Marriage Problems Due to Substance Abuse

by Judy Kilpatrick

A happy marriage can turn chaotic when one partner abuses drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse can derail communications and block emotional bonding as conflict replaces positive interactions. Future plans and goals may evaporate as money and resources are used to support the substance abuse problem, and partners may find themselves in a never-ending cycle of addiction and codependency.

Communication Becomes Negative

When substance abuse occurs within marriage, family communication can become negative, with frequent complaints, criticisms and expressions of displeasure, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the 2004 manual Treatment Improvement Protocols, No. 39. This negative communication leads to arguments or avoidance and sets up barriers to true intimacy. The substance abuser may begin to isolate from the family and spend more time with friends or acquaintances who also abuse drugs or alcohol. Alternatively, the substance abuser may blame the spouse, using stress as an excuse for substance abuse.

Trust Erodes

Under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a substance-abusing spouse becomes less reliable and stable, breaking promises and failing to meet obligations. Under these circumstances the non-abusing spouse may try to take up the slack and keep the household functioning, but trust in the partner erodes away. "When we can't trust our partners to be stable sources of attachment, insecurity and fear begin to dominate the relationship," writes clinical psychologist Melanie Greenberg in the Psychology Today article "Healing the Cycles That Tear Couples Apart."

Family Economics Become Unstable

A couple's economic status can be seriously harmed or destroyed by substance abuse, due to missed worked days or job loss, as well as diversion of family funds toward purchasing the drug of choice. The economic impact of substance abuse is far-reaching, and can lead to loss of personal property. Some couples lose their homes and vehicles, as substance abuse leads to the inability to pay ordinary living expenses for food, shelter and transportation.

Codependency Can Arise

The non-abusing spouse may begin covering for the abusing spouse, making excuses and trying to hide the problem from family, friends, employers and co-workers. When a non-abusing spouse remains in the marriage and takes on a caregiving role for the abusing spouse, this is called enabling. Although an enabling spouse's intent is to be self-sacrificial and loyal, the codependency that develops as a result can keep the cycle of substance abuse alive, instead of allowing natural consequences to help the substance abuser address the problem.

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About the Author

For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.

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