What are the signs that may tell someone if their partner is experiencing a substance use issue?
- It can be hard to notice. Addiction is often hidden, whether out of fear, low self-worth, guilt, shame, or embarrassment.
- While you might not see the actual use, it’s the effects of substance abuse that are harder to hide. Difficulty keeping a job, problems paying bills, changes in family relationships could all stem from a substance use issue. Missing money, missing time, secretive habits, or a change in mood may all be signs.
- It can quickly change from recreational to dependency. Your partner coming home and having a couple of drinks can turn into avoiding family and avoiding outings that would limit their ability to drink.
What do you do if you think your partner might have a problem with addiction?
- If you notice any of these issues in your partner, approach them kindly and with care.
- Even if you aren’t sure what’s going on, but you start to see signs that there is an issue of some sort, talk to your partner. For example, you might say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that our money is a little different than it used to be and you seem like you’re not spending as much time with us. I’m not trying to attack, but I’m concerned about you. I don’t know what’s going on but I really care about you and want you to know that you can talk to me about anything.”
- Try to decrease fear, shame, and guilt to give your partner the space to share whatever they’re going through, whether it’s addiction, depression, low self-worth, suicidal thoughts, or anything else.
- Seeing your partner struggle with a substance use disorder can be confusing and very frustrating. Remember, it is not your job to “fix” this. Your role as a support person is to encourage your partner to do things that will be good for them (therapy, accountability, boundaries, social support).
- Know that their recovery is not your responsibility or your fault. And you can still be a support in healthy ways.
What do you do if you think you might have a problem with addiction?
- If you’re the one who is struggling with an addiction or unwanted habit, know that addiction feeds on guilt and shame. A substance creates a problem and tells you it’s the answer to that problem. The first step to recovering is bringing the issue into the light. Talk to your spouse. Ask for help.
- While you of course want to stop using, withdrawals can also be dangerous. Consult your doctor on the best way to handle quitting use of any substances.
- There can be genetic and environmental causes of substance use disorders. While you might not be able to change your genetics or your past circumstances in life, you can seek help now. “Mental health is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.”
What you and your partner can do today to be open about addiction and gain support in healing:
- Have an open and honest conversation with your partner about your family histories: are there any concerns in other family members, how did other family members cope? Whether or not there is a family history, it’s important to discuss and to recognize how each of you might be at risk for dealing with addiction.
- If one or both of you is already struggling with substance abuse, be willing to ask “What are you going through? How are you?” Create space for open communication and acceptance.
- If you’re the partner who is dealing with a substance use issue, set aside specific time for a conversation with your partner to talk with them. For the partner who’s listening, focus on just listening and know that you don’t have to fix the issue.
- If there’s an issue developing, seek treatment now. Don’t wait.
- You may be worried that having a difficult conversation and confronting substance use might ruin your relationship. But if you let the problem escalate, your relationship is much more likely to be affected or ruined.
Resources for addiction:
Connect with Ross:
Ross is a Marriage and Family Therapist and addictions counselor. He enjoys working with couples & individuals and looks for opportunities to spread awareness about mental health. He believes that everyone has the strength to overcome the obstacles they face, with the proper tools. Ross sees clients at his private practice in Spartanburg, SC.