At the same time, it’s important that you react carefully. Addicts can be unpredictable and violent. Enabling and codependency are very real risks for anyone taking care of an addict. And, building trust is crucial to eventually getting your spouse into treatment, which will be necessary for their recovery. Taking the right steps to help your addicted spouse will help them on their road to recovery. However, you can’t “help” them. They have to help themselves. Recovering from a substance use disorder is a long and difficult path that requires personal motivation, willpower, and dedication.
The following tips will help you take the right steps when approaching your addicted spouse.
Learning About Addiction
Most people don’t know much about addiction. If your spouse is addicted, that should change. Substance use disorders are pervasive, but public stigma and misinformation still cloud common judgement, pushing people to see addicts as lazy, self-victimizing, and harmful to society. Instead, most are self-medicating or using alcohol to solve their problems, no one plans to become addicted, and addiction is as real a behavioral disorder as bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression. Taking the time to learn about this disorder, how it affects your loved one, and what they are likely to be going through will help you to approach getting them help with a better understanding of what they need to get better.
You can start by attending groups such as Al-Anon (a 12-step group for families of addicts) and SMART Recovery (which does have family groups meetings), or calling SAMHSA for information on substance abuse at 1-800-662-4357. The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to make the right decisions in regard to talking to your partner, looking for rehab centers, and seeking out the right treatment options for your and their needs.
It’s also useful to know that your partner’s health is protected. The Affordable Care Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act each offer stipulations for care and treatment of addiction.
- Insurance must cover treatment, although what percentage and which facilities is up to the provider
- You cannot lose your job for seeking treatment
- You can request up to 90 days of no-questions-asked unpaid leave from work for medical treatment
Your partners workplace may also have programs in place to help them seek treatment, which you may want to learn about and take advantage of if available.
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Living with an alcoholic is difficult, demanding, and stressful. You’ll likely find yourself picking up their responsibilities, covering for them, and dealing with poor health, poor decisions, legal and fiscal problems, and inappropriate or hurtful behavior. Setting boundaries is one way to ensure that you have the space to remain healthy, to set limits, and to realize when enough is enough. However, boundaries also mean setting hard rules and sticking to them. Going “you can’t drink in the house” is likely a bad idea (because it forces your spouse to drink at a bar or with friends and risk driving home inebriated) but may be essential if your spouse becomes violent or dangerous.
In most cases, boundaries should revolve around your investment, your ability to take space for yourself, and responsibilities. Some examples might include:
- I won’t lie for you or cover up your addiction. I am not ashamed of it and I am not willing to compromise my morals for you
- I won’t take on your responsibilities because I cannot do so in a healthy way
- I will not stay up or take care of you when it compromises my own health, stress, or ability to function in my responsibilities or work
Boundaries should reflect the situation, the relationship, and the level of escalation. However, if you set boundaries, it’s important that you follow up if they are broken.
Approaching Without Judgement
Most addicts are accustomed to social stigma and may even guilt trip themselves over their inability to quit drinking. If you approach with judgement, chances are, they will zone out, get defensive, and stop listening. This is especially true if your spouse hasn’t yet admitted to themselves that they have a drinking problem.
Instead, you should approach them without judgement. Talk about their problems, explain that you don’t know what they are going through, but you know it’s hard and that it is a mental disorder they can’t help. Listen.
Why? Building trust is the first step to getting your loved one to a place where they are willing to trust that you can get them help. Simply talking, offering support, and being there will help.
Getting Professional Help
Substance use disorders are a mental health disorder. They affect the body through physical dependence, the brain through changes to the central nervous system and various neurotransmitter receptors (largely dopamine and GABBA receptors in the case of alcohol), and they affect the mind through behavioral dependence. This results in seeking behavior, cravings, and behavior patterns resulting in alcohol use, even if your loved one successfully quits drinking on their own. If your loved one has quit drinking before, managed for long enough for the physical symptoms of withdrawal to go away, and then started again, the reason likely aligns with behavioral addiction.
Your loved one needs professional help in the form of behavioral therapy (typically CBT), counseling, group therapy, and long-term support to ensure they have the tools to build a new, substance-free life. Without that treatment, they will likely continue to relapse. Getting your loved one into treatment can be difficult, but you can attempt multiple tactics.
- Offer rehab from the basis of “I want you to be better”
- Offer to attend rehab with them and go to family therapy sessions
- Be supportive of your loved one throughout, even if they aren’t ready
- Keep in mind this isn’t about getting your loved one “back”, they will never be the person they were before substance use disorder. Recovery is about them and who they can be in the future.
Depending on your relationship, your situation, and what you’ve tried before, asking your loved one to go to rehab can range from a simple discussion where you outline the options and why to a full-on intervention with professional help and multiple family and friends involved. Once they do agree, it’s important you have help available immediately, so they can go into a detox program before circumstance and the nature of alcoholism changes their minds.
Living with an alcoholic spouse isn’t easy but you can help by offering support, remaining supportive, and working to get them professional help.
If you have questions about how to help your alcoholic spouse, or have other questions concerning addiction for yourself or a loved one, contact us at Truvida Recovery. Call 877-228-1102 to speak in confidence with an experienced treatment advisor now.