If your spouse is using drugs or alcohol, getting through to them can seem impossible. Even if you start a reasonable and rational discussion, they might deflect, get angry, deny, or even accuse you. Getting through to them can seem like pulling teeth. Confronting your addicted loved one will be upsetting, it may spark arguments, and may even result in them attempting to manipulate you. Knowing when and how to confront them could save you a considerable amount of stress and discomfort.
At the same time, it’s important that you understand that confronting your spouse may not be enough. They may continue denying they have a problem. They may just get angry. They may try to push to an argument or an ultimatum that you can’t meet. And, they might not be ready or willing to go to treatment or to try to get better. Therefore, you should take steps to handle the scenario in which your confrontation is just one step of many in getting your spouse back on the road to a healthy life.
It doesn’t matter what your spouse is addicted to, the process of addiction remains the same. People become addicted through a combination of chemical dependency and cravings and behavioral dependency, where they come to rely on a substance to feel good, to escape, or to have an outlet. Eventually, that turns into using to avoid negative side-effects like withdrawal symptoms or difficulty concentrating at work. But, it is always a complex behavioral disorder marked by specific symptoms, problems, and behavioral issues.
Taking the time to learn about addiction before you confront your spouse is important because it will help you to:
At the same time, taking time to learn how addiction works will give you better insight into why things like tough love and kicking your spouse out of the house will do more harm than good. While a popular myth, hitting rock bottom doesn’t encourage people to get better. What does encourage people to get better is love and support and motivation from friends and family.
Plus, your loved one will see you putting in the time and effort to learn for them, to improve your understanding for them, and to help them. That will add to your message when you do go to confront them about drug or alcohol use.
Before you start the discussion, set ground rules. That means not getting pulled into arguments, not allowing yourself to be manipulated, and keeping your temper. That may be difficult. You might have to leave the room, take time out, or come back to the discussion for later. That aside, getting embroiled into an argument or allowing your spouse to steer the conversation to another problem, something you did, or a delay will show them they can always do that and they are in control of the conversation.
People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol have less serotonin activity in the brain. Therefore, they don’t feel somewhat emotionally blunted, meaning they feel less. They might experience the social repercussions of lying and manipulation as being lesser than you do. Therefore, they are significantly likely to use manipulative tactics to deny their addiction or to change the topic. You should be able to recognize and avoid these tactics.
Derailing – Your spouse uses subject changes and switches to another topic, using whatever means they can. That might mean bringing up something else important, e.g., your child’s schooling, your rent being due, etc. If desperate or they have a history of manipulating you, they’ll probably bring up things you did wrong instead. Refuse these kinds of topics with things like, “This is important too, but we’ll talk about it later, right now we’re talking about you”.
Blame – Your spouse might be angry and might try to make their substance abuse someone else’s problem. Here, you might hear phrases like, “if work weren’t so stressful”, or “if you wouldn’t nag all the time”. This kind of blame can be hurtful, it can be frustrating. You’ll want to stand your ground. “It doesn’t matter what the cause is, the important thing is that you take steps to fix it and while doing that, we can work on resolving the cause behind it”.
Denial – Your spouse might also directly lie to you about how much they use or drink. That might be as simple as “I don’t drink that much”, to direct lies like “I only had one” or “I haven’t used since Tuesday”. Your spouse will probably seem like they mean it, they might not even remember that they’re lying. That can make this sort of discussion immensely difficult. If you can’t get through by standing your ground, you might not have very much recourse other than to get other people involved.
If you have friends or family, you can share with them. There’s a lot of stigma around substance abuse but there shouldn’t be. It’s a mental health disorder much the same as anxiety or depression, except caused by external stimuli. Often, the people with substance use disorders are struggling with other mental health disorders as well. Get help. That might mean staging an intervention or a confrontation with more than one person.
Having backup from your spouse’s parents, siblings, or friends can help a great deal. It will also mean you won’t have to do all of the emotional work on your own – so you will have someone to lean on, someone to back you up, and people to back you up if your spouse starts trying to manipulate you.
You can also check out Al-Anon. There you will find many others who have gone through similar situations with their own addicted spouse. They can give you some practical advice on how to talk to your addicted spouse.
It’s important to keep the focus on “I want you to get better”. Sharing concern for your loved one, discussing how much seeing them in pain hurts, sharing how their current state is hurting you and the rest of the family, and sharing concerns for long-term health are a lot more useful and a lot better for their emotional state than sharing concerns about money, chores, or what others think. However, it’s also true that if you’re taking on a lot of extra work to take up their slack, you are going to burn out. Sharing how difficult of a time you’re having can also help but try to keep the blame out of it.
Eventually, if you can keep the focus on getting treatment, getting better, and learning how to start over with therapy to improve whatever went wrong in the first place, you’re much more likely to be able to get your loved one into treatment.
Confronting someone about drug or alcohol abuse can go very badly. Make sure you assess the situation, your spouses mood, and make sure you keep yourself safe. Addiction changes how people behave, how they prioritize things, and how their emotions work. The goal is normally to reach out to them and their emotional selves, to motivate them to get better for you and for themselves, not to guilt them into getting treatment. At the same time, they may make you feel bad, they may lash out, and they may even get violent. Confrontations are not always safe. Make sure you decide how to confront your spouse with all of that in mind. And, good luck getting them into treatment.
Asana Recovery provides a full continuum of highly effective drug rehab and alcohol rehab programs. If you have questions for yourself, or your loved one, contact us today to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced and caring addiction treatment team.