Substance Abuse and Its Impact on Marriage


Contributor: Staff at Sierra Tucson

Substance abuse can have so many negative effects on the life of the individual who is struggling, many of which extend to their loved ones. Substance abuse is frequently listed as one of the top reasons for divorce.

While lack of commitment, general conflict, and infidelity are typically the three most common reasons listed for couples deciding to end their marriage, addiction is generally close behind. At least one partner, in 50% of couples who participated in one study, listed substance abuse as a major contributing factor in their divorce [1]. Study participants also cited addiction as a common “final straw” leading to divorce.

What are some of the ways an addiction to alcohol or other drugs can tear down an otherwise healthy marriage?

The Impact of Escalating Distrust due to Substance Abuse

One of the most important elements in any successful marriage is trust. Much like infidelity, substance abuse is often something one partner engages in, and the other feels the effects of.

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Before the partner who struggles with addiction recognizes that there’s a problem — and, sometimes, after as well — they will often resort to dishonesty to hide their behavior. Whether it’s where they are and when they’re there, the amount of money they’re spending on acquiring substances or something else, the partner who is living with a substance use disorder often tends to lie to their spouse in order to hide the impact of their struggles with alcohol or other drugs.

If the other partner discovers these lies, it can be difficult for that trust to be rebuilt. Other negative elements that can result from addiction include:

1. Neglect
Addiction can cause the person who is misusing these substances to neglect their partner, their job, and their household responsibilities. Experiencing neglect can lead the nonaddicted spouse to take on the burden of their partner’s familial obligations in addition to their own. This can be especially taxing if the couple has children.

2. Psychological pain
Having a spouse who is struggling with addiction can take a tremendous emotional toll. The uncertainty of their partner’s day-to-day behavior, a potential lack of personal intimacy, and often suppressing their own feelings for the sake of their spouse and/or their family can do damage to the nonaddicted partner’s mental health.

3. Physical abuse
Another “final straw” in the study referenced above, physical abuse can be a byproduct of substance misuse. Aside from verbal and emotional abuse, physical abuse is an even more directly dangerous effect of addiction that can stem from increased aggression.

4. Financial distress
Funding any addiction can be costly and time-consuming. It often takes over a person’s entire thought process, and they may be willing to do anything to acquire more of the substance they’re craving. These desires can derail careers, result in a job loss or cause a person to fall behind on paying their rent or mortgage.

The Steps That Can Help Save a Marriage Affected by Substance Abuse

Couple struggling with substance abuseWe’ve detailed the effects substance abuse can have on a marriage and the likelihood of addiction playing a role in a potential divorce. But it doesn’t have to be a deciding factor in whether a couple stays together. By taking action and understanding the steps that can help, it’s possible to curb the negative effects addiction has already caused and keep any future damage from occurring.

1. Avoid denial
If a partner is struggling with addiction, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms so that you can help them. Aside from any potential stigma that exists, it can often be tempting to just pretend like certain problems don’t exist. But you owe it to both yourself and your partner to confront the reality of the situation head-on.

2. Try not to enable
If a spouse’s struggles with addiction are out in the open, it’s possible for the nonaddicted partner to enable that substance abuse even unintentionally. By giving money, taking on their household responsibilities, or covering up for that person, the nonaddicted spouse can inadvertently allow the substance abuse to continue [2].

3. Seek professional treatment
Addiction is a heavyweight for any marriage. But there are many types of substance use disorder treatment that can help both the spouse who is living with addiction and the partner who wants to be by their side and offer assistance.

Many addiction treatment centers have family programs or couples counseling sessions to help work through the emotional concerns that arise from substance abuse. The partner who is struggling with addiction can benefit from individual therapy sessions that get to the root of why they’ve fallen into negative patterns, while family or couples sessions can apply those understandings to help both partners repair and resolve their relationship troubles.

No marriage is without obstacles, but addiction is a hurdle that is often too much for two otherwise committed partners to overcome. With the proper understanding of symptoms, the right education, and professional intervention, it’s possible to have a successful marriage free of substance abuse.


[1] Scott, S. B., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Allen, E. S., & Markman, H. J. (2013). Reasons for divorce and recollections of premarital intervention: Implications for improving relationship education. Couple & Family Psychology, 2(2), 131–145.

[2] Zimmerman, E.R. (2018, Jan. 12). Preoccupied attachment as predictor of enabling behavior: clinical implications and treatment for partners of substance abusers. Clinical Social Work Journal, 46(1):48–56. https://doi:10.1007/s10615-018-0645-x.

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Sierra Tucson BannerLocated in Tucson, Arizona, Sierra Tucson is the nation’s leading residential and outpatient treatment center for substance use disorders, trauma-related conditions, chronic pain, mood and anxiety disorders, and co-occurring concerns. We provide integrated, holistic care for adults age 18 and older of all genders, including specialized programs for military members, first responders, and healthcare workers. Sierra Tucson was ranked No. 1 in Newsweek’s list of Best Addiction Treatment Centers in Arizona for 2020.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 5, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 5, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.