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How Do I Get My Addicted Spouse Into Treatment?

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

When a spouse experiences addiction, it can take a toll on their significant other. Wanting to help an addicted spouse is a rational response, but going about it in the wrong way may end up doing more harm than good. Once it is decided that an addicted loved one has a substance abuse problem, formal addiction treatment is the best path to recovery.

Partners of addicted individuals may be able to acknowledge that addiction treatment would be beneficial, but in many cases, addicted individuals don’t see it that way. Someone who is in the throes of active addiction is more likely to deny that there is a problem, likely because they feel uncomfortable addressing it.

A significant number of people who struggle with addiction are not capable of stopping on their own. They need professional help to start on the path to recovery. Getting them to accept this can be difficult, but not impossible.

Understand The Signs Of Substance Abuse And Addiction

It is essential to know what signs to look for so that substance abuse and addiction can be addressed as early as possible. Waiting until the addicted spouse hits rock bottom is not a good idea. The recovery process becomes more difficult the longer addictive behaviors persist.

Possible signs of substance abuse and addiction include:

  • changes in hygiene and grooming habits
  • changes in social circle
  • inability to keep up with responsibilities at work, school, or in the family
  • worrying about how and when the substance can be obtained and taken
  • exhibiting withdrawal symptoms when a substance is stopped
  • experiencing extreme anxiety when the substance is no longer available
  • being unable to stop taking the substance despite the social, financial, and legal consequences

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Tips For Discussing Treatment With An Addicted Spouse

Before talking to your addicted spouse about treatment options, you first need to address the elephant in the room — their substance abuse. Confronting them in an understanding and loving manner is essential. If they are confronted with hostility, they will likely become defensive and shut down. It is common for individuals who struggle with substance abuse to experience sudden changes in mood, so they may quickly become angry and hostile if they feel they are being attacked.

As tempting as it may be to issue an ultimatum to an addicted spouse, such as “attend addiction treatment or I’m leaving you,” this usually doesn’t produce the desired result. It may even cause further damage to the relationship and subconsciously give addiction treatment a negative connotation.

If, after a calm and reasonable discussion has taken place, and the addicted individual is still refusing to go to treatment, then the consequences of their refusal to go may be the only way to show them what hangs in the balance of this life decision.

Make It Their Decision To Enter Treatment

Perhaps the most convincing way of getting an addicted spouse into treatment is to instill in them their own decision. If they decide to attend treatment, it could carry more weight, as opposed to you making the decision for them. There is no one way to go about doing this.

It is important not to act like you’re trying to sell the idea of treatment. Start, instead, by asking questions and listening to their responses. Some examples of questions to ask, include “How would our lives be different if you stopped abusing [blank]?” or, “What else can you do to address personal problems without using drugs or alcohol?” These questions can help bring to light things that an addicted spouse may be trying to avoid.

Partners should do their best to talk to their spouse about their substance abuse when both parties are calm and sober, this will ensure the most rational response. It is also a good idea to get an addicted spouse out of their typical environment. An individual’s surroundings can significantly influence how they respond to sensitive topics, like addiction treatment. Take them to a place where they will feel comfortable talking about these personal issues.

If the addicted individual is still unwilling to talk about these issues even after being removed from their usual environment, it may be time for an intervention.

How To Stage An Intervention

An intervention is a planned meeting between the addicted person and their loved ones, including spouses, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and others who may be impacted by the person’s substance abuse. The goal of this meeting is to get the addicted loved one to agree to enter into a treatment program and get the assistance they need.

Individuals participating in the intervention should research addiction treatment options beforehand and lay them out as options to choose from during the intervention. Ideally, the addicted individual will agree to treatment at the end of the intervention and go directly there afterward.

Even though interventions are most commonly planned by spouses, it may be beneficial to enlist the help of a professional interventionist. Professional interventionists can provide support, encouragement, education, guidance, and help with planning the intervention.

What Stops Addicted Spouses From Getting Help?

It is typical for individuals with addiction to also struggle with denial issues. The denial and underreporting of drug use are closely related to the strong negative stigma of substance abuse, a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse finds. Under the impression that their substance abuse is somehow a moral failing, individuals can quickly decline deeper into the addiction cycle.

While some people may be in denial about needing treatment, others may not seek help because they feel that they won’t be able to afford it. Out of pocket costs for addiction treatment can seem daunting, but they should never keep someone from getting the help they need. One goal of most reputable rehab centers is to provide treatment to those who need it, regardless of their ability to pay. Many facilities will work with individuals and their families to work out an affordable payment plan or another alternative.

In addition to believing they cannot afford addiction treatment, some people may fear the loss of their relationships. When an individual becomes involved in substance abuse, they tend to surround themselves with others who are also participating in the same behaviors. Depending on how long the individual abuses a substance, they may become very close with these individuals and may fear losing their friendship if they stop abusing drugs or alcohol.

What To Do If Nothing Else Works

If all else fails, there may be a way to force an addicted spouse into treatment. Sanction or enticements from family members, employers, or the criminal justice system can ensure that your loved one gets the help they need. Treatment doesn’t need to be voluntary to be effective, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Specific laws regarding involuntary commitment for substance abuse vary from state-to-state, according to a study done by the American Psychiatric Association. The study also notes that the criteria and time in which a person can be involuntarily forced into treatment also varies by state. However, common criteria require that the addicted individual is currently a danger to themselves or others.

Only 38 of the 50 states have laws that allow some form of involuntary substance abuse treatment that is entirely separate from any kind of criminal issues. The study also found that less than 10 percent of patients with substance use disorders sought out treatment themselves. Most who do seek treatment do so because of external influences.

Different Types Of Addiction Treatment

Knowing what treatment options there are for your spouse’s substance use disorder can be an essential part of getting them to enroll in addiction treatment. Many people who abuse substances continue to do so because they fear the discomfort of withdrawal. When enrolled in a treatment program, addicted individuals are able to get the help and support they need to stop using substances while ensuring their comfort and safety.

No one approach to addiction treatment is right for everyone. That is why there are a variety of individualized treatment programs available. Depending on the substance of abuse, some individuals may need to complete a medical detoxification program. Usually, this is required for people who struggle with opioid, alcohol, or benzodiazepine abuse, as these substances can cause potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.

Once detox is complete, and the substance has been completely removed from an individual’s body, it is typically recommended that most individuals continue their addiction treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Inpatient rehab centers or outpatient programs are structurally different. Usually, inpatient treatment is recommended for individuals with severe addictions or have replaced before.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Effective Treatment

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - Laws About Involuntary Commitment for Substance Abuse Vary Widely Among States

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