Posted on November 23, 2010 by Laura Fuller
Please note that this article is addressed to all spouses of addicts and alcoholics irrespective of sex. However, since the majority of addicts and alcoholics are in fact male, for the sake of convenience we have chosen to specifically use “he” and “him” throughout this article, when in fact it could just as easily say “her” or “she.” We recognize and emphasize that chemical dependency does not discriminate between men and women, and it destroys both opposite sex and same sex relationships with equal frequency and zeal.
Are you worried that your husband may have a problem with drugs or alcohol? If your concern over the matter has brought you to the internet to seek help, chances are he does in fact have a problem. That said, there are websites all over that have questionnaires galore that will rate the degree to which your husbands’ drinking/using has impaired his life and some that will even go so far as to opine as to the probability that he is in fact an alcoholic or addict. We question the veracity and true usefulness of such scales and questionnaires.
We have a very simple test to determine whether or not your husband has a problem that requires treatment and a 12-step solution to solve. First we want to mention that if your husband has typically gotten violent when confronted with the issue of his use of drugs or alcohol, we ask that you disregard the rest of this article, as your first order of business is your personal safety. If you have or believe you could be the victim of abuse, your situation is quite grave and your only option is to take yourself away from the situation immediately. Your husband may very well be an addict or alcoholic, but it would be completely irresponsible for you to continue to put yourself in harm’s way while you try to figure that out. Such is especially true if you have children. For further information for spouses who have been the victims of domestic violence, please call the national domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or visit their website at http://www.thehotline.org.
One of the simplest definitions of an addict or alcoholic, as we see it, is a person who cannot stop their use when given adequate incentive to do so. Have you given him such incentive? Have you said the following: “I am your wife, and as I see it your drinking is ruining our marriage and you must stop.” If you have not, then you should. Why wait to do something like this? Do you want him to first ruin your life? If you can’t have an open and honest conversation with your husband, you very well may have additional problems that reside outside of the scope of this article.
His response, as in his actions in response and not really his words, will really help to determine his status as an addict or not. Even a hard-drinker, who is not an addict, when given adequate incentive in such a manner will be able to successfully abstain from drugs and alcohol indefinitely. If in fact your husband is able to do this, then we recommend you positively reinforce such success with praise and recognition for his actions and you should take the opportunity to seek professional counseling for any damage done to your relationship during the period where his drug or alcohol use was problematic.
As an aside, it is important to note that there is a unique subset of addicts/alcoholics who are in fact able to abstain from substance use for even long periods of time – “white knuckling” it, or as “dry drunks,” as we like to put it. These individuals are actually pretty easy, generally speaking, to identify, in that when normal individuals eliminate drugs and alcohol from their lives they seem happier and healthier, however when an actual addict adopts the brute force method of abstinence without the sort of solution found in treatment centers, they are almost always miserable, miserable people whose mental health is quite obviously impaired. In other words, while even some true addicts can forcefully separate themselves from drugs and alcohol, all true addicts who are not in active recovery need drugs and alcohol in order to be happy, so if they separate themselves from that which makes them happy it is painfully obvious. If your husband is just such an individual who gets not better, but worse, after he quits drinking or using, then you should tell him that you’ve observed that it’s pretty clear that who he is now can only find happiness through synthetic means and, as such, he should seek true recovery in treatment.
However, most addicts will most often not be able to refrain from drugs and alcohol for any appreciable period of time. In fact, a lot of them will claim to be sober and just attempt to hide their use, but this is generally a rouse they will not be able to keep up for long. What does this mean, if your husband can’t stay sober just on your recommendation that it is necessary in order to save your marriage? Does it mean he doesn’t love you? Probably not. It probably means he’s an addict or alcoholic who presently can’t love anyone; who can presently only love his drug of choice.
We see drug/alcohol addiction as a disease, like cancer, that just so happens to manifest itself in grossly socially unacceptable ways. So, when you say something to the true addict/alcoholic along the lines of, “If you love me, you will quit” that’s really no different to us than asking than the cancer patient to heal himself in order to please you. That’s clearly an unrealistic expectation. However, it would not be unrealistic to expect the cancer patient to seek therapeutic intervention – like chemotherapy and radiation therapy – so that he may recover from cancer and you can spend the rest of your life with him. Similarly, it would not be unrealistic to expect your spouse afflicted with chemical dependency to seek help in a treatment center so that they can receive the care they need for their disease, so he may recover and you can spend the rest of your life with him.
So, as mentioned above, the way we see it is rather simple. Is your husband’s substance use a problem as you see it? If so, require that he stop. If he can, and if he gets better as a result then wonderful. He was most likely not an addict. If he gets worse as a result, then he needs treatment to recover. If he can’t stop using, then he definitely needs treatment to recover. There is nothing wrong with presenting him with an ultimatum that he must seek treatment in order to remain married to you. In fact, you might just be saving his life in so doing. Do you love him enough to save his life?
For more information, please contact us at 888-U-GET-WELL or click the contact button below.