When a Spouse is Addicted to Drugs…

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

This was supposed to be a nice visit to a couple’s house for lunch.  However it turned into a rather uncomfortable setting as we witnessed the troubling transformation of a generally delightful woman.  She had already appeared a little agitated, but her grumbling about how worthless her husband was escalated into her yelling, “shut your face, you worthless piece of  ****.”   I searched for a sign that my husband was ready to leave as much as I was.  The husband, clearly embarrassed, explained that his wife was behaving that way because “that’s how she gets when she’s out of her drugs.”   Ultimately, we stayed a bit longer, attempting to offer some comfort and understanding.

As a respected member of her church, this typically charming woman was the perfect hostess in most situations.  However she had developed a dependency on her prescription pain medication that resulted in her behaving like many others who are

addicted to illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.  Her craving for relief from the pain and suffering of drug withdrawals dominated her ability to conduct herself rationally.

  • WHY HELP IS NOT SOUGHT

Similar situations are being echoed in many households where a spouse has become addicted to prescription medication.  Unfortunately many of these families are too embarrassed to seek help.  There are also growing numbers of addicts who remain in denial about their struggle with over usage and dependency on their prescribed medication.  I believe that this state of denial is fueled by the fact that their drugs have been initially prescribed by doctors.  However the burden that this type of avoidance places on a relationship can appear to be unbearable.  Unfortunately many couples view divorce as the only real solution.

Although there is awareness in the medical field at large of this growing problem, there is much to be done in order to address it.  A report by Dr. Barbara Ray expresses great concern – especially for the so-called baby boomer generation.  In many cases, these are the older married couples who are battling with prescription drug abuse that has often been initiated through misdiagnoses.

  • UNDERSTANDING THE REAL ISSUES

Dr.  Ray’s report includes the following serious concern:  Clinical reports of substance-related health problems among older adults speak to the dangers of overdose, dangerous combinations of therapeutic drugs, and misdiagnosis of drug-induced mental confusion as early dementia. Misdiagnosis of drug-induced health problems may trigger prescribing of still more drugs. To date, there are no population-based estimates of the size of this problem, but there are increasing indications that drug-related health problems will be at unprecedented levels in the baby boom generation (born from 1946 to 1964) as it begins to reach Medicare eligibility in the year 2012http://www.samhsa.gov/data/aging/chap2.htm

When facing a situation where a spouse is clearly addicted to prescription medication, it may be very difficult to accept this addiction is just as serious as someone who is battling with street drugs.  Quite often the spouses view their partners as people who are simply not taking responsibility for their actions.  Concerned spouses will do much better to realize that these drugs are debilitating and can greatly hinder the ability to have a controlled response.  In other words, their loved ones may be under the influence of the drug in ways that are difficult to assess without professional intervention.

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome is facing the shame that is realized with those who finally admit their addiction.  In his eye opening book about recovery from addiction, Dr. Aaron Jamal gives readers a candid look at the journey of recovery that addicts often face.  As an addictions counselor, Dr. Jamal offers insight into the mindset of many addicts struggling to regain sobriety.  In regards to the often accompanying sense of shame, Dr. Jamal’s book, Preserved for Greatness includes the following: The shame-bound disease/sin that is associated with addiction has as much to do with what the addict is willing to do for the drug of choice as the dangers surrounding the consumption of the drug. Over and over again we heard of the shameful acts that each person participated in for the sake of “getting another hit” and with each of these stories was a clear and obvious attitude of shame.”

  • IN CONCLUSION

During this time, the concerned spouse needs to seek support and strength to help the addicted partner find effective treatment and recovery.  The love and concern for a spouse is needed and may be tested in ways unimaginable.  However, it is important to realize that people generally do not choose to become addicted.  Likewise drug addicts need love, understanding, forgiveness, much prayer and help to make the choice to overcome the addiction.

*If someone you know may be abusing or addicted to prescription drugs, speak up right away. Resources such as SAMHSA’s Treatment Referral Line, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD), or http://www.SAMHSA.gov/treatment are available to help anyone, at any time.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES….

  • Can Marriage survive the effects of substance abuse?

In a small room, a young lady sits with her face in her hands crying. She does not even look up to acknowledge me as I enter the room. She appears afraid and shame ridden. I offered some tissue and waited for some of the emotion to subside before beginning our session.
I asked if she would like a cup of water and she declined but said, “I can’t believe I did …” her voice trails off as she tries to compose herself.  “I really blew it this time… and I deserve whatever happens to me.” she said as she put on her sunglasses. I told her that I would prefer that she not hide her eyes and insisted that she remove her sunglasses. She complied and then looked up at me… “You just don’t know how bad this is…” she said shaking her head in disgust.

“Why don’t you take your time and tell me what you mean.” I said positioning a pad in front of me to take notes. “You can’t tell this to anyone!” She said while appearing to be gripped by fear.  “I would never tell anyone about this or anything else we are about to share. However, I want you to know that this is probably not the first time I have heard something like what you are going to share.  I just don’t want to interrupt you and so I will make notes for me while you speak.” I said.

“Well it’s the first time for me… I can’t do this… this has to stop! I need some help!” she said crying hysterically. “That’s why we are here. Now let’s begin this journey.” I said as we initiated this healing process on her journey of recovery.

