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Supporting a Spouse With an Addiction

Jul 8, 2024 | Relationships

Supporting a spouse with an addiction can be challenging and emotional. When faced with the reality of addiction, the impact on your relationship can be profound, making it crucial to find effective support for your partner and to maintain your own well-being.

Supporting a spouse with addiction involves understanding the nature of addiction, providing emotional and practical support, and seeking professional help when necessary. Educating yourself on addiction and the recovery process allows you to empathize with their condition and provide the best support. Participating in the recovery process, maintaining clear boundaries and open communication, being patient, and creating a stable environment for your partner go a long way towards supporting them towards recovery.

Understanding Addiction and What Your Spouse Is Experiencing

Addiction is a persistent and relapsing disorder that involves seeking out substances or activities that cause harm despite the pleasure they provide. It is considered the most severe form of a substance abuse disorder in the DSM-V (the official manual for diagnosing mental disorders), with six or more symptoms required to meet diagnosis. These symptoms include:

  • Impaired Control
    • Using more of a substance than intended, or more often.
    • Not being able to stop or cut down despite wanting to.
  • Social Problems
    • Avoiding responsibilities and relationships due substance misuse.
    • Not participating in activities one previously enjoyed due to the substance.
    • Not being able to complete everyday tasks due to substance misuse.
  • Risky Use
    • Using a substance in risky settings
    • Continuing to use a substance despite known negative health effects.
  • Dependence
    • Gaining tolerance to the substance
    • Having withdrawals when not using the substance

It’s essential to understand that addiction is not a personal weakness or moral failing. It is a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward system and has lasting effects on brain structure and function. Substances that release dopamine (and other “feel-good” neurotransmitters) provide a reward response in the brain. This response helps us manage stress, cope with difficult situations, and feel motivated to continue behaviors that simulate reward.

Dopamine and other neurotransmitters are essential for our sense of reward or pleasure, but excessive stimulation can lead to a cycle of dependence. Further, addiction causes significant changes in brain structure and function that reinforce reward-seeking behaviors. What often begins as a coping mechanism to manage stress can evolve into a dependency that is difficult to break.

However, the brain is very flexible and not a static organ. Just as the brain changes with addiction, it can heal through recovery and behavior modification. Recovery in a biological sense involves rewiring the brain’s pathways to reduce physical reliance on substances while replacing reward-seeking behaviors with healthier coping strategies. Emotionally, recovery involves acceptance and patience to allow your partner to explore the recovery process without guilt or fear while using boundaries and clear communication to avoid enabling behaviors and set expectations.

Strategies to Support Your Spouse

Supporting your spouse through addiction is not quick or easy, but it will provide a strong support network for them while they engage in the recovery process. Emotionally, it is essential to offer compassion and understanding, acknowledging the challenges they face and addressing their feelings. Providing a nonjudgmental space for them to express their emotions can help build trust and security.

However, it is just as important to establish clear communication, honesty, and boundaries to reinforce accountability. The goal is to aid your spouse through recovery and ensure they stick to the goals they’ve set for themselves. Emotional support without boundaries or accountability can lead to enabling behaviors.

Ultimately, recovery aims to address the coping that addiction provides and replace it with more functional behaviors that provide emotional management without escape. In other words, to provide happiness and reward without the harmful consequences of substance misuse.

Emotional Support

Providing emotional support to your spouse is crucial for their recovery journey. Emotional support involves being present, empathetic, and understanding of their struggles. It’s about creating a safe and non-judgmental space where they can share their feelings and experiences without fear of criticism or shame.

Here are some ways to offer emotional support:

  • Actively Listen: Pay close attention to what your spouse is sharing without interrupting. Show that you understand and validate their feelings.
  • Express Empathy: Acknowledge their pain and struggles and try to see the world from their unique point of view.
  • Give Encouragement: Reinforce their efforts and progress, no matter how small.
  • Be Patient: Be patient and understand that recovery is a long process with many ups and downs.
  • Be Emotionally Available: Be there for them emotionally, stopping what you’re doing and giving them your full attention during when they need you.

