6 Key Strategies for Couples Coping with Substance Abuse

Whatever the substance: alcohol, prescription medications, or street drugs, substance abuse can wreak havoc on any relationship.

The use of drugs and alcohol can turn into substance abuse once a person allows the substance to become the focus of their lives. Whether it is intermittent abuse or actual addiction, couples dealing with the consequences of the problem need strategies to help get them through the minefield that it creates.

What happens if you hope for the best without a coping strategy?

If you make a conscious choice not to deal head on with a substance abuse problem in your marriage, you run the real risk of it becoming even worse.

Bad behavior stops when something or someone decides to stop it. Left on its own, substance abuse tends to get worse.

If your relationship has been declining or gotten corrupted by one or both of you as a result of substance abuse and you want to change that trajectory, try using some of the following strategies.

Try These 6 Key Strategies for Couples Coping with Substance Abuse

1. Become More Aware

Substance abuse tends to distort reality for many couples. That is, the penchant for normalizing the use of substances in everyday life is likely to lead to a regular habit or pattern, which feeds on itself.

Once a habit forms, it becomes part of the rituals of one’s life. The use of denial, or the tendency to reject the idea that one is doing something they should not be doing, can be tough to counter.

To face or fight denial, you must both decide to stop making excuses and tolerating the bad habits that are destroying your relationship.

To cope well, look closely at what is really happening, ask some hard questions, and tell yourselves the truth.

Admit and accept how cycles of bad behavior and inaction are perpetuating the problem. Look clearly at the impact that substance abuse has had on your communication and your connection to each other.

2. Identify and Resolve Substance Related-relationship Problems

A helpful strategy to reverse the direction of substance abuse is to make a real list of the ways that substance abuse has affected your lives.

Have there been legal issues? Have there been work issues? Have your finances been negatively affected? What about your health? Are obligations at work being unmet?

If you can address these questions clearly, honestly and together as a team, there is a better chance of overcoming substance abuse.

3. Change Problematic Relationship Rituals

Reevaluate how you and your partner connect.

Does that first beer, glass of wine or hard liquor turn into a drinking marathon? Do you feel it necessary to become stoned or drunk in order to relax or enjoy your evening?

What once may have been an occasional indulgence may have now become a regular ritual. The formation of a bad habit can creep up on you, and, in order to break a habit, you need to substitute something to take its place.

Try something more active like going to the gym or taking a walk around the block or even having sex. Have a conversation, watch a movie together or even visit friends or family.

The goal is to interrupt negative patterns, which may have once been a way to connect but now are having the opposite effect and replace them with better ones.

4. Expand Your Outlook and Enjoy Life as a Couple

Don’t let substance abuse define your union. Infuse your life with more novel and enjoyable activities to engage as a couple.

Support perspectives and accomplishments that you can develop in environments away from the influence of the substances. Learning unconventional skills, joining sports teams, or becoming members of community service organizations can boost interest in life and your relationship.

5. Deal with Relationship Deal-breakers

Substance abuse can lead to serious relationship breakdown, extreme behavior, as well as violence.

In this country, according to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, marriage and alcohol do not mix. Findings show a link between the rise of alcohol consumption and a 20 percent uptick in divorces.

Additionally, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence reports that half of men participating in domestic violence intervention programs also deal with substance abuse challenges. The center also notes that a spouse is more likely to become a victim of domestic violence by their partner when alcohol is involved.

If substance abuse is dangerous or life threatening in your marriage or relationship, the wisest course of action is to separate immediately. The abuser must seek help and demonstrate productive recovery before readdressing your life together in a safe couples or marriage counseling setting.

6. Seek Support

You and your partner need not cope with addiction in isolation. Despite what guilt and shame are telling you, knowledgeable, consistent assistance is invaluable for struggling couples.

To survive the pull of drugs and alcohol, a susceptible partner often needs customized, comprehensive treatment and people around him or her that will take a real interest in his or her accountability and recovery. This need not fall on their partner’s shoulders alone.

Keep in mind, the non-addicted partner often needs support too. Codependency, enabling, or avoidance may have been coping mechanisms in the past. It is vital that both partners learn how to be there for the other appropriately and helpfully.

Guidance regarding self-care and meeting their own emotional and mental needs require time and attention too. Substance abuse is stressful, possibly even traumatic for loved ones.

To seek out individual therapy, support groups, and marriage counseling from an experienced therapist trained in addiction counseling is prudent. You and your partner can find a safe space or spaces to work through the parts of your relationship that hinder recovery.

In addition, you can rediscover and build up those areas that support deeper connection, compassion, and understanding to help restore trust and hope in your union.

Click here to learn more about the treatment of substance abuse and addictions.

About the Author

Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He specializes in treating addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and work-life balance. He also works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity, careers, and intimacy.

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