Addiction Guide for Spouses and Partners

Our intimate relationships are supposed to be safe havens, and our homes places that provide shelter from danger.Yet for many Americans, a close relationship with an addicted partner can become a source of chaos, emotional upheaval, and even violence. Substance abuse can eventually destroy a couple by undermining trust, which weakens the bond between partners. If children are part of the relationship, conflicts over parental responsibilities, neglect, or abuse often occur as a result of one partner’s – or sometimes both partners’ – drinking or drug use.

Many of these adults are involved in some type of cohabiting relationship, and these partners are feeling the painful repercussions of alcohol or drug abuse. Whether this relationship involves marriage, a domestic partnership, or a more informal living arrangement, substance abuse affects everyone in the home, not just the individual who is addicted. Effective therapeutic interventions involve both partners as well as their children.

How Substance Abuse Affects Relationships

cycle of conflict

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy describes a cycle of conflict that occurs in domestic partnerships, in which substance abuse leads to verbal and physical conflict, which in turn leads to further disagreements about the substance abuse itself. Before long, addiction becomes the focal point of the couple’s conflicts, and other sources of tension may be temporarily suppressed. However, these sources of disagreement will come back to the surface eventually, especially if the couple denies the problem and refuses therapy.

Alcohol and drugs can impair judgment, arouse feelings of anger and resentment, and create an atmosphere that leads to conflict at home. In the worst cases, these unmanageable emotions lead to violence, verbal and physical abuse, harm, and even death. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence estimates that approximately 50 percent of men who are in treatment for substance abuse have a history of physically abusing their wives or partners, and that a significant number of women in treatment programs have been the victims of domestic violence.

Any experiences of abuse or potential signs of abuse must be taken very seriously in recovery. Individuals who have verbally abused or physically attacked their partners will require anger management courses and may face legal consequences, depending on the severity of the assault. Anyone who feels that they are in danger because of an abusive partner should seek help immediately from legal authorities, a healthcare provider, or a substance abuse treatment professional. Online resources and support services on partner abuse are available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline.