How Substance Abuse Affects Spouses/Marriage

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 29, 2021

Drug addiction can affect couples and families in a number of ways. This can cause arguments, parenting troubles, financial loss, and a feeling of distrust in the marriage. With time and treatment, couples can begin exploring the effects of this and find healing.

Effects Of Addiction On Spouses/Marriage

Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem that can wreak havoc on every aspect of a person’s life, including their relationship with a spouse.

Strong relationships rely on trust, communication, respect, and commitment. Substance abuse, unfortunately, can disrupt this bond and is associated with a risk for separation and divorce.

The emotional pain of being married to a *drug addict can be immense. There’s no right way to feel, and the process of navigating through this struggle and healing can take time.

Here you’ll find information on how drug addiction can affect spouses, how to support a spouse with a substance use disorder, and how spouses can begin their own healing process.

Learn more about the effects of substance abuse on families

*We aim to remove the stigma associated with substance use disorders from our content in order to best help those who need treatment. That includes the use of words such as “addict” and “alcoholic.” However, we include some outdated, commonly known terms as necessary to provide an overview of their meaning in context for broader understanding.

How Drug Addiction Affects Spouses

Drug addiction can occur on a spectrum. The severity of the problem, and its effects on those who bear witness to it, can vary from mild to severe.

The effects of drug addiction on a marriage can be physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Materially, substance abuse can also have a steep financial cost.

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Conflict In The Household

Substance use disorders are associated with higher rates of domestic abuse, child neglect, and other conflicts in the household compared to households without this problem.

Drug abuse can also cause heated arguments between spouses and can be a risk factor for physical violence or verbal abuse.

Spouses may find themselves fighting over things small to large, ranging from parenting to drug use in the household, infidelity, or other financial or legal consequences of substance use.

Emotional And Mental Health

Drugs and alcohol, when abused, are known to have effects on the brain that can cause changes in behavior, mood, and negatively affect mental health. But spouses, too, can also feel this pain.

Living with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be emotionally draining. This can cause anger, confusion, sadness, anxiety, and increased stress.

This strain can be difficult for a spouse to grapple with, particularly if it’s compounded by issues associated with substance abuse, such as domestic violence, verbal abuse, or emotional unavailability.

Financial Difficulties

Substance abuse, particularly the abuse of illicit drugs, can come at a high cost. Couples will often experience difficulties financially as a result of substance abuse and its consequences.

Common costs associated with substance abuse include:

  • cost of drugs or alcohol
  • substance abuse treatment
  • posting bail
  • legal fines and fees
  • unemployment
  • lost savings
  • sold valuables

Spouses who are intoxicated may not be in a state to navigate these financial difficulties.

This can leave the non-addicted spouse to face these troubles on their own, which may affect their ability to take care of children, continue working, and cause feelings of anger and resentment.

Legal Problems

Drug addiction, particularly addiction to drugs like heroin, meth, or cocaine, can result in legal problems if a person is found possessing an illicit drug or commits a crime under the influence.

Selling illicit or prescription drugs, or manufacturing them, can also result in trouble with the law and law enforcement, as can other risk-taking behaviors commonly associated with drug abuse.

This includes:

  • driving under the influence
  • stealing drugs
  • forging drug prescription
  • committing violence acts

Engaging In Crime

Criminal acts don’t make someone a bad person. Drug abuse can have significant effects on a person’s brain and behavior that can cause them to act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

But for a spouse, this can be difficult to deal with. It may cause them to question if they really know their spouse, and whether they can continue to be with someone who acts in ways that are morally or ethically questionable.


Spouses of those with an addiction may spend an inordinate amount of time caring for the physical and emotional needs of their spouse—sometimes to the detriment of their own health.

This is a hallmark sign of codependency or codependent behavior.

Codependency is a one-sided relationship that can ultimately be harmful and toxic for both spouses, despite any good or well-meaning intentions.

Relationships With Others

A spouse’s substance abuse can also affect a person’s relationships with others in their lives, including family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and children.

Spouses may find themselves lying for their partner, either out of embarrassment or to cover up for their substance use. They may become more withdrawn and isolated, socializing less.

This can leave spouses feeling resentful, lonely, depressed, and anxious about whether to talk to others about their spouse’s substance use.

Additionally, it can also detach them from a support system capable of helping them seek treatment for their addicted spouse.

Separation And Divorce

Drug and alcohol abuse is a common reason for divorce and separation among married couples, even in the time after a spouse has already sought and benefited from addiction treatment.

While a spouse is struggling, or through the treatment process, some spouses may determine that the relationship is no longer supportive to their own wellbeing or a healthy relationship.

When Is It Time To Leave An Addicted Spouse?

Making the decision to leave a spouse, or request divorce isn’t easy. And the answer for when the time is right isn’t the same for everyone.

For some, this might occur while a spouse is still actively engaged in substance use behaviors. For others, this decision may come while the spouse is in treatment or afterward in recovery.

Healing From A Spouse’s Addiction

Addiction recovery is a journey. So, too, is the process of healing from the experience of living with a partner or spouse actively addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The phrase, “this pain is temporary,” is one that rings true for many people married to addicted spouses or spouses in recovery from addiction.

This can be applicable whether you stay with your spouse, separate, or go through with the divorce process.

What can help you through the process of healing:

  • seeking support from other loved ones
  • finding a licensed counselor for individual and/or couples counseling
  • finding an online or community support group (e.g. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon)
  • finding enjoyment and pleasure in activities you enjoy
  • exploring new interests and hobbies
  • creating clear and healthy boundaries with your addicted spouse
  • engage in healthy habits through a regular routine (e.g. eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water)
  • show yourself compassion for your decisions and what you’ve gone through
  • check in with yourself and how you’re feeling regularly

Find Treatment For Your Addicted Spouse Today

It can be incredibly challenging to live with a spouse who is actively struggling with addiction, and even more, how to find a treatment program that’s best suited to meet their needs.

If you’re looking for addiction treatment for a spouse, we may be able to help. Overcoming addiction and finding healing for yourself and your loved one is possible.

Call us today for more information about drug addiction and how to find the best addiction treatment options near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 29, 2021
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