6 Ways Substance Abuse Can Destroy Your Marriage

By March 15, 2017 February 22nd, 2018 Communication, Conflict, Self Reflection

Addiction is an overwhelming illness whose hallmark symptoms are the physiological craving of, and emotional attachment to, a legal or illegal substance or practice. Most often, we see addictions in the form of substances like alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs.

Substance abuse is devastating to marriages, families, and relationships. It can result in career loss, financial ruin, divorce, estrangement, and even death. Today, we’ll focus on six landmines that substance abuse plants in your marriage when you’re struggling with addiction.

For all of these issues, we strongly encourage that you and your spouse seek outside professional help. Consult your local minister or physician for reliable recovery resources, like a 12-step system that understands your unique struggle. Addiction is not something you can overcome on your own, but with the right help, you will be able to move past this and rebuild your lives.


Denial is risky business when it comes to facing a life-altering issue like addiction. For the addicted spouse, denial comes in the form of the idea that they’re in control of their addiction–they can stop any time they want. This is frustrating for the non-addicted spouse, who can often (eventually) see the problem for what it is, but finds it difficult to impossible to interact with the addicted spouse who is so strongly rooted in denial.

But many times, especially at first, the non-addicted spouse is also in denial. While the other person may display a host of red flags that point to substance abuse, it can feel easier in the moment for the non-addicted spouse to come up with alternate explanations or write off the signs as coincidence. Denial on the part of the non-addicted spouse is dangerous because it delays the possibility of seeking necessary professional help…even if that help only comes in the form of support for the non-addicted person in the marriage.


Whether it’s you or your spouse who is struggling with an addiction, helplessness takes root quickly. After a period of denial has passed, an addicted spouse may feel helpless to control what is happening to them; they find themselves at the mercy of the drug. The non-addicted spouse is likely to feel helpless when it comes to their spouse’s addictive behavior because they can’t do anything to stop it or make the situation better.

Feeling totally out of control of any situation–but especially a situation like this–is terrifying, stressful, and unsettling. Both spouses are at risk of seeking out behavior patterns that make them feel more in control of their lives, which can create a volatile situation in the relationship.


Addiction breeds dishonesty. It’s nearly an inevitable byproduct of substance abuse. The addicted spouse inherently knows that the substance that’s controlling their life shouldn’t be playing a role in it at all. Yet, because the physiological need for it is very real, they find themselves lying to cover up the problem.

However painful it may be, the non-addicted spouse must keep track of their spouse’s dishonesty. It’s essential to learn the telltale signs that the addicted spouse is lying; he or she may fall into a pattern that is easy to recognize. During and after recovery, the non-addicted spouse may still find it difficult to trust their husband or wife, but if they’ve become familiar with his or her patterns during dishonesty, it could become a framework they can use to evaluate the recovering spouse.


Addictive substances tend to steal an addicted spouse’s entire focus (perhaps not at first, but eventually, this tends to be the case). This can lead to the spouse neglecting the needs of their family, plus their responsibilities at home and at work. As a result, the addicted spouse may eventually find themselves jobless and even in the throes of financial ruin.

For the non-addicted spouse, experiencing neglect is detrimental to their health and wellbeing, the health and wellbeing of their children, and the financial stability of the family. Over time, they find themselves shouldering the burden of the addicted spouse’s responsibilities, plus their own. This can lead to anger, resentment, and contempt, which can be difficult to overcome even after the couple has received professional help to overcome the addiction itself.

Physical and Psychological Illness & Pain

Substance abuse often begins when a person is trying to escape pain of some kind. What addicted individuals often don’t realize is that the substance will eventually cause them physical and psychological pain. Addiction also leads to varying types of illness, brought on by the years of self-harm.

For a non-addicted spouse, psychological pain and illness may occur as a result of the tremendous stress brought on by the addiction. Practice radical self-care and talk to your physician or counselor if your family is facing an addiction that has caused your health to deteriorate. Your recovering spouse and any children you may have will need you to be healthy in the coming months as you face this down.


Unfortunately, addiction is capable of creating an abusive environment in your home–be it verbal, physical, emotional, or otherwise. A person who has become addicted to a substance is susceptible to personality changes that include aggression and violence.

If you are a non-addicted spouse and your husband or wife has become abusive, creating a dangerous environment in your home, get yourself and any children you may have to safety. Consult your counselor for the safest way to communicate to your spouse that you have left the home, and you won’t be able to come back until it is safe for you to be there. Encourage them to seek the help they need to get well so that your family can be together again in a healthy environment.

Have you faced addiction in your marriage? What steps did you or your spouse take to overcome it? Leave us a comment below and let us know.


