Watching someone lose themselves to the depths of an addiction is one of the hardest things anyone will ever have to face, and watching your spouse is even harder. Addicts lose their sense of self to their addiction, and whether they’re taking prescription medication, hard drugs, or drinking, it will take a toll on them, you, your finances, and your life. For most of us, there’s a point in time, usually early on, when we want to give up, but most of us never do.
We hang on out of a sense of loyalty, love, guilt that they need someone to take care of them, and even shame because we don’t want to admit the severity of the problem to friends and family. Unfortunately, there comes a time when enough is enough. If someone isn’t trying anymore, do they really deserve your help?
Leaving an addict can be harder than staying with them, simply because guilt, fear, and worry often drive us to stay with someone long past the point where they are harming us as well as themselves. Many of us worry that if we leave, we will push our spouse over the brink to further addiction, cause harmful behavior or even suicide, cause them to be homeless, or otherwise contribute further to the pain and harm that they are causing themselves. Unfortunately, all of these are valid concerns, but you can approach them rationally to decide whether or not you should take the step to divorce your addicted spouse.
Are They Trying?
If your spouse is acting as a detriment to your relationship and your life, without actively trying to help or to improve, then you cannot do anything. Addiction is a personal issue, and no matter how much it hurts to see someone suffer and ruin their life, there is nothing that you can do to change their attitude. If you haven’t already, you can try to help by taking your spouse to family therapy, reporting their drug use, and trying to get them to commit to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. Unfortunately, until they are ready to quit, none of these solutions will help.
If your spouse isn’t trying, he or she is not ready to quit and will continue to put the addiction over you. This can be a painful truth, but it isn’t your fault and it isn’t entirely theirs either. Addiction works by changing the dopamine receptors in the brain and affecting the reward center, changing how the addict feels and receives pleasure. Their substance of choice floods their brain with dopamine, giving them a high that is significantly stronger than natural dopamine in the brain.
Understanding Codependent Behavior
Codependence is the process of remaining with a substance abuser, even after it has been shown that their substance abuse takes priority over their life and therefore yours. Both men and women commit to and stick to relationships long after they become damaging to their own mental health. Addicts have emotional ups and downs and mood swings, which can contribute to emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and even physical violence.
Many will also lie, cheat, and even steal to access more of their substance, get away with using their substance, or while under the influence of their substance while their decision making is impaired. Spouses also bear the brunt of many bad decisions, from financial to physical, and may eventually be forced to take up the full brunt of rent and bills, pay for legal issues surrounding the addiction, or even pay for the addiction themselves.
Despite this, many men and women continue to stay with their spouse, convincing themselves that their spouse will get better and things will get back to how they were before. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and many develop a form of addiction, where they suffer through the same cycles of guilt and decisions to leave, only to be pressured into staying ‘one more time’. This is especially true where children are involved, simply because it can be difficult to take children away from a parent, even a less than ideal one.
Codependency can also be its own form of a sickness, because the desire to have someone love you again, the desire to take care of the person you love, and the desire to be therefore can take over your life. Addicts don’t need caretakers, they need rehabilitation, and if they haven’t responded to your attempts to help, it may be time to move on.
Are You Enabling Your Spouse?
It’s easy to enable someone you love. Just by being married to them, you provide a crutch that enables someone to maintain an addiction by providing financial security, by paying rent or mortgage, by covering for their mistakes, by lying to their friends and family, and by taking care of them with food, a clean home, or other care. All of these things can actually allow your spouse to maintain their addiction well after they would have been able to on their own. This is important to consider when making your decision, even if your eventual decision is to move out or to ask them to move out rather than a full divorce.
Will Divorce Have Negative Consequences?
Negative emotions of any kind will and do have an immediate effect on addicts. Because addicts are addicted to the dopamine high provided by their drug, emotional upsets like a divorce can cause them to spiral down further into addiction. This isn’t your fault, and would likely happen even if you didn’t go through with the divorce, because users increase their usage over time no matter what. However, it may also give them the kickstart they need to decide that they need help.
Importantly, just the threat of divorce is rarely enough. When faced with the option to choose “me or the substance” addicts often end up choosing their substance. This is not only because they are addicted, but also because negative emotions like the fear of losing a spouse can kick off a downward spiral of grief, sadness, and guilt, which cause the brain to crave a dopamine high. As a result, ultimatum threats for divorce often leave the addict craving their substance even more. This is a natural reaction from the body, and has nothing to do with you, who they love more, or what they ‘choose’. For this reason, you should only use this kind of ultimatum if you are fully prepared to go through with a divorce.
No matter what your decision, there are plenty of resources that you can turn to as part of your recovery. Groups like Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous (CoDA), and many others exist to provide support for the wives and husbands of addicts. These groups apply whether you are choosing to divorce your spouse, or are still in the process of trying to help them. They also allow you to learn about addiction, talk to people with similar experiences, and get help when you need it.
Divorcing your spouse isn’t giving up on them, it’s separating their issues from your own, forcing them to take their own responsibility, and ensuring that you can be healthy on your own. While your decision is your own and there is no right time that applies to everyone, you should consider filing for a divorce if your spouse is resistant to any efforts you make to help, is damaging your emotional health, or is ruining your life as well as their own.
If your loved one is currently experiencing a problem with addiction to drugs or alcohol, don’t wait until it’s too late. Please contact Beginnings Treatment Centers now to speak with one of our experienced intake advisors. There is no obligation or cost for the initial consultation, and quick action might save your marriage or even the life of your loved one.