This is a question I hear often but has a very complicated answer. While the definition of addiction is the same across the board and the behaviours for each type of addiction come out, in the same manner, the actual addiction itself does need to be treated differently. So I’m going to say, it depends on what your loved one is addicted to.
I’m going to split this into the “big four” addictions. Some of these, I have up-close and personal experience with while others I do not, so if you’re the spouse of said addiction and you’re like, “Ummm, Leah, that’s whack advice!” I'm so sorry, that’s totally okay by me.
Let me know in the comments below what your experience was as kindly as possible, si vous plait!
What are the “Big Four” Addictions?
Drugs, alcohol, sex (Including pornography) and gambling. Of course, your loved one could have one, two, three or all four of these addictions at any given time as addiction is not always exclusive to any one thing.
When someone you love has an addiction it can seem like there’s nothing you can do to help them or stop them from hurting themselves but that’s not what the Word of God says. The Word of God says the prayers of the righteous have “much power”.
“Tell your sins to each other. And pray for each other so you may be healed. The prayer from the heart of a man right with God has much power.”
Before we talk about "doing" anything, I want to be sure you understand me when I say you must be praying daily, hourly, fervently, expectantly, hopefully, passionately and bravely for healing and recovery. Without question, it's the most important and impactful thing you can do for your loved one. Imagine yourself as Joan of Arc, leading an army of angels to fight off demons and spiritually surround your loved one with Holy protection from a righteous heart.
What does all this mean? It means, before you can help your loved one, you need to be very sure you’re in the right place with God in your own heart. We all have things we need to work on. Becoming "like Christ" is a continual process so please don’t feel bad if you feel less-than-perfect. We’re all less-than-perfect.
That said, we know when we’re not being fully committed to behaving like Children of God. Commit yourself to being His child and He will perfect your imperfections without making you feel like crap when you make mistakes. And you will make mistakes. So, before you make the mistake of trying to help someone without first helping yourself like I did, ask God if there's something He wants from you first.
I'll speak more on that at the end of this ridiculously long post!
While you’re talking to God, it’s very important to have loving personal boundaries set in place to protect you physically, financially and emotionally from the side-effects of your loved one's addiction.
This may mean there will come a day when your loved one has nowhere to sleep that night but on the street, because they broke your boundary and you told them they had to leave. That’s okay. It's a reality of addiction and as much as it hurts, it’s not “unloving” to enforce personal boundaries. Encouraging them to get help, even though it hurts you, is very, very loving. [Want to read more about boundaries? Check out: How to be a Peacemaker Without Being a Pushover].
What To Do When Your Loved One is Addicted to Drugs
The first thing you can do if you have a loved one addicted to drugs is to remember drugs will completely change their personality. Drug addiction goes hand-in-hand with lying, deception, manipulation and looking for a thrill. The person you see while they’re under the influence, or coming down from the influence, isn’t who they really are. Drugs are not “liquid courage”. They turn our loved ones into someone they’re not.
Also remember, drug addiction is almost always connected to a history of mental health issues, abuse and self-medication for either of the two. When it comes time to try and help your friend or family member the best thing you can do is to come from a place of love. I’ve learned from experience and many mistakes, the last thing your loved one needs is more guilt, shame or condemnation. They're afraid to stop their drug because reality without the drug is scary.
All addicts are much more vulnerable and sensitive than they’d like you to believe.
Drug addiction is not something most people usually beat on their own. If you have a loved one with a drug addiction you need to do whatever you can to get them into a treatment program. The longer, the better. I don’t personally like twenty-eight-day programs for drug addiction. Apparently, the twenty-eight-day program model was started by the military in the 1970s because it was the amount of a time a soldier could go to treatment without having to be reassigned. Now, everyone seems to do the twenty-eight-day model and insurance companies follow suit but there are better options out there for chemical dependence. Research shows treatment to be most effective when it's a minimum of three months long but in my personal opinion, the longer the better. [Source]
My advice to you, if at all possible, would be to not invest your time and money into a twenty-eight-day program just to need it again a few months later. Do it right the first time and make long-term treatment the ultimate goal for everything you do and say (In your loving way).
