What to Do if Substance Abuse Threatens Your Marriage

Substance abuse can break up a solid committed relationship.

Despite the fact that your partner says it’s “under control,” or “no big deal.” or “none of your business.” Resist the temptation to bury your head and hope for the best. 

Whatever the substance might be - alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, or a mix - your marriage and family are at risk. And so is your own health and peace of mind. 

Awareness and responsible action are your best course.  

If you love your spouse or partner, your connection is worth saving if you can.  Your own health and healing matter, too. You are an important part of the path to healing.

So, what to do when substance abuse threatens your marriage?

You execute compassionate but determined, intentional steps like the ones below:

Get Safe

Is the threat to your relationship also a threat to your physical safety?

Simply put, safety is the priority. Substance abuse changes behavior and sometimes makes tense situations worse. If your partner’s problem is physically endangering you, you need to go. Now.

Get Educated

Are you sure you’re witnessing substance abuse? If so, what does that really mean?

You need to know what you’re dealing with. You can’t count on your partner to tell you the truth right now. He or she may not even recognize the danger. It’s up to you to learn the difference between use and abuse of a substance. 

Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of addiction. Investigate what it means to be dependent on a substance. It may help you to understand how your partner’s brain is being affected so that you feel less blindsided by your partner’s behavior. 

Obtaining as much information as possible may help foster more compassion and understanding as well. This may temper your emotions, helping you to remain level-headed rather than throwing fuel on the fire.

Learn about what is happening to your partner mentally, physically, and emotionally What do treatment and recovery look like?

Get Support

Who is there for you?

Shame, secrecy, and isolation are common “gifts” of substance abuse. Support is vital for you now. 

It’s crucial that you stay connected to those who know and love you. Substance abuse is attempting to steal the affections of your spouse or partner. You need to be able to fall back on the other key relationships in your life for strength and comfort.

Surround yourself with people who want the best for you and your relationship. Choose safe, non-judgemental loved ones to confide in and lean on. 

Get Honest

What thoughts, behaviors, or communication patterns make the situation better or worse? 

Now is the time to face facts. This problem rarely just resolves itself. Many relationships are reduced to cycles of pleading, distance, and lashing out when substance abuse is an issue.  It is important that your interactions and reactions are productive and supportive.

Recognize that you can’t talk your loved one out of using. However, you can amplify goodwill and impress upon them the importance of making a change for the sake of your relationship:

  • Be honest with yourself. Examine how you may be enabling the substance abuse. Look for ways to change your own behavior that support a healthier environment for you both.


  • Share how you are being affected by their substance abuse. Stick to the truth with less emotion and more information about the negative things happening to you and between you.


  • Use positive reinforcement to encourage your partner when he or she is not using. Refuse to engage when they are under the influence.


  • Set boundaries for your relationship. Insist on safety, treatment, and couples therapy. Hold your ground.

Get Healthy

How can you pursue your own mental and physical health?

Finding ways to take care of yourself will help mitigate resentment and help you maintain perspective. Try these ideas to start:

  • Grieve the loss of the relationship as you knew it, at least for the present time. This allows you to operate from a place of acceptance and see the situation as it is.


  • Let yourself off the hook. Your partner’s choices are their own. It’s okay to live your life. Don’t allow your partner’s issues to completely derail your goals and aspirations.


  • Employ a daily self-care routine. Include exercise and calming activities, such as yoga or meditation.

Get Professional Help

Who or what can help you and your partner manage the substance abuse problem as a team?

Seek help and guidance. Allow yourself the comfort and perspective therapy can offer. Individual counseling for you can provide insight and improve the way you respond to your partner going forward.

Couples counseling, too, will help address anger, poor communication, and relationship problems exacerbated by the substance abuse. Having an objective counselor available can also bolster more relationship satisfaction as you deal with the addictive behavior constructively.

Loving someone who is wrestling with substance abuse challenges a relationship on every level. Learning to accurately see and appropriately respond to what is happening is difficult and, at times, heartbreaking.

But you can be successful at it. Don’t give up. 

You can neutralize the threat of substance abuse with help and hard work. Take a positive step toward change today.