Addictions interfere with a healthy life and a healthy marriage

Just One More – Addictions interfere with a healthy life and a healthy marriage. When you are addicted to something, it becomes all-consuming. It’s impossible to have a good relationship with someone if he or she is always thinking about something else. In this chapter, we will describe alcoholism, show you how to identify someone who is addicted, and tell you what you can do about it. We will also describe other addictions, including sub- stances, gambling, food, and even your work. Our goal is to help you rid your marriage of harmful addictions before they harm your marriage.

➤ What is addiction?
➤ Understanding alcoholism ➤ Where to turn for help
➤ Identifying other addictions

Understanding Addiction

When someone is addicted, he or she has lost control. The thing the person is addicted to, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or even a computer, becomes all-absorbing. At an extreme, when someone is addicted, he or she loses all interest in anything that does not include the addiction. For instance, someone who is severely addicted to food will think about eating all day long. The person will wake up and think about what he or she will eat that day. Right after eating, the person will think about when he or she will eat again. At breakfast, he or she thinks about lunch, and at lunch, he or she thinks about an afternoon snack and dinner. Food totally controls his or her thoughts.

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A true addiction is so consuming that it makes it virtually impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone. The addiction comes before everything else, even the marriage. Addictions usually start out slowly and become worse over time. As you become more and more addicted, eventually you will fail to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home. It’s much easier to stop an addiction before it has reached such an extreme. Unfortunately, it’s also easier to deny that you have a problem in the early stages of an addiction.


Alcohol is by far the most common addiction in the Western world. As many as one in ten adults in the United States may have problems with alcohol de- pendency. Alcohol is legal, relatively inexpensive, and easily available. People who are dependent on alcohol include men and women of all ages and backgrounds. At first, the person who is addicted to alcohol can function reasonably well. But, over time, the alcohol dependence can take over his or her entire life.

“On the Rocks”

Tony started drinking his senior year of high school, along with many of his class- mates. He really enjoyed himself at parties, and drinking helped him to loosen up. During high school and college, he studied hard during the week and partied hard during the weekend. On Saturday nights, he often drank until he passed out and couldn’t remember much in the morning.

After Tony graduated from college, his drinking patterns changed. He drank less on the weekends, but he started drinking most evenings after work to unwind. Able to hold his liquor well, Tony was successful at his job and had many friends. During this time, he met Laura, whom he dated for several years and eventually married. Laura had no idea that Tony had any problems with alcohol.

After five years of marriage, Laura came to see us for depression at the urging of her sister. When we asked her what was going on in her life, she burst into tears. She was pregnant and terrified to tell Tony. “I’m so afraid he’ll just go crazy on me.” She ex- plained that Tony had been under a lot of pressure from work over the last year. His boss felt that he had been underperforming, so Tony had been working overtime to do a better job. He had been coming home stressed and was drinking three or four drinks every night. Laura said that when she mentioned anything to Tony about his drinking he would shut her up and tell her that she didn’t understand the stress he was under.

At this point, Laura was sobbing hysterically. When she calmed down some, she told us that last week Tony had hit her the night she was going to tell him that she was pregnant. She just didn’t know what to do. She felt that she couldn’t talk to Tony, her parents, or any of her friends; she was embarrassed and was worried that Tony would become angry.

It was clear that Tony had a severe problem with alcohol. When Laura married Tony, some of the signs were there, but he was able to hide them from her (and himself) pretty well. Now the problem was out of control and threatening to ruin Tony’s life, his marriage, and his relationship with his unborn child. We asked Laura if Tony would come in with her to see us. Laura said she would ask him, but she doubted he would say “yes.”

Laura missed her next appointment. When we reached her on the telephone, she said everything was fine. We were very concerned and strongly encouraged her to come back to see us or attend Al-Anon. She didn’t return to see us. Hopefully, she and Tony received help elsewhere, though it’s likely they didn’t. Recognizing alcoholism and getting help are very difficult steps to take.

