How to Help Your Spouse With Substance Use Disorder

Having a partner or spouse with a substance use disorder affects everyone in the family. Knowing how to help a spouse with addiction can be difficult, especially if they are not ready. One way that you can provide your support is by offering to assist them in finding a treatment program.

Read on to learn how to identify addiction signs in a partner, how to help them find treatment, and what you can expect once your partner is in treatment.

Substance Use Disorders: Signs Your Partner May Be Struggling with Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disorder where a person continues to use drugs or alcohol even though it causes significant problems in their life.1 These problems may include legal, financial, health, and significant relationship issues.2

When diagnosing an addiction, medical professionals use the term “substance use disorder.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists specific criteria for diagnosing substance use disorder. Some of the signs of addiction criteria include:3

  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • Continuing to use the substance regardless of interpersonal or social problems being caused or worsened by the effects of the substance.
  • Persistently expressing a desire to lessen or regulate use of the substance and being unable to decrease or discontinue use.
  • Taking more of the substance or for a longer period of time than initially intended.

It’s important to recognize that although substance use disorder is a chronic disease, it can be effectively treated once identified.4

Identifying Signs of Substance Use Disorder in Your Partner or Spouse

People with addictions often show signs that are noticeable to others, especially close family members. These signs may vary depending on the person. Some signs of substance use disorder that you may notice in a partner or spouse include:5

  • Sudden mood swings.
  • Changes in personality.
  • Low motivation.
  • Episodes of anxiety, fear, or paranoia without reason.
  • Episodes of unusual excitement or hyperactivity.
  • Failing to keep up with responsibilities, like attending work or maintaining the household.
  • Aggression or irritability.
  • Changes in sleeping habits.
  • Changes in appetite or weight.
  • Using drugs or alcohol in dangerous situations.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Changes in friends or hobbies.
  • Secretive behavior.
  • Legal or financial issues.
  • Increased conflict in relationships.

How to Help an Addicted Spouse: Enabling vs. Supporting

As a spouse or partner, you might be wondering how to support your loved one without enabling their substance use disorder. Enabling happens when you do something for a person with an addiction that keeps them from experiencing the consequences of their behavior.2

Examples of enabling include:

  • Putting the other person’s needs before your own wellbeing.
  • Giving the person money to buy drugs or alcohol.
  • Making excuses or lying for them.
  • Failing to hold the person accountable for their actions.
  • Denying that there is a problem.

Supporting, on the other hand, involves recognizing that a loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder and making an effort to help them. It also means allowing them to experience the consequences of their actions. When a person sees that their behavior has consequences, they are more likely to change.6

Examples of supporting include:

  • Acknowledging the problem.
  • Expressing your concerns in a kind and non-judgmental manner.
  • Maintaining healthy limits and boundaries.
  • Holding the person accountable for their actions.
  • Encouraging a loved one to get treatment.
  • Taking care of your own needs.

Professional treatment can help your loved one recover from addiction and live a healthy and productive life.7 The type of addiction treatment that is best for your partner will depend on the severity of their addiction:

  • Medical detox helps a person safely and comfortably withdraw from drugs and alcohol under the supervision of medical professionals.8
  • Inpatient rehab for addiction provides 24-hour support focused on helping a person build motivation and tools for recovery.7
  • Outpatient rehab for addiction offers group therapy sessions but does not include housing. People may attend treatment during the day and then return home or to a sober living facility. There are different levels of outpatient treatment, including partial hospitalization rehab and intensive outpatient drug rehab.

Finding a Treatment Center for a Partner or Spouse

Offering to help your partner or spouse find a treatment center is one way you can show your support. Whether you look together or do research on your own and present it to them, offering your help can make the process feel less overwhelming.

When choosing an addiction treatment program, you may want to consider:

  • Levels of care available
  • Location of the center
  • Amenities offered
  • Whether the program assists with aftercare planning
  • Types of therapy offered
  • If the program is accredited by an organization like the Joint Commission or CARF

What Your Partner or Spouse Can Expect from Treatment

Many people wonder what to expect in rehab. Addiction treatment is typically a step-down process, where a person gradually transitions from higher to lower levels of care. For example, they may start with medical detox and then proceed to inpatient rehab, followed by outpatient rehab. If at any point in time a patient requires additional support, stepping up to a more intensive level of care is certainly an option.

The length of time that your loved one will be in treatment depends on their needs. A treatment team will evaluate them and recommend a length of time. Short-term drug detox, month-long rehab, and long-term addiction treatment are all available.

Evidenced-based therapies have been shown to be effective in research studies.9 Typical therapies offered in treatment include:7

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Motivational interviewing.
  • Contingency management.
  • Family or couples therapy.

An admissions navigator can assist you in finding the right treatment for your loved one. To learn more about Florida addiction treatment at Recovery First, call today.

What if a Spouse Refuses to go to Rehab?

Recovery is a choice, so forcing a loved one to go to rehab is not effective. Instead, lead with compassion and patience and avoid judgment.10 If your partner refuses to get help or admit a problem, remember that it is their decision. At the same time, you can and should set boundaries in the relationship.

Boundaries are limits that help protect a relationship and are an important part of a healthy family.2 Consider what boundaries you would like to set in the relationship. For example, you may refuse to get in the car with a spouse who has been drinking or not bail them out of jail if they’ve been arrested. Communicate these boundaries clearly and directly and prepare to enforce them.

Some people may need more time to realize the costs of their addiction. It’s possible that your partner may decide to get help in the future. In the meantime, make sure to take care of yourself and maintain healthy boundaries.

Paying for Addiction Treatment

Cost should never be a barrier to getting treatment. Many people choose to use insurance to pay for rehab. Recovery First is in-network with several different health insurance plans, including:

Federal laws require most health insurance companies that offer coverage for addiction treatment to provide equitable coverage as what the plan provides for medical and surgical benefits.11 This means you may be able to use your insurance to pay for some or all of the costs of treatment.

There are also additional ways to help cover the cost of treatment. Recovery First offers financing options and accepts credit and debits cards as payment. Our team is always available to speak with you about the different payment options and help you come up with a plan.

What to Do When Your Spouse Is in Rehab

A couple sitting across from a therapistSubstance use disorders affect the whole family. Therefore, taking time to support yourself while your partner is in rehab can help you cope with your loved one’s addiction. Participating in your own therapy and engaging in good self-care can help you deal with the challenges of addiction.

Family therapy with your loved one is also important for recovery. Many treatment centers offer family therapy as a part of the program. These sessions can help families understand what to expect while a loved one is in rehab.

Support groups are available for family members dealing with a loved one’s addiction. These groups are free and run by a peer.

  • Al-Anon and Alateen provide support to family members dealing with alcohol addiction.
  • Nar-Anon is available for families dealing with drug addiction.
  • Co-dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a support group for anyone struggling with codependency who would like to build healthier relationships.

What to Expect After Treatment

Recovery from addiction continues even after treatment is over. A healthy environment plays a significant role in maintaining recovery.12 As your loved one prepares to return home, it is important to talk about how you can work together on creating a safe space.

Any drugs and alcohol should be removed from the home since this could trigger cravings. You should also talk about your partner’s relapse prevention plan and how you can work together.13

Both you and your partner can benefit from continuing therapy and attending support group meetings. Many people attend therapy and meetings for years after treatment is over. Having a good support network in place can help your partner maintain their sobriety and help you heal from their substance use disorder.

Helping a loved one with addiction is difficult. By providing compassion, avoiding judgment, and offering to help them start treatment, you can play a key role in supporting their recovery.

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When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of health insurance plans, VA benefits and more.