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The Effects of Substance Abuse on Marriage

By Karen Kleinschmidt ; Updated June 13, 2017

Substance abuse has detrimental effects on a marriage, any children involved, extended family, friends and colleagues. Fighting and stress, caused by financial and emotional issues due to the substance abuse, can set the couple up for a vicious cycle in which substance abuse increases to reduce tension created by the conflict, according to American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Domestic violence may also occur when the partner under the influence grows uncontrollably angry. If the substance abuser admits there is a problem, treatment is an option.

The Bridge Between Us

While the substance abusing spouse needs help to control the illness, the sober spouse needs help in dealing with strong emotions that continue to arise due to the drug abuse, according to "Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy," available through the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). The sober partner may feel depressed based on an inability to express disappointment, anger, stress and anxiety. This partner may neglect personal needs while attempting to keep the peace with the substance-abusing spouse. The sober spouse may live in fear of a failed marriage or others discovering the problem. Financial issues may arise if substance-abusing party loses a job or spends money frivolously, or if the family's insurance is unable to cover needed treatment.

Behind the Mask

At some point, the sober partner in the marriage often begins to cover up the problem to prevent friends, family and colleagues from noticing that anything is amiss, according to Dr. Harry Croft in the article "Effects of Substance Abuse on Family Members" on the Healthy Place website. In some instances, the sober parent may try to be everything for the children in an effort to ensure their comfort, according to the NCBI book. This parent may hide the other's substance abuse from the children, which may cause emotional damage as the children's reality is denied.

The Elephant in the Room

Shame plays a big part in the sober spouse's desire to cover up any mistakes the other spouse might make or to deny that there is a problem in the marriage. For example, a wife may call her husband's boss and say he has a stomach virus when, in reality, he is passed out and hung over from the night before. The sober spouse may feel helpless, and this may lead to secrecy and withdrawal from the outside world in an attempt to project the image that all is well, according to Dr. Croft. The more a sober partner enables the addicted spouse, the more co-dependency develops, reports the NCBI publication.

No Longer Hiding

The sober spouse has likely heard many broken promises that the other partner will "stop using" or "get sober." Maybe the substance abuser has stopped, only to start up again. Substance abuse is an ongoing, chronic problem, and relapses are common in the early stages of treatment, according to Dr. Croft. While the non-abusing spouse may feel hopeful, that hope can turn to anger with each repeated relapse or broken promise. Substance abuse treatment programs can assist both the substance abuser as well as the spouse. Family therapy, with extended family members and children, as well as 12-step programs can help assist in recovery for everyone involved.

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