This woman was one of more than 1,200 participants we would serve over the next 18 months. However, much of the damage had already been done to their families, marriages, jobs, and all had experienced an encounter with law enforcement for drug related offenses.

What is substance abuse?

Medline’s Medical Encyclopedia defines Substance abuse as the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are indicated or in a manner or in quantities other than directed.” However, substance abuse is evolving as inhalants and solvents are used for their mood altering effects.

For this article my focus will briefly target the more severe models of abuse that hijack marital relationships and threaten to destroy their way of life and marriage.

Many of the couples that I have tried to help have come as a last attempt to salvage what little is left of their marriage.  There is always multiple perspectives of the extent of the abuse, the depths of its damage, the cost to the family, and consequences that have been shared. Let me clarify that addiction is inherently selfish. People don’t indulge in substance use to help others. It may have many different provocations or reasons to begin. However, once the dependency is active, the addict is solely interested in self-gratification.

  • An Insatiable Appetite for Self Gratification

Self centeredness is among the most destructive elements of the effect of substance abuse on marriage. Couples vow to stay together through sickness and health but addicts don’t require the spouse to engage in their abuse. Many of them grow isolated from their spouse and become committed to a totally different social network of co-addicts. Some suffer from co-occurring dependencies.  Most have crossed moral and ethical lines in order to acquire drugs and to continue feeding their habit or to reach new levels of intensity.  Their pursuits rarely give into reason because much of their reasoning skills have been hijacked by the drug and environment.

In a room filled with self-proclaimed users I asked the question: “How many of you have done things that were unthinkable before you started using?” Everyone in the room raised their hand. I asked a second question: “How many of you did those things with people that were strangers?” Again the room was filled with raised hands. Finally, I asked:“How many of you considered what this might do to your loved ones while you were in the midst of those unthinkable acts?” This time the room had only a few hands that went up. I asked those few that raised their hands; “Did you still choose to get high even though you knew it would hurt your loved ones?” Sadly, they each answered “Yes.”

  •  “I can’t believe I did that”

Regardless of the “drug of choice” each person usually has a story that includes deception, shame, reckless behavior, and escapism. In addition to those dynamics and long before the addict has reached a point of exhausting bank accounts, savings, and family valuables there are often a litany of challenges that occur in the relationship. Often the addict has encountered severe depression as a result of a traumatic experiences such as the loss of a loved one, rape, loss of a job, career ending injury, etc.

Coping with the after effects of those traumatic occurrences without professional guidance and support is far too often a perfect setting for gateway drugs to be introduced. Sometimes even the pharmaceutical solutions are an introduction to this altered existence when they are not taken as prescribed. In other situations, there maybe someone sharing their plight with some peer or friend and the peer says “Have you ever tried…” and before you know it, you are on your way toward opening the door to something that will isolate you from your spouse, your faith, your children, your moral code and anything else of value.

Often the spouse of the substance abuser feels betrayed and deceived once they discover their spouse has a real problem with substance abuse. Some even blame themselves for what happened. Others have considered participating with the spouse rather than lose them to the new social network they have engaged in. Some are in denial because their spouse doesn’t look as bad as the horrible pictures they’ve seen on TV. However, many of the people that I have counseled admit they are even worse than their spouses think they are. They have done things they can’t even mention.

  • Get the help you need!

If this describes you in any way at all you can be encouraged that there is hope for you and your marriage. It will probably not happen without the inclusion of a support system and that will differ based on the type of issues you face and the degree of your dependency.

Personally, I have not witnessed significant levels of sustained sobriety following lengthy seasons of abuse without a combination of Spiritual, psychological, emotional and physical therapeutic assistance.  Holistic models appear to be the most effective. Additionally, many of the models have implemented strategies that are flexible enough to facilitate your healing process without lengthy periods of being isolated from your spouse.  However, the process of resetting the necessary disciplines and boundaries is not an overnight process. It is not just a mental or a physical remedy.

Healing Fractured Lives

Psychospirituality is an alternative method assisting the recovering addict on his/her journey of recovery.   Dr. Margaret Jamal explains the term psychospirituality in her book, Beware of Wolves in the Church, as follows: “The term psycho-spiritual is one that combines the two words- psychological and spiritual.  The psychological stresses of life tend to precede the decision to seek spiritual resolve that is believed to be beyond our personal control.    Psycho –spiritual studies (while still in infancy) indicate that an intersection of psychological treatment with spiritual intervention can produce significantly favorable outcomes.”  Most methods have stopped short of proclaiming promises of healing. If you only define healing as abstaining from the abusive substance and behavior then you are probably not representing the “whole problem.”

What is most important is for you to get help today! Do not procrastinate or put off tapping into resources that are intended to help you. If you are the spouse of someone struggling with this, there are programs that are designed to help you and address the questions and voids that you have been struggling with.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov) is a great resource for people that are seeking solutions for this prevalent issue.  National Institute on Chemical Dependency is also a great source of information and resources. Whatever, your choice, it is best to choose to engage with a support system as quickly as possible. Stop the advancement of this degenerative cancer on your marriage.

You may have to use the leveraged threat of divorce to urge your spouse to seek help. However, be very careful of what and to what extent you include people that are not bound to confidentiality standards. Unfortunately, the stigmatization of those struggling with addiction is very real. It can affect your ability to gain employment, leave your home vulnerable for liabilities and/ or become a weight for your children to bear throughout their school aged years.