Talking to a Spouse About Substance Use

January 19, 2023

Written By: Buena Vista Recovery

Addiction is a devastating disease that affects entire families. The use of drugs or alcohol affects everything from a spouse’s attitudes to relationships, responsibilities, and much more. Identifying and discussing a spouse’s use of drugs or alcohol is necessary to address the effects of addiction. Nonetheless, these conversations are exceptionally difficult to navigate. 

Learning to communicate effectively and plan ahead for such an emotional discussion is necessary to make the most of the discourse surrounding substance use and its effects. While difficult, these conversations are vital to identify problematic relationships with drugs or alcohol and begin the road to a healthy sobriety and positive home atmosphere.

Identifying the Signs of Substance Use in a Spouse

The use of drugs or alcohol has many effects on an individual and can impact their attitudes, mental health, personal interests, professional performance, and more. When the use of drugs or alcohol begins to impede other aspects of a person’s life, it may be time for a difficult conversation to address necessary changes. 

While some may see their spouse regularly engaging with addictive substances directly, counting how many drinks a loved one has or how often they engage with drugs is not always necessary. Rather, other warning signs and symptoms of substance use disorder (SUD) can inform the need to discuss a spouse’s use of drugs and alcohol. 

Some of these signs and symptoms of substance use include:

  • Increase in self-isolating behaviors
  • Inconsistent workplace performance or increase in the use of sick days or vacation days
  • Inability or resistance to tending to household responsibilities
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Angry outbursts
  • Compromised personal hygiene
  • Failure to adhere to budgets or sudden financial strain

Addiction affects every part of an individual’s life, as well as the lives of their loved ones. Recognizing any of the above symptoms can indicate a need to address SUD with a spouse. Undoubtedly, opening a dialogue about addiction or substance use is difficult. This is why employing specific strategies can help ensure that these conversations maintain the supportive message of change needed for effective recovery. 

Discussing Substance Use With a Spouse

Talking about substance use and addiction is always difficult, with tense emotions and atmospheres making it difficult to balance such sensitive topics in a healthy and supportive manner. It is common for spouses to become defensive when confronted about their use of drugs or alcohol. Using strategies to ensure that conversations are positive and focused is necessary to navigate the inherent challenges present when discussing substance use and its consequences. 

Know the Goal

Talking to a spouse about substance use is complicated. However, opening a conversation on the topic without a clear goal or outcome in mind can make it more difficult to effectively direct the conversation. For some, having a spouse acknowledge their use of drugs or alcohol can be the goal, while others may want to come prepared to help a spouse commit to a professional detox program. Addressing substance use with a spouse always needs to come with a plan for change, and knowing what kind of changes are necessary is paramount for an effective conversation. 

Stay Calm

It is common to harbor anger or resentment regarding a loved one’s use of drugs or alcohol. However, before addressing the situation, it is important that each individual is calm and emotionally prepared for the trying conversation ahead. Emotions will run high during these conversations, and taking time to breathe and prepare to speak in a soft voice is necessary. Processing anger or stress, engaging in self-care, and otherwise calming oneself is essential for preventing an individual from acting on emotions rather than in accordance with predetermined goals. 

Use Evidence

It is common for those engaging with drugs or alcohol to not recognize all of the ways in which it is affecting others or recognize how often they are engaging with these destructive substances. Using evidence can change the focus of a conversation to particular actions or behaviors and less on an individual’s character or person. It is normal for those engaging with drugs and alcohol to be defensive about their use when addressed, and evidence can ensure that spouses can engage in these conversations without feeling directly antagonistic to their loved ones. 

Likewise, evidence can make it difficult for spouses to hide behind prevalent lies while illustrating how addiction has affected the entire household and prompt the necessary perspective for a change. 

Keep It a Discussion

Any discussion surrounding addiction is still a dialogue, and it is crucial to allow spouses to speak their side. These conversations should never take the form of lectures or interrogations but rather open conversations about how to move forward and address the concerns at hand. Situating in a neutral space and allowing a loved one time to speak and be heard is necessary to develop the atmosphere of unity necessary for tackling the effects of substance use together while preventing further deterioration of these important relationships. 

Have Knowledge of Treatment Resources On-Hand

Researching effective detox, residential, and outpatient programs is incredibly beneficial. Knowing the options available and how they may help a loved one can empower a spouse to take action. Dedicated recovery is always more effective when an individual wants it for themselves or acknowledges the need for it. Researching pertinent recovery programs and having information readily available for a spouse, such as pre-loaded web pages or pamphlets, can empower a spouse to commit to their recovery journey with the support of family. 


Addiction affects entire families. Noticing a loved one engaging with addictive substances even after a myriad of negative consequences is exceptionally difficult. At Buena Vista Recovery, we understand the importance of addressing the familial impact of addiction. We can equip your loved one with the personal strategies that your loved one can use to begin an effective healing journey. We are committed to the entire continuum of care, from helping you or your loved one engage in effective medical detox to residential and outpatient care, all while providing support, community, and resources for loved ones to create a truly transformative journey in recovery. Family healing is important, but it can take time. Learn how we can help your family at 800-922-0095 or contact us here.