Ask Dr. David: Confronting Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
- 2006 29 Jul
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.
Fourth, the addict minimizes the negative impact of their behavior on themselves and others. When confronted, they inevitably will deny the harmful effects of their activities or substance use, in spite of family protests to the contrary.
Fifth, behaviors become focused on the addiction. The alcoholic must know where they will get their next bottle. The drug addict knows where they will score their next hit. The pornography addict knows when they will be alone so they can view pornography. Life becomes wrapped around feeding their addiction. Today there are even those who must know when they will get online to respond to their next email.
Finally, without intervention, addiction leads to spiritual, emotional and perhaps even physical death. In spite of negative consequences, owing to denial, the addict cannot "see" what they are doing. Even as life collapses around them, they maintain steadfast denial about the excruciating consequences of their actions. This speaks to the power of addiction.
Given the addict’s profound denial, in spite of mounting evidence that their life is unmanageable, what can those around the addict do to help the situation?
Most important, you must stop enabling the destructive process to continue. It will do no good to "just keep carrying on the best I can." Seeking professional help and support, consider all the ways you may be unintentionally tolerating the addictive process to continue. Anytime someone needs help but refuses to accept it, which is the case with your husband, an intervention is appropriate. An intervention is done in a professional setting, with a professional counselor, when a spouse/ family member refuses to tolerate the addictive behavior, and sets firm, but loving, consequences. A family intervention can be used for people engaged in any self-destructive behavior:
• a person using cocaine/ marijuana/ methamphetamines
• an alcoholic
• a pornography addict
• an anorexic
• an Internet addict
In this safe, and professional environment, the addict hears from the family how much he/ she means to everyone there, how he/ she affects them with his/ her behavior, and what they want their relationship with him/ her to be in the future. Immediate professional help is offered for the addict.
Remember, any action must be bathed in prayer. It will take courage to stop the insanity. You, and those who love the addict, must be strong and courageous, knowing that God doesn’t want them in bondage.
Consider these scriptures: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." (Isaiah 61: 1) But, this is done through the power of God.
"O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you….If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us." (II Chronicles 20: 6-8)
Finally, you will need strength throughout the recovery process. Starting into a recovery group, such as the Christian-based, Celebrate Recovery, is only the first step. There will be counseling, meetings and aftercare. Relapse, sadly, is often part of the journey toward wholeness and healing. Learning new ways of thinking and behaving, are a life-long process as you both grapple with acceptance of the gravity of the problem, and surrender to the power of Christ in your lives. Taking the first step is most important.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest book is titled When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.