Dear Dr. David,

I have been married to a wonderful man who cannot help slipping back into using drugs. He is a husband who abuses crack and alcohol. He is often gone for several days at a time, he spends money we don’t have, and I’m never sure he is being faithful to me. I am never sure what I will find when I get home at night, and feel like I am living with chaos that effects me and our children. Every time I catch him using drugs he tells me how sorry he is and that he is going to stop. But, it happens again and again. I am against divorce, and want to stand firm for my marriage. But, am I expected to live like this? My heart breaks for him, for me and for our three children. He refuses to go to treatment, and I just keep carrying on the best I can. I’m afraid I can’t keep on much longer. Please tell me, and other readers, about the impact of drug and alcohol use in marriage and how to do the will of God in these situations

~ Confused and Tired

Dear Confused and Tired,

I receive many notes from people married to someone who is caught in the web of addiction. In your case it is your husband’s addiction to drugs and alcohol; for others their mate is caught in a web of deceit and denial because of alcohol, sexually deviant behaviors/ pornography, food and many other possibilities. Drug addiction, however, is a particularly debilitating addiction that robs a person of their life, their self-respect, their family and job, and of course, their dignity and intimacy with Christ.

Having never been a drug addict, I don’t know that I can fully understand the power of this kind of addiction. However, each of us has areas of our lives that have developed an unruly power over us. Even the Apostle Paul said, "that which I don’t want to do, I do." Addictions rob us of our ability to choose, to decide what is best for us.

In areas of addiction—perhaps an excessive attachment to food, or to work or sex, we lose some measure of choice. Our behavior becomes compulsive, and this is important to understand. When our attachments to anything other than God become strong enough, we lose some element of initiative and will. As they say in treatment programs, "It’s your drug talking."

Let me offer a few guidelines to determine the extent of the problem, and then some suggestions for intervention. What are the hallmarks of addiction—and by the way, the addict is the last person you want to ask to determine if they are addicted, for obvious reasons.

First, an addiction is a mood-altering substance or activity, used to create positive feelings. Some common addictions are to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, work, gambling, religion, television, the Internet. You can see how these activities alter the mood, and thereby become self-reinforcing.

Second, the use of these substances or activities is progressive. The addiction may start out with a small amount, but gradually increases, taking up more time and energy. Thoughts about the addictive substance or activity become obsessive. Cravings increase.

Third, this substance or activity has a detrimental impact on either the addict, or the addict’s family. As the addiction takes over more and more of the addict’s life, freedom and choice gradually recede and compulsive behaviors increase. In spite of the negative consequences, the addict seeks the "high" of the substance or activity. Family life deteriorates. Job performance declines. Spiritual integrity is compromised. Health is often impacted.