Marriage is difficult enough without drugs and alcohol, but when you add substance abuse into the mix, it becomes almost impossible to survive. We’ve all heard stories of the ravages of drugs and alcohol on relationships – broken promises and broken hearts, lost jobs, money wasted, children neglected, homes and families destroyed, and even physical abuse, jail and death.

If you or your spouse have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse, or another similar type of addiction, whether to gambling or sex, it’s important to take the problem seriously and get help. The bad news is that addiction is a progressive disease that tends to get worse over time, and it very rarely goes away by itself. The good news is that there is hope – millions of people have dealt with substance abuse problems and gone on to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives and to be loving, supportive, productive husbands and wives.

The approach to the problem depends on who is abusing drugs or alcohol in the marriage. If it’s you, then it’s vital to get some help in accepting and addressing the problem. A visit to a professional therapist is a great place to start. Even if you don’t have the money for a prolonged course of therapy or treatment, you can learn a tremendous amount in just one or two sessions with a professional. They can put your problem into perspective and point you towards the many treatment options out there. Depending on how far your addiction has progressed, there are appropriate programs to help. The good news here is that no matter how far down you’ve fallen, you’ll find resources to help you get up again. [Related: How to Find a Good Couples Counselor]


Many people cite money issues as a barrier to professional treatment. Sometimes, this is just an excuse to avoid getting help. Ask yourself honestly how much your marriage is worth to you. How much would you be willing to spend to get your family back if you lost them? Considering the many benefits of being married and having a family, it should be easy to see that your marriage is worth spending quite a bit of money to save.

You may also be surprised to find out that many drug and alcohol treatment programs, even expensive inpatient residential type programs, are fully or partially covered by your health insurance. Even addictions that were recently considered more of a stigma than alcoholism – addiction to sex or pornography, for example – are recognized as serious psychological disorders and are covered by some health insurance programs. Ask your doctor or therapist, and don’t be afraid to consult your insurance provider about your options.

Another choice – one that doesn’t require any awkward or embarrassing questions to your insurance company – is a 12 Step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Meetings of this type – where alcoholics and addicts stay sober by helping each other – are common and can be found in most cities in the world. If you live in a remote rural area, consider telephone meetings, which are offered by both programs. Go to a meeting and listen to what people there have to say. You’ll meet people who have wrestled with the same problems you have, and have greatly improved their lives.

If you spouse is the person with the substance abuse problem, the situation is less straightforward, and can in many ways seem more hopeless and daunting. After all, you can decide for yourself to go to a therapist or a 12 Step meeting, but you can’t make your spouse do anything. Often, it’s hard to even get a spouse to do chores like taking out the garbage! That should show you clearly that it’s utterly impossible to force a spouse who’s an addict to seek any treatment. Powerlessness over an addict or alcoholic spouse is a very difficult thing to accept, but it is vital to understand this for your own sanity.

Remember that your spouse’s drinking or using are not your fault. During bitter arguments or in the depths of their drinking or drug use they may blame you for their problems, but don’t take that burden onto your shoulders. [Related: Why Solving Your Spouse’s Problems Doesn’t Help]

Again, it’s a good idea to consult a professional therapist to get some clarity about how to live with a spouse who drinks or abuses drugs. As outlined above, a professional counselor can help you zero in on the choices you need to make, and what treatment options are out there. A visit to a counselor will give you a greater understanding of the dynamics of substance abuse in a marriage, and will remind you that, although you don’t have control over your spouse, there is hope for you and for your marriage, too. Just knowing there is hope can be a big boost.

You’ll also start to gain some relief by learning a new vocabulary. Some spouses are surprised to learn about codependency and enabling behavior, which are ways in which one spouse contributes to the poor choices of the other – by repeatedly bailing them out of jail, for example, after they’ve been arrested for drinking or drugs. Being able to recognize and name these behaviors is a big help.

Just as there are free 12 Step programs for all sorts of addicts, so there are also 12 Step programs for the husbands, wives and even children of those who abuse alcohol and drugs. At this type of meeting, you will meet people who have learned ways to stay married and improve their marriages and their lives.

Another option – if it’s possible – is treatment for both spouses together. Marriage and family therapists will see both of you together if you wish, and such meetings, where the therapist acts as a referee to keep everyone safe, can be very helpful. [Related: Determining When It’s Time to Seek Outside Help]

If after trying with all your might and still getting futile results, sometimes, it may be time to bail. So what do you do if you felt obligated to stay? [Related: What to Do When You Feel Compelled to Stay in a Deteriorating Relationship]  

The upside is recovery from alcohol and substance abuse is never easy, but it can ultimately lead to a stronger, happier and healthier marriage, if you get the right sort of help and stick to it. The most important thing is to ask for help.