Is there anything I can do to address my spouse's addiction to opioids? Our entire family is concerned about his obvious dependence, but he denies there's a problem. His substance abuse is taking a horrible toll on our marriage and every other relationship in the house. How should I handle this?
We know it's distressing to realize that a spouse is struggling with addiction. But we hope you're encouraged to know that there are things you can do to address this problem.
It's important to remember, though, that none of your best efforts will have any lasting effect if your spouse isn't willing to cooperate. There's simply no way you can make him acknowledge he has a problem and get appropriate help. Still, if you can approach him in a respectful, gentle, and sensitive way, he might take an honest look at his situation.
Your spouse isn't alone.
The opioid crisis has taken America by storm over the last couple of decades. Since the late 1990s, we've seen an exponential increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the United States and Canada. The potency and easy availability of these substances have made them popular as medical treatments and as recreational drugs:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Fentanyl (a compound synthesized to resemble other opiates such as morphine and heroin)
What makes this situation particularly alarming is the high danger of overdose associated with opioid use. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that overdose deaths from opioids (including heroin, to which many users turn when they can't get prescription drugs) have reached epidemic levels. We've even heard of parents overdosing at home in front of their children! No wonder the federal government has called the opioid crisis a "public health emergency."
What's the root of drug addiction?
Drug addictions of all kinds are rooted in the basic human craving for attachment and relationship.
As the spouse of an addict, this is important to realize because long-term recovery and healing are unlikely apart from a thorough understanding of the emotional and psychological issues that started the problem in the first place.
Without healthy interpersonal relationships, some individuals – especially those with addiction-prone personalities – try to fill the gap and medicate the pain with drugs, alcohol, or other self-soothing substances.
But using these substances changes the chemistry of the brain. So behavior quickly grows from a pleasure-driven destructive habit into an addiction with a severe biological grip. This physiologically based problem can be extremely hard to resolve. That's particularly true in the case of opioids because they're some of the most powerfully addicting drugs on the market.
Talk with your spouse.
As soon as you can, share your concerns with your husband openly, honestly, and humbly. But remember that you have issues and problems of your own – it's not your place to "fix" him.
- Cast a vision for him by focusing on his good qualities. Help him see that God has a better plan for his life. Say something like, "You may see yourself as unloved, unappreciated, or unable to cope with life without drugs. But I love you, appreciate you, and see your life in an entirely different light. I believe that you will seek help someday."
- Encourage your husband to face his addiction and find professional treatment. Get involved in the therapeutic process together as a family. And find a Christian marriage counselor who can help you deal as a couple with the marital ramifications of substance abuse. Call Focus on the Family's Counseling staff to get started. They'd be happy to provide you with referrals to helpful programs or a list of qualified therapists in your area who specialize in treating drug addiction.
What if he won't listen?
If your husband won't willingly get help, an intervention strategy might be necessary. Professional intervention can be expensive, but you can organize something informal by asking friends and family for help.
- Limit the group to three to five individuals. (Any more than that might overwhelm your husband.) You also may want to involve a professional counselor or the pastor of your church.
- Gather everyone together at a time when your spouse doesn't suspect what you're up to. (The element of surprise is crucial to the success of an intervention. If he knows it's coming, he might not show up – or he'd have time to prepare a defense.)
- Once you're all in the room and the door is shut, go around the circle and have each person say something positive and supportive about your spouse. Then give everyone a chance to describe their observations of his behavior and express their concerns about his addiction.
- Recommend concrete and specific treatment at a hospital or detox treatment center. Then press your spouse to make a decision on the spot. Do not let him put the decision off until the next day. (In the event he consents, it would be good to have a car ready to take him to the treatment facility right away.)
Remember that the detox process is going to be long and difficult. When you're dealing with opioids, it usually takes at least 13 days to purge the drug from the patient's system and at least another week's stay in the hospital to deal with related after-effects.
After that, it would be ideal if your spouse could enroll himself in an extended rehabilitation program. But if that's not possible or too expensive, a residential discipleship program – such as His Mansion (for men and women ages 18-35) or Dunklin Memorial (for men only) – might be a good alternative.
Whether or not your spouse chooses rehab or a residential program, it's critical that he surround himself with a support system of friends and family who can hold him accountable to his commitment to stay clean.
- Everyone involved needs to help him face the root causes of his addiction. Consider getting the help of a professional psychiatrist, addictions-trained licensed therapist, or certified addictions counselor. They can assess your husband's psychological condition and review life factors that may have moved him toward addiction.
- Explain the spiritual aspects of addiction. Many people let themselves listen to the lies of the enemy of their souls. Understanding the supernatural dimension of the situation will give your spouse an important advantage in his work to overcome temptation.
When all's said and done, the recovery process – if successful – could take as long as three to five years.
What if nothing works?
If your spouse refuses to make any changes, you may need to force a crisis and give him an ultimatum. Let him know that if he isn't interested in addressing his drug problem, he's going to have to find somewhere else to live. He has to understand that his behavior is not going to be tolerated under any circumstances. If separation is what it takes to open his eyes and demand self-examination on his part, so be it.
We know it's brutally heart-wrenching to watch someone you love struggle. It's not uncommon for a husband or wife to enable their spouse by bailing them out of legal problems or the many difficulties and losses that result from drug use. But "rescuing behaviors" will only delay your husband's search for deep and true help. Unfortunately, he'll probably need to hit rock bottom if he's ever going to find and follow the inspiration to change.
We're aware that the situation will have consequences for you and other members of the family, too. But as much as you might want to save your husband from the tragic fallout of his choices, that's not always possible. So the support and guidance of a well-trained counselor is essential.
Don't hesitate to call our Counseling department for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed counselors will be happy to help in any way they can.
The Christian Codependence Recovery Workbook
When Someone You Love Abuses Drugs or Alcohol
Understanding and Loving a Person With Alcohol or Drug Addiction
Praying for Your Addicted Loved One
Drug and Alcohol Addiction Resources
Referrals and Additional Resources
iKeyp (a smart safe for medications)
Christian Codependence Resources