Communication Strategies

Effective communication is essential when supporting a spouse with an addiction. Clear, honest, and empathetic communication helps build trust and avoids misunderstandings. Developing good communication ensures that both partners can express their needs constructively.

Here are some communication strategies to support your spouse:

  • Use Open Communication: Encourage regular, transparent discussions about their feelings, progress, and challenges.
  • Set Boundaries: Clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations to prevent misunderstandings and to ensure both partners respect each other’s limits.
  • Practice Accountability: Support is good, but it must be met with accountability to avoid actions that might inadvertently support their addictive behaviors.
  • Practice a Non-Confrontational Approach: When addressing difficult issues or practicing accountability, address issues calmly and respectfully, avoiding aggressive or blaming language that could lead to defensiveness.
  • Use “I” Statements: Use statements like “I feel” or “I notice” to express your concerns without sounding accusatory.

Practical Support

Practical support involves day-to-day actions that reduce responsibilities for your partner so they can focus on recovery without additional stress. This can be as simple as helping with chores around the house or helping stay on top of appointments and counseling meetings. With this support, your partner can focus on recovery without being overwhelmed by everyday challenges.

Some ways to offer practical support include:

  • Manage Household Responsibilities: Take on more household tasks, including chores, handling maintenance/household repairs, and cleaning to alleviate potential burdens and allow your spouse to focus on recovery.
  • Take Care of Yourself: It’s equally important to practice self-care and ensure you have the support you need. Self-care allows you to model what sobriety can look like while ensuring you are emotionally equipped to support your partner.
  • Create a Stable Home Environment: Establish routines and a structured home life to provide predictability and security.
  • Help with Appointments: Assist in scheduling and attending medical or therapy appointments.
  • Provide Transportation: Offer rides to support group meetings or therapy sessions to relieve the burden and hold them accountable. Going to therapy with your spouse, even if you are not directly participating in therapy, also provides essential support.

Professional Support

Addiction is not something you or your spouse need to face alone. Professional support can provide the necessary tools and guidance to navigate the recovery process. Behavioral therapists, in particular, offer recovery support by helping individuals identify and replace harmful coping mechanisms with healthier behaviors. These therapies are designed to address the underlying issues contributing to addiction and offer strategies to manage triggers and stress effectively.

Additionally, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer an empathetic environment where individuals can share their experiences with others who have faced similar challenges while providing community and ongoing support throughout the recovery journey.

If you need immediate assistance, there are hotlines available 24/7 to offer help. Organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provide valuable resources and helplines that can connect you to local treatment options and support services.

Take the Next Step in Supporting Your Spouse With Start My Wellness

Supporting a spouse with addiction involves understanding the nature of addiction, offering emotional and practical support, and maintaining clear communication to ensure accountability throughout the recovery process. Additionally, professional support offers an empathetic and research-backed environment where individuals can explore behavioral and coping strategies on their journey to recovery.

At Start My Wellness, we understand the challenges of supporting a loved one through addiction. Our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to providing comprehensive care tailored to your needs. Our compassionate approach ensures that both you and your spouse receive the support necessary for lasting change.

If you’re ready to take the first step, contact us today at (248)-514-4955 and meet our therapists. We are here to help you navigate this journey with expert care and understanding.


  1. Addiction Policy Forum: DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplified
  2. Harvard Health: What is Addiction?
  3. Harvard Health: Brain Plasticity in Drug Addiction: Burden and Benefit
  4. Addiction Help: Addiction
  5. Start My Wellness: Reclaiming Control: Overcoming Codependency and Addiction
  6. SAMHSA: SAMHSA’s National Helpline
Dr. Anton Babushkin

Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD

Looking for a Therapist? Start My Wellness has highly experienced Licensed Therapists that are currently accepting new patients.


Blog Posts Tags: Relationships
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