How Much Is Too Much?

Don’t let what happened to Tony and Laura happen to you! Find out if you have an alcoholic tendency before it gets out of hand. Circle your answers to the following questions on a scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always); they will help you (or your spouse) evaluate whether you have a problem with alcohol.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: My father is an alcoholic. Does that mean I will be an alcoholic?

A: There is a strong genetic component to alcoholism. If you have family members (par- ents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins) who use alcohol to excess, pay extra attention to your drinking habits. You have a higher chance of becoming alcohol-dependent if you have relatives who are alcohol-dependent.

Getting Help

People have so many excuses for not getting help with their alcohol addiction. The excuse we hear over and over again is: “I don’t need help. I can stop drinking at any time.” This is not true. When you are addicted, you have lost control. You cannot stop at any time. If you could, you would not be addicted. Make that first step and get help.

Alcoholics Anonymous

A very effective treatment for alcoholism is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Two alcohol- dependent men founded it in 1935: a stockbroker and a surgeon. There are meetings all over the United States and all over the world; these meetings happen every day, and in bigger cities, many times a day. All types of people attend AA meetings, in- cluding physicians, lawyers, teachers, bank tellers, janitors, the independently wealthy, and the unemployed. There is an oath of confidentiality that members take seriously. Each Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-run group supported by donations. AA is free—anyone who wants to is welcome to attend a meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous is listed in the phone book, and you can call for meeting locations and times.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are filled with people who are, or have been, addicted to alcohol. Guests who have never used alcohol are also wel- come. Often people who have been sober for many years continue to attend meetings on a regular basis. AA gives alcoholics and ex-alcoholics a steady system of support. Initially, people often start by going to meetings several times a day, every day. When they stop drinking, the structure that AA meetings provide is invaluable. AA helps you realize that you don’t have control over your drinking and believes that abstinence is the only way to control your drinking.


Al-Anon is a contraction of the words “Alcoholics Anonymous.” It’s designed for the spouses of people with alcohol addiction. It works like Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a self-run group, it’s listed in the phone book, and it’s free. The goal of Al-Anon is to help spouses of alcoholics deal with the issues that they face. Al-Anon helps you re- store your self-esteem, which is often undermined by an alcoholic spouse. It helps you break the cycle of feeling responsible for your spouse’s drinking. And if your spouse (hopefully) is going through recovery, Al-Anon can help you set up a new, healthy, alcohol-free life.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: My spouse is an alcoholic. Can I do anything to help?

A: A spouse often is an “enabler” of the alcoholic’s drinking behavior. You might do things you don’t even realize, such as covering up for his or her drinking or being extra nice when he or she is drunk. You will increase your spouse’s chance for recovery if you attend Al-Anon meetings. If you identify and stop “enabling” behaviors, you will be doing the best thing for your spouse and your marriage.


There are several different types of therapy to help someone with alcoholism. Because we will discuss different types of counseling and ways to get it in Chapter 25, “Help! We Need Somebody,” we will limit this to a brief discussion. Individual therapy can help you understand why you need to be intoxicated and why you might be fright- ened to be sober. For instance, you might feel insecure socially or hate your job and not know how to get out of it. Or you might use alcohol to avoid problems in your relationship.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: If my spouse and I are in couples therapy and also go to AA and Al-Anon meetings, are we spreading ourselves too thin?

A: The more ways you get help for your alcohol addiction, the better. Different treat- ments reinforce each other. For instance, many people in therapy receive a lot of ben- efit from attending Alcoholics Anonymous as well. Or a spouse of an alcoholic who attends Al-Anon also goes to couples therapy with his or her partner. Everything you do to help you get and stay sober is useful.

Couples therapy can be extremely helpful for many reasons. It can give both of you the support you need, help you to understand behavior patterns that occur because of the drinking, and help you restart your life without alcohol. Behavior therapy can teach you alternatives to drinking, including relaxation training and assertiveness training.