Don't make it easy by bending your boundaries! Most people don’t wake up and decide to go to treatment on their own, they’re pushed, sent or recommended by a concerned friend or family member.
I'm not saying twenty-eight-day programs are not helpful launching points for recovery because they are and there are some really great ones out there! A good, twenty-eight-day program is particularly effective in treating a relapse or detoxing period. All I'm saying is, it's a long road and the longer your loved one has support, the better.
When it's time to come home, you can support your loved one in their recovery by encouraging them to seek mental health support, continue in healthy, drug-replacing habits and by allowing them space to make mistakes. Family therapy to work toward healing your relationship would also be an excellent and likely necessary, option.
Changing a lifetime of unhealthy thinking patterns won’t happen overnight. It won't happen in thirty days. As it is with all addictions, stopping the actual addiction is the first "battle win" of a war; The real battleground is in recovery.
“So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most.”
What To Do When Your Husband is an Alcoholic
My husband wasn’t an alcoholic but he did lead me to believe he was one for quite a long time so again, I know a lot more about alcoholism than I needed to but obviously it’s coming in handy now (Thank you, Jesus, for always preparing me for my future!?!?!!!).
If you study alcoholism, there’s an interesting theory out there that there’s an “alcoholic personality type”. This personality includes being highly creative, sensitive to rejection, a bit of a recluse or loner, impulsive, low self-esteem, they have a protective “armour” or “shield” to protect themselves from intimacy or pain and they may be afraid of vulnerability in a relationship [Source]. Looking back, this isn’t my husband at all but the loved ones in my life who do battle alcoholism, certainly fit that description.
Understanding the root of alcoholism is important when figuring out how to help your loved one because there are two distinct steps to alcoholism; Those who drink out of compulsion and those who have become physically dependent on alcohol. They can’t stop drinking or their bodies will shut down. Alcohol is one of the deadliest detoxes of any addiction [Source].
Why does this matter?
Because if your loved one has become physically dependent, you need to be sure you’re not encouraging quitting cold-turkey at home, it needs to be done with medical supervision. Not only that, but you’re going to drive yourself crazy trying to get them to stop drinking as they physically cannot. At that point, it's gone far beyond your capacity to help and it's time to involve a professional.
Drinking is both legal and accessible. We can’t force the alcoholic in our life to stop drinking but we can appeal to their emotional side through intervention. Like other addictions, this conversation needs to come from a place of love and concern. I'm sure you know this already, but never engage with your loved one when they’ve been drinking. Alcoholics have a tendency to be deeply rooted in spirits of anger and you need to be sure you’re always safe.
Recovery from alcoholism is possible. If your loved one has made a long-term commitment to recovery don’t make yourself their accountability person. There are way too many resources out there for alcoholism for you to need to fill that role. Instead, consider supporting them by living a sober lifestyle, never getting upset with them spending time attending meetings (As I’m sure you well know, it can be very time-consuming!) and by taking care of your own mental health and overall well-being.
What To Do When Your Husband Has a Sex or Pornography Addiction
Sex addiction is widely misunderstood because our culture has basically normalized all things perverted. Perversion is nothing new. Even in Biblical times, God had to tell Moses to tell His people not to have sex with animals or their family members (There’s an obvious biological explanation to that as well). Since sin began, Satan has taken the things God gave us (Like sex!) and twisted them into something perverted with intention, to hurt us (Like... sex with animals.. I mean honestly...!).
If your loved one has an “addiction to pornography” you may be feeling conflicted because our culture tells us there’s nothing wrong with watching porn. But, I believe sex addiction to be the most addictive of all addictions, and the hardest to fight. So don’t make light of it, the struggle is real! [Source]
Before you get super worried, please also consider that most “addicted to pornography” are not "true" sex addicts. I wrote a HUGE two-part post about why that terminology matters for, To Love, Honor and Vacuum [Read part one, Read part two]. In the meantime, breathe. There is only a 3%-6% chance your loved one is a true sex addict [Source]. Neuroscience has yet to make claim whether sex addiction is even a "true addiction" (I believe it is!!!) or if it’s a misdiagnosed, “Hypersexuality disorder” or, “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (Okay, I could see that too).
With such a small margin, how do you know if your loved one is a “true” sex addict?
