How Can I Talk to My Spouse About Their Substance Abuse?

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It can be one of the hardest things for a person to realize that their spouse is abusing dangerous substances to the point where they may already be an addict. But the sooner you sit down and have a discussion with your partner, the better the situation will likely become. Use some of the tips below to learn how to talk to your spouse about their substance abuse and to reach out for help when and if they––or you––are ready for it.

Remain Calm

Spouse About Their Substance Abuse

It helps to take on a teamwork approach when facing your spouse’s substance abuse problem.

This is the most important tip, as failing to remain calm can make everything more difficult on you and your loved one. Your spouse will already be likely to get upset when you tell them you think they have a problem, so staying calm yourself is incredibly important. Don’t feel too bad though if you do have trouble; you can always step away and try again at another time.

It is also best to talk to your spouse at a time when they have not been drinking or using substances. Instead, try talking to them when they have just come down or sobered up and when they are feeling the repercussions of the things they may have said and done during the time when they were not themselves.

Avoid Confrontation and Blame

Avoid saying things that can cause your loved one to feel backed into a corner, especially using phrases that place blame. Something like “Your drinking is hurting everyone” may feel true to you, but it will likely back your spouse into a corner, making them feel that they need to defend themselves. Instead, it is helpful to stick to “I” statements, where you only tell your loved one the way you feel and the things you have noticed.

  • I have noticed that you’ve begun using drugs more often than you used to.
  • I am worried about you and think it may be good for you to get some help in order to cut back.
  • I have noticed that you become angrier or more hostile whenever you drink.
  • I think that if we work on this together, we could find a solution for both of us.

Create Incentives for Seeking Help

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Many people are compelled to enter treatment by the pressure of their family, friends, or a court system. However, there is no evidence that confrontational ‘interventions’ like those familiar from TV programs are effective at convincing people they have a problem or motivating them to change.” Instead, help your spouse realize that change is possible––and better––for them by creating incentives for them to seek help.

Explain to them that you will be there for them in their journey through recovery and give them reasons to attend treatment or to speak to a doctor. These incentives can be positive at first, but if your spouse still refuses to seek help or is outwardly hostile, you may need to consider making negative incentives a part of your discussion (i.e. “If you don’t seek treatment, I will need to move out.”)