In addition to groups and therapy, medications can also be effective in treating alco- holism. Antabuse (Disulfiram) is a prescription medication that is taken every day. Drinking even one drink will make you feel quite sick. It can be very useful as a deter- rent to drinking and can help motivated people resist impulse drinking.

Antidepressant medication can also be useful in helping someone with alcoholism. Some people use alcohol as self-medication. They are clinically depressed and use al- cohol to cover up their bad feelings. When their depression is controlled by an anti- depressant, they have less of a need to drink alcohol. There is also evidence that some antidepressants reduce cravings for alcohol. It’s worthwhile to have a full evaluation by an internist, family practice doctor, or psychiatrist.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: How do I know where to find an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting?

A: Look up the phone number in your local white pages under “Alcoholics Anonymous” or “Narcotics Anonymous.” Call the number and ask for the time and location of the next meeting. Most locations have a 24-hour hotline available as well.

Drug Abuse

Although alcohol is the most common substance addiction, there are countless other substances you can become addicted to. Drugs that are illegal, such as cocaine, mari- juana, and heroin, tend to be much more expensive than alcohol. With these sub- stances, it’s easy to get into financial trouble. A person who is addicted to a drug becomes consumed by it, just as an alcoholic does. As the addiction progresses, his or her life will revolve more and more around the drug.

There are also many legal prescription drugs that you can become addicted to. You may have originally taken them for an illness. These are usually medications that relax you, such as Valium or Xanax, or that relieve pain, such as morphine or codeine. Beware! You can become just as addicted to these prescription medications as you can to alcohol or crack cocaine.

Narcotics Anonymous exists for people who abuse other drugs besides or in addition to alcohol. It works the same way as Alcoholics Anonymous; there are self-run meet- ings that are cost-free, and there is an oath of confidentiality. Some people attend both Narcotics Anonymous as well as Alcoholics Anonymous if they abuse both.

Other Addictions

There are other types of addictions that can affect your life and marriage. They might seem harmless compared to being an alcoholic, but they can ruin your life just as eas- ily. Remember, the difference between an addiction and a habit is not having control over the behavior. We will briefly discuss gambling, food, and work addictions. You can use these concepts to generalize other possible addictions as well.


A compulsive gambler constantly wagers money. He or she might place bets on sports, spend weeks buried in a casino, or use the grocery money to invest in a finan- cial “opportunity.” As with other addictions, gambling takes over the person’s thoughts. Every day he or she will be thinking about past gambles, current gambles,

and future gambles. An addicted gambler will place wagers anywhere and everywhere and will bet money he or she doesn’t necessary have. He or she might think, “I know, I lost five hundred dollars last week, but if I bet three double-or-nothings this week, I will make that up and then some. Then I’ll stop and every- thing will be okay.” But of course, that doesn’t hap- pen. Compulsive gamblers keep on betting, whether they win or lose.

The following questions can help distinguish between someone who places bets for fun and a compulsive gambler:

  • ➤  Do you spend more money gambling than you originally intended?
  • ➤  Do you gamble with money that is already bud- geted for something else?
  • ➤  Have you called in sick to work to spend time gambling?
  • ➤  Have you given up other activities because of gambling?
  • ➤  Do you lie about your gambling?
  • ➤  Have you made unsuccessful attempts to cut down on your gambling?
  • ➤  Do you continue to gamble despite problems it creates, including financial diffi- culties, work conflicts, and family problems?If you, your spouse, or someone you know is a compulsive gambler, the best place to turn for help is Gamblers Anonymous. It works much the same way as Alcoholics Anonymous and is also listed in your local phone book. Gambling addictions are as serious as addictions to drugs or alcohol. It’s very easy to become bankrupt and devel- op huge debts. This can devastate your family. Get help if you think you might be a compulsive gambler.


    Compulsive eaters think about food all of the time. They eat when they are happy, they eat when they are sad, they eat when they are bored, and they eat when they are stressed. They eat at home, they eat at work, they eat in the car, and they eat in restaurants. People who are addicted to food have lost control. They don’t just eat to live, they live to eat.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: Are there other food addictions besides compulsive eating?

