can a marriage survive drug addiction

What to Do When You’re Married to a High Functioning Alcoholic

Alcoholism can destroy relationships. But spouses of high-functioning alcoholics have a particular challenge because their mates often function enough to make it seem like they don’t have a problem. They may deny your concerns about their drinking habits by defending what they are doing right: “Well, I pay the bills” or “I work hard, I deserve to unwind.”

“A high-functioning alcoholic is typically someone who is able to work and stay employable,” says Sergio Muriel, LMHC, CAP, EMDR and Executive Director at Lucida Treatment Center. “In some cases they are able to participate on the surface but they are not really present. The person may go to work and then come home and drink every night. They don’t participate in family life or support their marriage or children emotionally or socially.”

A high-functioning alcoholic could also be someone who perhaps doesn’t drink daily, but when they do they drink to blackout. “That’s typically when issues may arise,” says Muriel. “There may be infidelity, money, employment or family issues.”

The sober spouse of an alcoholic suffers greatly, and often silently. They may be ashamed to tell anyone, or they may second guess themselves about whether their spouse is really an alcoholic. They may develop with depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders.

“If you’re in a relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic, it’s going to have an effect on your mental health and emotional well-being,” says Muriel. “Before you try to help them, you have to learn how to cope with their illness in the healthiest way possible.”

The Importance of Self-Care

Can a marriage survive drug addiction? In many cases, the sober partner has to take on more responsibility, at least at first. It is impossible to control a high-functioning alcoholic. But there are certain things you can control, such as taking care of your own well-being. Focus on doing the things that will make your life easier and enhance your ability to cope, such as:

  • Assess danger. First, consider whether you and your children are in danger. Is there violence or abuse when your spouse is drinking? Your relationship may have varying levels of dysfunction, some being tolerable and others unacceptable. Allow yourself to be removed enough from the situation that you can see where danger lurks. Err on the side of caution when it comes to finding a safe place to go or getting you and your children out of harm’s way.
  • Set boundaries. Decide what you’re willing to accept. You can say to your spouse, “I’m not telling you what you have to do, but I will let you know what I’m able to put up with.” Setting boundaries allows you to take care of your own needs.
    Take care of your mental health. Make sure you have therapeutic support for any mental health issues. It’s important to have someone to talk to rather than hold feelings inside. Ignoring your own mental health care leads to more problems as your spouse’s disease progresses.
  • Find a support group. Al-Anon has long been a staple of helping the spouses of alcoholics cope. There are also 12-step alternatives. “When dealing with an alcoholic spouse you may feel helpless, isolated and like no one understands what you are going through,” says Muriel. “Support groups can give you a tribe and a community that can lift you up. There is a power in knowing you’re not alone.”
  • Address your own trauma. The healthiest way to heal is to look into your own childhood trauma and pain, as well as addressing the more recent trauma of being married to an alcoholic. Often people find that past and present issues are directly connected. You may discover patterns, such as having an addicted parent who behaved similarly to your spouse, that need to be addressed to help you heal.

Can This Marriage Survive Drug Addiction?

Building your own resilience will put you in the best position to help your addicted spouse. It can help you stay strong and make better decisions, even in the most difficult times. You will need that strength to overcome your spouse’s denial about their illness, especially since they will often claim that you are the one with the problem, not them.

“A high-functioning alcoholic may participate in life 95% of the time,” says Muriel. “They may have friends and be good in social situations. They can show up to work in the sharpest clothes. This is a person who’s employable, has a nice home, has money in the bank, is still married and has children.” So how do you convince someone who has all these things that their drinking is a problem?

“All it takes is that one evening where something goes wrong,” he says. “It’s hard to convince them that they need help until there’s a crisis. If there’s no crisis, they’ll convince themselves that everything’s okay and that it won’t happen again.”

You may have to act quickly when a crisis occurs. Here are a few steps you can take to be ready:

  • Encourage your addicted spouse to seek help. Never approach them when they are drunk and try not to start the conversation from a place of anger. Speak calmly and communicate what you believe is true even if they reject the idea. And don’t let their denial stop you from putting plans into place.
  • Select a treatment center. Even if you believe your spouse would never agree to go to rehab, research an inpatient addiction treatment program that may be a fit. Find out all you need to know about getting someone enrolled in alcohol treatment. Have that information in your back pocket. Something may occur to open the door to getting your spouse help.
  • Create even stronger boundaries. Left to their own devices, a high-functioning alcoholic may never seek help. If everything remains status quo, and they can come home and drink, they may not be motivated to change. It sometimes takes a serious threat from a spouse who says they will leave if the alcoholic does not get help.
  • Plan an intervention. Sometimes an intervention can be conducted with a small group of concerned friends and family. But often a professional interventionist is needed to come in and create the right environment for a successful intervention. This is someone who can advise you and help get your spouse into inpatient treatment.