  • Gwen says:

    As I read through your blog this morning I realized that “Addiction” has come into my own life but not through the most common substance forms. In this day of gadgets, stuff, food, etc, we may be dealing with other kinds of “addiction” that we are not aware of or are in denial of. I read through the six ways that these “substances” can destroy your marriage and I have to claim most of them in my “Food Addiction”. I can see that because it is something that we need to survive we often have wonderful excuses to indulge! We are at an epidemic level of obesity and are just now just seeing the results of this “addiction”. I have fought this battle most of my life and haven’t won, but I haven’t given up either. Because it is so easily accepted and encouraged, we don’t often look at the devastating effect it has, not only on our marriages but our families, our finances, our health etc.. I can also see an “addiction” coming that may already be in effect and that is with our “gadgets”, cell phones, iPads, computers etc. So thank you for your insight to how to help overcome these addictions.

  • Lisa says:

    My husband too is a functioning alcoholic, in denial. I have found a great deal of help from a blog writer named Michelle Lisa Anderson; she has been there, and offers many ideas for the wife’s self care, and creating boundaries. For the previous post, the boundary needs to be no longer cleaning up that mess she wakes up to, if she has been cleaning it. Stop helping or assisting the drunk. Stop the cycle where it involves you making it cycle. Please Susan, look up this blog, it will make you cry tears of joy that you are not crazy, and you are not alone! I pray for my husband to come back to God and live right, but I don’t see any desire on his part. Where is his bottom?? So I look to God and do what I need to do in this life!

  • Kate says:

    I am so sorry that you all are going thru this. Praying for each of you. I lived this lifestyle for 18 1/2 years and last year my husband passed away from his addicition. It was pure torture for him. I am happy that he is free and whole again. of course we miss him but … now it is just undoing the many behaviors that we all have learned to deal with. One. Day. At. A. Time.

  • Patrick says:

    Upon reading the comments from Susan, I must say that I do find some comfort reading this as I wake up to the same cycle of events. This July we will be 41 years married. My wife has an addiction to smoking pot for the last 20 years. I realize this is the first time I have ever written that acknowledgement. We have been through so many issues in our marriage, and it does not feel like God is asking us to continue to make one another so unhappy. My question to Him is always the same; am I making the “commitment of marriage” the God in my life? The radical self-care comment in the article really struck me, we no longer provide any emotional support for one another. All I ever feel is criticism and condemnation. I feel like the pot has lead to insecurity in the lives of all those in my family who have made it the drug of choice. Her insecurity has taken her down many roads these last 20 years, she cannot feel forgiven by me and therefore continues to find fault in me. I wish God were more of a chatty fellow!

  • Grant says:

    Hi, I write this from the perspective of someone who is currently in the grips of an addiction to pain meds. My wife and I have been married for 22 years, but have no kids. We both have very good jobs and can enjoy lots of things.
    My problem developed from a combination of sports injuries in my younger days and my being a musician for most of my life. I have been around drugs and the people who use them, and have always been careful of my choices.

    Sports and my constant denial of my body’s age brought me 2 torn ACL’s, and a torn rotator cuff. These effectively ended my ‘weekend warrior’ days. I found that the pain meds worked well for me and actually gave me energy.
    I had never had an ‘addiction’ problem, and had progressed to enjoying fine wines. Then, I experienced severe back pain while working in my garden. An MRI revealed 2 herniated disks. I have since had 3 back procedures and am on a constant script of pain meds. I now have numbness in my leg that keeps me from sleeping, and pain even in my foot. For 2 years now they are the only thing that enables me to function. Without them, the pain is more than I can bear. I have found sources to get more than prescribed because they simply are not enough to cover the pain. I have quit twice and know all too well the agony of with drawl. So, here I am, trapped in a situation where I need the meds in order to function. With them, I can play gigs, perform at my job, play golf, and work in the yard, although the physical activities will still leave me on the couch the next day. I no longer get any pleasure from the meds, simply relief. I have no desire to use them for pleasure, and I keep my intake under control, but have found that I need a rate 50% more than what I am prescribed, so I improvise to cover the gap. If something were to happen and I lost the ‘gap plan’, I would be in an agonizing situation. I blame the government for much of this, as they place so much pressure on the doctors that they fear increasing dosages. I have explained this to my doctor and requested an increase, but they are very hesitant to respond. They explained the paperwork and that they have to justify all of this to the government. I would never even think of selling my meds as I need them to function! I also know that I need to be careful with my intake – and believe me, my intake is very modest when compared to others – I would never think of taking too many or mixing with excessive alcohol. I have seriously cut back my alcohol intake due to my meds. My wife knows I m prescribed, but since I always use what I am prescribed, she has no clue that I have extras. Work and her shift work in particular, drive wedges into our intimacy, and my pain contributes as well.
    I have seen the mood changes, the lethargy, and the costs from all of this, and even though my case is very minor when compared to those with much more serious and impactful issues, I wanted to share from a ‘functional’ addict, as I know first hand that there are many in today’s world, weather it’s pain meds or other things like Adderal. There are hurting people who are also responsible, there are those who get cut off cold turkey and have to find alternates. It is a vicious circle, and there are both degrees of addiction and denial! Be safe and good luck!

