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According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), and Psychology Today, over 20 million Americans battle with the use of drugs and/or alcohol. Research estimates that there may be as many as 12 million spouses struggling with a partner who does.

In my work with couples, this is a topic that I see frequently. Many times, the first question I get is whether the spouse is an addict or not. Addiction is more than drinking frequently. There is a difference between substance or alcohol abuse and addiction. Both have negative effects in relationships.

Addiction presents the following traits and behaviors:

  1. Addiction includes both the use of substances and engagement of activities. Addiction can be manifested through the use of alcohol or drugs (including nicotine and prescribes medication), as well as food. It can also manifest through gambling, sex, excessive spending/ shopping, pornography.

  2. The thought of engaging in the activity or using of substance becomes central to the individual. This means that the individual’s day will be centered in the thought of using or engaging in the activity. For example: A smoker might plan his work meetings around 15 minute cigarette breaks. An alcoholic may make sure to carry alcohol with him and disguise it when drinking coffee at work, and make sure there is a liquor store on the way home, as well as planning of social activities where drinking is acceptable. Financially, it may mean that the addict may get paid and use most of the paycheck to finance the habit and worry next about other important bills.

  3. Addiction leads to consequences. Addiction affects one or more important areas of a person’s life. Those can be relationships with family members and friends, parenting, financial burdens, job performance issues, legal ramifications, health issues, as well as mental health issues (anxiety, depression, and many more).

  4. The use of the substance is repeated despite consequences. Something unique about addiction is that negative consequences of the addictive behavior are not particularly obvious to the addict, and if they are, they are not considered during the moment that the engagement in the activity or use of substance takes place. This happens in a repeated fashion, without resulting in restrictive or abstaining from the addictive behavior, as other individuals may do. For example, if someone drinks too much and gets a DUI, a non addict may learn the lesson and never drink and drive again. An addict may not change their behavior after a DUI.

  5. Addiction continues because it was, or is, pleasurable and/or valuable. The focus of continuing with the addictive behavior is on experiencing pleasure or relief.

If you suspect your partner is struggling with addiction, here are 5 things you should consider:

  1. Educate yourself: Remember the person you fell in love with? He or she still exists, but now they have a disease that has altered their brain. Addiction is a progressive disease that can get worse as time goes by. Financial strain, legal problems, lying, cheating, social withdrawal, communication issues, episodes of aggression or violence, unpredictable mood swings, and an incapacity to consistently fulfill life's obligations which cause difficulties at home and with loved ones.

  2. Stop Living in Denial: Too often, the people closest to the addict/alcoholic don’t really want to admit that there is an issue. They minimize or justify destructive behaviors or ignore the evidence that is right in front of them.

  3. Stop Enabling the Behavior: You might not have a drinking or substance abuse problem yourself, but if you are buying the drugs or alcohol for him/her or partaking in the activity you are enabling your partner to keep going. Are there other ways you might be enabling the behavior? Such as taking care of responsibilities that are of your partner’s? Covering his addictive behaviors from family, friends, or colleagues? Amongst others….

  4. Stage an intervention: In the best case desirable scenario, the intervention works the way it is supposed to and your spouse goes to treatment. If your partner decides to move forward with treatment, support him/her, have faith that he/she will get cured, but either way, create a relapse back up plan. In the state of Florida, a Marchmen Act can be organized so that treatment is mandatory through legal intervention.

  5. Take care of yourself: Make sure you and your family are safe and leave if you have to. Joining a support group for spouses of addicts also helps. The journey of being in a relationship with an addict is delicate. Making sure that the non-addict partner maintains strong boundaries to protect herself/himself is very important.

If you find yourself wondering how to proceed, consulting with a trained marriage and addiction counselor could be a helpful resource. Give us a call at 954-903-1676 for a free consultation to find out more.

Your therapy friend,


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