Here’s a tip: Has the addiction been dangerously progressive? A sex addict will not be satisfied with porn alone. They will move to a new high, which will inevitably fail to satisfy for long before they continue on to another new high, each time increasing in risk and intensity.
I understand if you’re the spouse of someone compulsively engaging in sexual behaviour, this knowledge doesn’t make it hurt less. In fact, it makes it hurt more. It’s not even really an addiction?! Cue painful feelings of rejection. But this is what makes this particular “addiction” so hard. It’s personal. Which is why Satan has worked so hard to “normalize” it.
Sex, needed to procreate and created for a man and wife to share their love, could very well be the most destructive thing on this entire planet. Think about it: Pedophilia, human trafficking, the entire porn industry, prostitution, infidelity and broken marriages, sadism and masochism, rape, sex with animals! And a million other things. The list of perversions could go on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on.... and on, and on, and on.....
Sex is a big deal. Obviously, Satan thinks so too.
“The laws of Moses said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say: Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In God’s eyes, masturbating while watching porn is the same thing as physically cheating on your spouse or if you’re single, committing adultery with someone else’s future (Or current!) spouse.
Although my husband is not a sex addict according to Biblical standards he was absolutely unfaithful. My advice comes from experience but also the road of restoration and healing (The road... I haven't quite made it to the final destination!). It’s a pain I’ve had to give to God time and time again to heal. Sex addiction is the most offensive addiction to a marriage and affects intimacy in a way other addictions do not. While trust is important, intimacy is much deeper than trust. It’s trust and connection.
When it comes to sex addiction the real question is, how do you help them stop something when it hurts you so much? Do you really want to know what they’ve been doing? The answer to this question is very personal. I would say, don’t ask until you can handle the answer.
If your loved one has a sex addiction there are practical things you might want to do, like take away their electronics or internet access, but trying to control their behaviour will only hurt you more. If they have a true sex addiction that approach also has the potential to send them outward to fulfill cravings (Not your fault! Just can happen). Unlike other addictions, recovery from sex addiction is not total abstinence but learning what healthy vs. unhealthy sex looks like. It's not good for either of you for you to be your loved one's accountability person. They need non-judgemental, non-emotionally involved support (Let them tell them to give up their electronics!).
The best thing you can do for your loved one if they have a sex addiction is to encourage them into regular talk therapy with a mental health professional who specializes in sex addiction (Or, whatever it is that’s really going on). Like all addictions, sex addiction is not about the sex but a root of pain and often comes from a history of abuse or undiagnosed mental illness. Ensuring your loved one is receiving proper mental health treatment is very, very important!
Once in recovery, I would also suggest asking your loved one to be open with you about their recovery wins. You don’t need to know details or know about each relapse but it will help you immensely if they’re being open about when recovery goes right. Click here to read a fantastic article from covenant eyes about the recovery process.
The other important thing you will need to do for your loved one in recovery is to forgive them. This kind of forgiveness is a “hard pill to swallow”. As much as it hurts, try to remember that sex addiction is not about you. It’s not about a desire for another person. It’s not even about sex! It’s about your loved one’s inner pain, human weakness and quite possibly, a spirit of perversion. It takes two to have a healthy sex life, your loved one will need to be repentant, open, honest and committed to recovery for it to work.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
What To Do When Your Husband Has a Gambling Addiction
This is the one I’m not as well-versed in so I won’t dwell on it too long (I’m SO sorry family members of gamblers! I’ll try to find a good guest blogger for you!) but I’ll touch on the main points. If I relate it to my own experience with addiction, as most wives of addicts can, I understand the desperate fight to hang onto your money because once the finances are gone, so is your security.
From the limited experience I’ve had with gambling addiction, I’ve seen it be very secretive. I know of a woman whose husband had a secret gambling addiction (She's the only one I know) and she didn’t know about until he had gambled away their home! They were well into retirement and she was forced back into the workforce.
Which tells me, accountability is a big deal when it comes to a gambling addiction.
The most obvious thing to say is, “Protect your finances!”, which doesn’t help you at all if your situation is similar to the one above. However, if you are a spouse and you’re aware of the gambling addiction or see signs in the early days, I highly recommend setting up your own bank account, putting joint assets in your name only and legally separating your finances. If you’re depending on your spouse to financially to provide for you, you will need to pull up your independent woman socks and find your own source of financial stability. This is where the legal separation from finances comes into play- everything you earn is yours.