  • Terry says:

    I apologize for the length of this up front and realize I will repeat things from the post and the above responses I believe, after reading some wonderful, caring books by physicians on addiction, that that there is much hope for the addict and their family. However, being married to a now active addict (this means a relapse after 5 years clean) and the mother of two adult addicts (alcohol and drugs) it is absolutely of the most importance that the spouse/parent of the addict not try to tough this out alone. Find a group (Al-anon is a good start) that will absolutely help you realize that you are not alone and that you are not crazy. This is so important for you. None of us are responsible for the addict. We did not cause it nor can we stop it. The sooner you understand that the more likely you can get the help you need. Please, anybody living with an addict get help for yourself. I do not believe that God wants you/us to suffer living with an active addict. They are masters at manipulation and the Christian addict has some weirdly unbelievable ways of twisting their behaviour to make it look like they are a victim. Yes, I believe you can be a Christ-follower and an addict. Likely MOST addicts have disturbing pasts that lead them to addiction. However, it is still THEIR responsibility to seek the Counseling necessary to free them from their past, if necessary, and their current addiction. I would also caution everyone to be sure any Counselor you choose is highly experienced in addiction. This is a horse of a different colour and not all counsellors understand addiction. Also, my understanding now is that just because the addict is not using does not mean everything will be okay. There are behaviours associated with addictions that don’t just go away with the cessation of the addiction. Whether you realize it or not you have and are being affected by the addict/addiction. Be prepared for a big backlash when you start setting boundaries. You may have to separate FOR A TIME. The end result is for healing for the addict and you. Just remember God loves you both equally but he does not rejoice in a marriage that is abusive to anybody. There is so much more I would like to say but there are lots of resources on line and in books to help you on this very difficult journey written by people far more qualified than me. I’m just one of those people coming to terms with a very sad situation the best way I can. That has involved a very long hard look at myself in a Christian 12-step program and weekly meetings at another 12-step program. My prayer for anyone in this situation is the same; get help for yourself, learn as much as you can about addiction, love yourself enough to put your health; physical, emotional and spiritual, ahead of the addict, love the addict but learn to detach from their madness and the chaos they create. I pray that our loving God gives you the courage and outside supports you need to do what is right for you and the rest of your family. I apologize for the length of this but maybe it can fast track some of you to an earlier healing. Read the first step in the 12 steps from Alcoholics Anonymous and believe it. There is hope for all of us.

  • Lisa says:

    Grant, don’t blame the government for your addiction.

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks Terry, so much of what you are saying there applies to my situation. Detaching from the manipulation becomes an incredible task. I am so afraid of losing relationship with my 5 children and our extended family, while not trying to lay all the blame at the feet of my wife’s addiction.

  • Laurel says:

    After 25 years of marriage, my husband started drinking. Due to the economy he had to close his business and not long after that I was seriously injured in a car accident. He couldn’the handle reality and started drinking heavily, to the point of binge drinking. Then the lying and denial started. I had always said I would never stay with an alcoholic, my mom was one and it ruined my teenage years and ultimately my parents divorced.

    My husband was finally arrested with a DUI and spent a few days in jail. He spent 6 months at a Christian rehab, but he has gotten drunk several times since then.

    I am tired of the lies, he never really gets to the root of the problem. We have tried counseling, but I don’the think he really wants to do anything. He says he does, but his actions speak louder than his words. I wake up every day wondering get if this will be the day I file for divorce. I don’the trust him and I certainly don’t want him touching me, I almost despise the ground he walks on. We have lost close to $100,000 from his bad decisions while drinking, it has devastated us financially.

    I guess I have to decide if it is worth staying and feeling like this, or if I should go and have some peace in my life? My job is extremely stressful and between that and the stress of him, I don’the know how I make it through the day.

    • Laurel says:

      Wow, after reading what I posted, I realize how much anger and bitterness I have in my heart. I don’t know what to say except that I am going to ask for forgiveness and try to move forward.

  • Liz says:

    I lived this and was surrounded by people who ignored his addiction, enabling the behavior to continue and soon his social circle was nothing but other addicts. I tried my best but he never found help and died at 48 from his addictions. I hate to feel this way but I feel set free. I loved him and miss him every day but I don’t miss the stress, the “detective” work, the denial and the lying. He fooled a lot of people but I no longer have to worry if he’ll kill someone driving while drunk.