A: There are two very serious eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia. People who are anorectic don’t eat enough because they feel they are overweight, when in reality they are not. Anorectics think about food constantly, but won’t let themselves eat. Bulimics, like compulsive eaters, overeat in an uncontrolled way. Then, to keep themselves from gaining weight, they get rid of the food by vomiting or using laxatives.

If one of you is a compulsive eater, it will affect your marriage. People who overeat tend to be overweight, which can affect your social life. For example, the person who overeats might want to avoid going to a party that will have a lot of fattening foods, or might not want to see people until he or she has lost some weight. This can be frustrating to his or her spouse. It’s also difficult to have a normal relationship with someone who is preoccupied with food.

It’s particularly difficult to treat food compulsions because you cannot abstain from eating. You have to eat every day, which can trigger signals to want to keep eating and eating. Because there are so many people who have problems with food, there are many places to turn for help. There is an Overeaters Anonymous, which works like Alcoholics Anonymous and is listed in the phone book. Groups that deal with problems with food can be reached through colleges, hospitals, and religious organi- zations. And therapy can be useful to understand your issues surrounding food as well as the emotional reasons you might overeat.


There is a fine line between being extremely dedicated to your work and being a workaholic. A workaholic doesn’t just work long hours. A workaholic is not someone working two jobs to bring money into the house. A workaholic is someone whose en- tire life is structured around his or her work. When at home, he or she is thinking about work. These days, with faxes and e-mail, he or she can easily be doing work all the time from anywhere. A workaholic tends to bring his or her work on vacation— calling into work every day, bringing along the portable computer, and sending e-mails to colleagues. Workaholics often have trouble relaxing and enjoying them- selves.

Workaholics often have bad marriages. They talk about work over dinner (if they’re home for dinner) and spend many weekends working. Sometimes people become workaholics to avoid dealing with problems in their relationships. Sometimes prob- lems develop in their marriage because of the excessive working. If one of you focuses too much on work, it can undermine your relationship.

If you tend to work long hours, answer the following questions to see if you might be a workaholic:

1. Do you feel guilty about how much time you spend at work? 2. Does your spouse get annoyed at your working habits?
3. Have you given up fun activities because of your work?
4. Do you bring work with you on vacations?

5. Do most of your conversations with your spouse revolve around your work? 6. Are most of your friends from your work?
7. Do you talk about work when you are with your friends?
8. Do you often think about your work when you are watching a movie?

If one or both of you has workaholic tendencies, we can almost guarantee that it’s in- terfering with your marriage. You might be trying to escape something painful or feel the need to prove yourself. Discuss these issues with your spouse and try to figure out why you are working so much. Do things to round out your life, such as getting involved with a hobby or developing friendships outside of work. Therapy might also help you understand your issues around work. Work can be a very important part of life to some people, but it shouldn’t be to the exclusion of everything else.

Keep Your Marriage Addiction-Free

Any kind of addiction will interfere with and possibly completely ruin your marriage. If there is any chance that either of you is addicted to anything, from alcohol to the Internet, get help right away! Addictions generally get worse over time, so the sooner you get help, the easier it will be to get over your addiction. Don’t be in denial if you might have an addiction! You owe it to yourself and your marriage to keep addictions out of your life.

The Least You Need to Know

  • ➤  Addictions are all-consuming and interfere with a healthy marriage. What you are addicted to becomes more important than your relationship.
  • ➤  Alcoholism is very common. Don’t deny your excessive drinking. It can ruin your life and your marriage.
  • ➤  Alcoholics Anonymous is an important resource when you need help with your drinking.
  • ➤  You can become addicted to street drugs, such as heroin, as well as prescrip- tion drugs, such as morphine or codeine.
  • ➤  There are many other types of addictions, including addictions to gambling, food, and work. Get help before the addiction ruins your marriage!