If you have children, this will also mean your spouse will legally need to designate an amount to cover support. This will help you to pay the mortgage, utilities, buy food etc. while they work toward recovery.
Though a legal separation may seem counter-productive to your marriage, it will relieve a lot of stress on your relationship and eliminate the main source of tension. It will also be a source of protection for you should your loved one’s habits move toward illegal gambling and the situation turns dangerous.
Of course, they may not make their support payments but that’s something to be conscious of going into it. There may also be social assistance available if you’re a legal single parent, depending on your income. Once you find a job and have a separate bank account, speak to a financial advisor about your options and they should be able to help you create a plan that will work for you before you make any big decisions. It's not a punishment, it's a boundary and boundaries save lives.
Parents, spouses and friends of gamblers, remember this is still an addiction with a root issue. It’s progressive in nature and ultimately will lead to either recovery or self-destruction. Your loved one will likely need a treatment program, a sponsor or accountability partner and they will need to get to the core of their problem with a professional therapist.
I can only imagine how devastating it would be to lose everything to a gambling addiction and your loved one likely does not have the emotional know-how to process such devastation. Gamblers often turn to substance abuse to deal with the stress of their addiction [Source]. In which case, see the suggestions above!
There are many more kinds of compulsive behaviours or “addictions”. From food addiction to video game and cell phone addiction all are unhealthy habits, affecting families and breaking up relationships.
What Does God Say to Do When Your Spouse is an Addict? #heatedtopic
I could easily write a whole post about this so I’m going to try and simplify my answer to the point because this post is already an absolute monster (Please tell me in the comments below if you actually READ it all!). Here's point:
God wants us to Love Him, live joyfully and love others. In that order!
God comes first. If anything takes priority over our relationship with Him, we would be wise to rearrange some things in our life. This is especially true when you're going through something difficult. I know it's tough to want to pick up your Bible when you're angry (Unless it's to throw it at someone!!! Ok... no... don't do that!!) but God will bless you for running to Him.
Jesus said our lives would not be easy but He came so we could be joyful because God created the world for us to enjoy! If anything is getting in the way of our joy, we need to reassess what we're focusing on. Joy is not necessarily total happiness, it's a state of being. You know those people who are always so happy you could just punch them in the teeth? That's joy. It's a great blessing!
“The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].”
Please note: I am NOT speaking to those who struggle with mental illness, like a mood disorder, or are in a season of grieving. If you need mental health support, there is nothing wrong with you! If you're grieving, mourn your poor soul out! It’s an illness, or a season, not a weakness and never a lack of faith. Christians should not have to ever feel condemned or guilty about mental illness. If you're struggling please watch this video on mental illness and Christians, "Can a Christian be Depressed?" by a very highly-respected expert on mood disorders, Dr. Grant Mullen.
I believe very strongly that no one will, "Want what we have" when we’re living defeated instead of victoriously. It’s for the best interest of the Kingdom of God that we love God and work on ourselves before we try to “fix” others. Which means, maybe, just maybe... you shouldn’t be “doing” anything to help your loved one right now. Maybe (Just maybe!) you need to help you- first. When we’re focusing on our own health and happiness, we’re not abandoning our loved ones. We’re staying healthy enough to help.
If the relationship with the person in your life battling an addiction is too stressful for you, you may need to put your relationship on “pause”.
If you’re married, will this open up your marriage to infidelity? Honestly, if they want to cheat they will, they don’t need a reason. If they’re thinking about cheating, they already have a hundred reasons to justify it.
If you’re a parent or sibling, will this push your loved one away and leave them to fend for themselves? No, it will teach them the importance of self-care in the very best way- leading by example. Remember, boundaries save lives!
If you’re a child, will pushing your parent away lead them to succumb to total destruction? Either way, it's healthy to let go of the responsibility for your parent’s well-being. They can self-destruct under your control as well and none of it has ever been your fault.
Laugh. Live the adventure God created you for.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul (Mark 12:30) and He will show you exactly what you need to do.