  • Monica says:

    I have read all the above posts. I recently separated after a few years of dealing with the addiction. It tore my family apart. I tried to look the other way, I hoped for one day it will all go away. He gave up! Pushed me, my kids out of his life. I had to ask him to leave the cycle was starting again. Now, my daughter is going through counseling and suffers depression. I have her in therapy. I too go to therapy. Its hard. For me, I am in mourning. My family is broken. The best thing I did was stand my ground and walk away. I am free now, of the hurt, the pain, the stress. I miss him… but I love me and my kids. I needed to stop the pain. I had to let him go.

    • Kelly says:

      Goodness, this is my exact life right now. I am one month into our divorce and my heart is broken for the loss of my 25 year marriage and for my 3 children. We have been together since I was 19 and I love him so very much. He is a pain pill addict and a gambling addict, and god knows what else. The last 6 months have been horrible and getting worse on a daily basis. He can barely function at this point, and wrecked his car super bowl Sunday. He now lives with his parents, who turn a blind eye to his addiction and blame me for everything. I don’t think he will live much longer if he continues down the path he is on. I used to pray that he would get better and come back to his family, but reality has set in and I now know he is far from getting help. So now, I have let go too, and save myself.

  • Prentina Jones says:

    Yes I’m a wife that has been loving and protecting husband that’s an addict since he was 10 years old we’ve been married 22 years 5kids I’ve been thru so many things with him rehabs in patient out patient lies,cheating running off with cars and money leaving for days no calls not knowing if he’s dead or alive.But I manage to forgive him and let back home thinking I can help him cause I love him much I hate to see him hurt but I’m broking and lost praying for my kids not to repeat the same things I’m so hurt that things keep happening he just got out of rehab 60days and now gone for days again I’m embarrassed and ashamed cause I have no one I can tell my secret without been judge my kids just found out And my oldest son 26 I’d pretty much just like him he put him out right after he got out of rehab and he living on the streets it hurts me so much to be here once again hoping my kids don’t see me as weak I’m avoiding all my friends cause they don’t know and I believe I have no one in my corner that I can trust I’m a private person and the people that do know all that have is opinions but know feeling of listening I’m overwhelmed and hurt while still praying to God now I don’t know if hes dead or alive when just recently had a stroke and back out there again I’m so distracted by thos and don’t where to turn my church is judgmental I’m feel so alone…

    • Marie says:

      You are not alone. I’ve just kicked my boyfriend and father of my child out after 19 years. That’s a long time to put up with what I did. Everything coming up missing. The stories. The lies. The staying out all night. The money I’ve been taken for. The moodiness. It all just wore me down. Trying to play detective. Catch him in his lies. Just to have him deny deny! I feel used and very stupid for keeping him around that long. Finally enough is enough. He took every advantage against anyone he could. The anger and resentment was too much to go on. Now 2 weeks after being rid of him I still feel bad sometimes bit I tell myself he did this! But I can’t tell you how peaceful it is to not have all that drama and worry in my home anymore! You don’t have to explain to anyone why you do what you do. True friends understand. I should have done it years ago.

    • Sonja watt says:

      I feel your pain I am going through the same thing I have no clue what to do. I know that I should walk away because he doesn’t care about me or my feelings only his self . I found out that he was cheating so I put him out thinking he would call in a couple of days, but he moved in with her as silly as I am I convinced him to come back home because I missed him so much worst mistake when I find a job I’m putting him out for good married 26 years

  • Ronda says:

    Wow i happened on tthis page while researching addiction my husband of 32yrs is addicted to cocaine hes been using a few yrs now the last year has been bad he had a great business now down the tubes no money can hardly pay the bills he blames it on everything but his cocaine use he lies all the time now is irritable moody and its starting to show physically i have been taking all the moodiness personal and reading some of your stories maybe i shouldnt take it that personal but its hard i do still love him but dont like him much at times i dont know what to do. I pray all the time for him to get clean

  • Ortega says:

    And addiction is not an illness like people say it is to me it’s like a cover-up to say that a person likes what they do in a matter what happens in the night who stays and who goes I know I’m married to a person who has an addiction problem he’s been in and out of rehab and I see no changes he goes to those meetings when he got out of rehab and then three months later he was back on that shit again When people do that because they like the drugs they like the alcohol they like that lifestyle because when a person has the family support that’s never good enough for a person that has an addiction problem they always keep running back to that drug because that’s what makes them happy people need to understand that and stop saying this illness because it’s not a habit that people of likes and won’t get rid of

  • Bill kaiset says:


  • Bill Kaiser says:


  • Jenn Roberts says:

    Hi. I am a truckdriver wife thats is been married for 16 years. I feel like my marriage is just a joke, a im numb and has wasted way too many years trying to regain my lost love for him and my trust. He has done all the above to me. I think i have been done with this for quite some time, and he still thinks he has done nothing wrong. His friends have been more important. He has done drugs at work and gotten fired. And i have done everything to support him while he has been working. I have forgotten about myself. I am 41 years old and we have 2 teenagers to take care of. Its hard to forgive and forget. And im a Christian!

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