As impossible as it may seem, there is hope. There are professionals and programs that can help your spouse get sober and give you both a chance to repair your relationship.

white oxycodone pills spilling out of prescription bottle

Oxycodone and America’s Obsession With Painkillers

America’s reliance and addiction to painkillers is not slowing down, despite ongoing federal, state and local efforts. OxyContin (extended release oxycodone) is partially to blame for the opioid epidemic that has gripped the nation the last decade or so – a crisis that has escalated dramatically over the last few years.

After OxyContin was approved in 1995, Purdue Pharma launched an aggressive marketing strategy targeting physicians with less training in pain management techniques. This led to more than 50% of all OxyContin prescriptions being written by primary care physicians rather than pain specialists.

OxyContin was a cash cow for Purdue, resulting in $45 million in sales the first year after its 1996 release and $2.528 billion by 2014 in the U.S. alone. By 2013, more than 1,000 Americans were treated daily in emergency departments for prescription opioid misuse and by 2014, 4.3 million were abusing prescription opioids for non-medical reasons.

The federal government and about 50% of states have enacted restrictions, such as limiting the dose or duration of prescription opioids. Insurers and pharmacies began imposing similar limits on opioid use for acute pain, as opposed to opioid use for cancer and chronic pain.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has increased efforts to crack down on unscrupulous healthcare providers and illicit sales. Many medical groups have issued guidelines recommending prescribers offer alternative pain management options whenever possible and limit doses and duration of opioid prescriptions.

Illegal Sales of Oxycodone

Despite crackdowns and warnings, about 115 people lose their lives every day to opioid overdoses, including oxycodone, fentanyl and heroin. And every day, countless stories are published about illicit sales of opioids, fueled by greed and oxycodone addiction.

A recent case involved sales of tens of thousands of oxycodone pills obtained illegally from people with prescriptions and sold on the street. “As alleged, these defendants created a network spanning New York City to Connecticut for the distribution of tens of thousands of highly addictive and dangerous pills, helping to fuel the opioid epidemic plaguing our nation,” said Geoffrey Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.

Why Is Oxycodone Addictive?

Opioid-based drugs and medications such as oxycodone have the potential to produce changes in brain chemistry. Associated euphoria, withdrawal and tolerance (a need for escalating doses to alleviate pain) can result in misuse, physical dependence and addiction, especially without medical oversight from a prescribing pain specialist. Depression and anxiety associated with chronic pain may be relieved temporarily by the pain-relieving and euphoric effects of opioids, contributing to abuse in people who suffer from chronic pain. And some people without chronic pain misuse painkillers with alcohol and other drugs, either unintentionally or intentionally to cope with co-occurring mental health issues such as depression.

Prescription Painkiller Facts and Stats

  • About 21-29% of individuals who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • In 2016, an estimated 6.9 million Americans aged 12 and older misused prescription pain medicine in the past year.
  • Between 8 and 12% of people develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6% of those who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80% of people who use heroin misused prescription opioids first.

Fighting the Opioid Crisis

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identified the following five strategic priorities to fight the opioid crisis:

  • Improving access to treatment and recovery services
  • Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs
  • Strengthening understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  • Providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  • Advancing better practices for pain management

In 2016, 5 billion oxycodone tablets were distributed legally in the U.S., the second most popular prescription opioid after hydrocodone, with 6.2 billion tablets.

On a positive note, public awareness about the dangers of addiction resulted in the biggest drop in opioid painkiller prescriptions in 25 years. In 2017, opioid prescriptions were down 12% from the prior year.

middle aged man holding face mourning

Men and Grief: The Importance of Mourning Loss

By James Snow, LMHC, CAP, Clinical Director of Lucida

There was serious friction between me and my dad while growing up because I was the rebellious one in the family. But in the last five years of his life, we forged a new bond. When he retired, he agreed to move from Pennsylvania to Florida, to be closer to me. We planned to do the father and son stuff we’d missed during my younger years―sailing, snorkeling and just spending time together.

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