.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) outlines specific criteria for the diagnosis of a substance use disorder.2 These include:

  • The desire to cut back or stop using drugs or alcohol but being unable to do so.
  • Substances are used in larger quantities or for longer periods of time than intended.
  • A significant amount of time is invested in getting, using, or recovering from the use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Strong urges or desires to use substances (cravings).
  • An inability to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school as the result of using drugs or alcohol.
  • Persistent or reoccurring social or interpersonal issues caused or aggravated by substance use.
  • The reduction or stopping of important social, recreational, or occupational activities due to substance use.
  • Substance use occurs during dangerous or hazardous situations, such as while driving a car.
  • Drug or alcohol use continues despite knowing that is causing a physical or psychological problem (or making it worse).
  • Larger amounts of a substance are needed to feel its effects (tolerance).
  • Acute discomfort when a substance is stopped or cut back (withdrawal).

Helping Your Spouse with Alcohol or Drug Addiction

It’s only natural that you want to help your spouse find the addiction treatment that they need. However, it’s important to understand that addiction is a complex medical disorder that changes the way the brain functions,3 making it extremely difficult for someone to stop using drugs or alcohol — even when they want to — without specialized treatment.

Until your husband or wife is ready to get treatment, there are things that you can do that can help you both, including:

  • Setting firm boundaries. It is not always easy to establish and maintain boundaries, but they are important for letting your loved one know what you will and won’t tolerate. Examples of boundaries include not allowing drugs or alcohol in the house (including using substances in the home), and not tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior.
  • Maintaining routines whenever possible. This is especially important if there are children in the home. Sticking to schedules and routines creates stability and helps to minimize the disruptions that are often caused by addiction.
  • Reaching out for help. Living with and loving someone who is struggling with addiction can be an isolating experience. But reaching out to a trusted friend or family member, or getting into counseling can be an invaluable source of support for you.
  • Learning about addiction and treatment options. Taking the time to learn about how addiction affects your loved one can make it easier to understand the disorder. Investigating treatment options for your partner can help you prepare to talk to them about getting help.

Supporting a Partner without Enabling

Enabling occurs when a partner’s actions minimize the impact of the consequences of addiction on the partner with a substance abuse disorder.1 Unfortunately, enabling a partner’s addiction only perpetuates the cycle.

For many partners who want to know how to help their partner stop using drugs or drinking, it can be difficult to know where being supportive turns into enabling. Common enabling behaviors include:

  • Making excuses for your partner to family, friends, or their employer.
  • Ignoring that your partner may be struggling with substance abuse (denial).
  • Covering for your partner by paying their bills, calling them out from work, or cleaning up after them.
  • Helping them to get drugs or alcohol.
  • Using drugs or alcohol with your partner.
  • Bailing them out of jail.

How to Cope with a Spouse Struggling with Addiction

Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because it impacts the whole family, not just the person addicted to drugs or alcohol.4 Taking care of yourself is an essential component of supporting your spouse with addiction; you can’t help someone if your own needs are unmet. Helpful strategies for taking care of yourself include:

  • Join a support group, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Co-Dependents Anonymous.
  • Speak to a therapist.
  • Ensure that you’re exercising and eating a well-balanced diet.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take time to enjoy hobbies, spend time with friends or family, or participate in any other restorative activity.

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Their Substance Abuse

Having a conversation with your spouse or partner about their substance abuse can be an incredibly difficult and emotional experience. However, being prepared ahead of time can make the conversation go more smoothly.5 If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, some helpful tips include:

  • Write down what you want to say to help you be direct and stay focused during the conversation.
  • Focus on the addiction, not the person. Avoid using stigmatizing language, such as junkie or drunk.
  • Choose a comfortable place and time when your spouse is not using drugs or alcohol or under the influence.
  • Use active listening and encourage your partner to share their feelings.
  • Offer your support, whether that’s helping them find treatment, touring facilities, checking if your insurance covers addiction treatment, or looking into ways to pay for rehab without insurance.

How to Get Your Spouse into Rehab

While you cannot force your husband or wife to go to rehab there are things that you can do to encourage them to seek addiction treatment. Talking to your spouse about their substance abuse, researching inpatient facilities, and helping them navigate the rehab admissions process, are all great ways to provide encouragement and support.

For many individuals struggling with addiction, not knowing what to expect in rehab can make the idea of going to treatment for drug or alcohol addiction incredibly scary. You can alleviate some of their worries by taking the time to learn about the different treatment options available for your loved one. These include:

Call us at today to find out more about Greenhouse Treatment Center’s addiction treatment options and our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Grand Prairie, TX. Our team of admissions navigators is available to answer your questions and help you get your loved one the help they need to begin their recovery journey.


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