Do you think your wife is addicted? Substance abuse among women is an important issue in the United States. According to the report: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:1
More than 8 million adult females have misused prescription drugs in the past year.
More than 19 million adult females have used illicit drugs in the past year.
The number of women with opioid use disorder at childbirth increased fourfold from 1999-2014.
It pays to know as much information as possible to determine whether a woman suffers from addiction and the best ways to move forward.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there are gender differences between women and men when it comes to addiction. The unique issues facing women regarding substance use are that female biology as well the culturally defined roles for women, both play parts in drug use. Biological factors include hormones, pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, and fertility. Cultural roles can drive women to start using drugs to control their weight, to combat fatigue, to relieve pain, or to self-medicate for mental health issues.
How Women Use Drugs
The different ways women use and respond to drugs also play a part in addiction in females:1
Women typically use drugs or alcohol differently compared to men. Women can become addicted to smaller amounts of substances in shorter periods than men.
Women have different respnses to substances. Research shows they can have higher relapse risks and more cravings.
Women who use durgs may develop more physical effects on thier blood vessels and hearts.
Women who use drugs experience different brain changes compared to men.
Women are more likely to visit an emergency room due to substance effects.
Women are more likely to die from an overdose.
Women who use certain drugs or alcohol are more likely to experience anxiety, panic attacks, or depression.
Famale domestic violence victims are at an increased risk of using substances.
Sex hormones can make women more prone to the effects of some drugs, compared to men.
Loss, such as divorce, loss of a child, or heath of a spouse can trigger substance use or other mental health disorders in women.
In some cases, it’s not easy to tell if your wife is addicted, but there are basic signs.1
Signs That May Mean Your Wife is Addicted
The following signs can help you determine if your wife is addicted, and professional help is needed.
Behavior changes: Changes in behavior that don’t add up.
New friends/lost friends: A change in friends where old valued friends are no longer in the picture. New friends arriving can mean the relationships center around drug use.
Lack of motivation: Work, family, or school obligations are no longer given the attention needed due to a lack of motivation to do so.
Poor job/school performance: Job or work performance suffers. Form some, this can mean losing their jobs.
Loss of interests in hobbies: Activities that used to be pleasurable no longer have the same appeal.
Inattentive: Thoughts and focus seem to be elsewhere a good part of the time.
Mood swings: Mood change rapidly or frequently.
Lies: Lying to cover unaccounted for time or missing money or where injuries came from are typically areas where lying occurs.
Physical changes: Weight loss or gain, changes in skin pallor, hair loss, tooth decay, skin sores or abscesses, pinpoint pupils, looking generally unhealthy are all signs that can point to addiction.
Changes in sleep patterns: Excessive sleeping, insomnia, or a break away from a long-term sleep pattern.
Disordered eating: Eating too much food or too little. Vomiting after binge eating.
Personal hygiene changes: No attention is paid to one’s cleanliness or appearance. Wearing clothing that needs washing.
Take a Closer Look
Unusual smells: Use your nose during face-to-face conversations. Smell your wife’s breath, clothing, and hair to see if you can pick up on any unusual smells.
Look in the eyes: Signs for eyes include red eyes, swollen eyes, constricted (pinpoint), or dilated pupils (the black center of the eye is so large it’s hard to see the eye color).
Does your wife take the drug in larger amounts or for longer than prescribed?
Is your wife craving drugs or drinking regularly?
After drinking or taking drugs, does recovery take a long time?
Are substances causing relationship issues with others?
Does your wife have a tolerance built up to the type of drug or alcohol?
Does your wife experience withdrawal when the substance is not available?
When Should You Search for Drugs if You Think Your Wife is Addicted?
If you notice some of the signs that your wife may be using drugs, notice changes in behavior or some activities are secretive and seemingly meant to hide something; it may be time to search the house for drugs.
Where are Drugs Typically Hidden?
If your wife is addicted, she can be quite creative when it comes to hiding alcohol, drugs, and drug paraphernalia. Hiding spots you can check are as follows:
Inside over-the-counter medicine bottles (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.)
Underneath or between clothes in drawers
Small tape or disc cases
Purses or backpacks
Under car seats and in auto glove compartments
Buried in the dirt of a potted plant
Under the bed
Under a loose board in the floor
In the back of cabinets or closets
In between books on a shelf or inside a book
Makeup cases (pay attention to individual tubes or compacts that may be empty of makeup)
A check of a person’s cell phone, computer, or tablet can also yield clues. Do you recognize the people she contacts frequently? Do messages, emails, or social media posts suggest substance drug use or disprove things you have been told?
Prepare a Defense of the Violation of Privacy
Before you invade a person’s privacy: Be prepared to explain why you searched. You may want to warn the person that you intend to do a search and why. You can let your wife know you are concerned for her safety and health. If you discover your wife is not doing drugs or drinking, this may be the best time to find out if anything else is going on that she may need help with.
When is it Time to Have a Tough Conversation?
If you discover your wife is addicted or is misusing drugs or alcohol, a tough conversation with her may be in order to help her and your loved ones. Prepare what you would like to say ahead of time. Write down notes on what you want to cover in the talk. Stay calm and choose a time to talk when you aren’t tired.
Do not be discouraged by the argument of invaded privacy. State your reasons why you felt looking into things was needed. Stand by your decision to search. Set limits and stick to them.
Beware of Tricks to Turn the Conversation Away from Drug Use
Deflection: Be Prepared
It’s not unusual for a person to react to a conversation about possible substance use and addiction by deflecting. Deflection is an attempt to draw your attention away from substance use by surrounding it with other things. Be aware of this tactic and gently steer the conversation back to the points you intended to discuss.
Denial: Gather Evidence to Present the Hardest Case to Deny
If your wife is addicted, she may deny the observable behaviors that point to addiction or substance abuse. Gather evidence to support your claims by:
- Share what you have seen with other family members. See if they agree with your conclusions.
- Contact a substance use counselor, mental health therapist, doctor, clergy, or professional you believe can help you. Tell them your wife’s substance use pattern to see if the experienced professional would see it as a problem as you do. Give details such as the type of substances, how much and how often she is using, how long this use has been going on, the resulting negative consequences, and how your wife has responded to discussions or confrontations about a possible drug or alcohol problem.
Angry Reaction: Prepare to Deal with Anger
The conversations you have with your wife may be productive and positive. On the other hand, your wife may react angrily to your discussion about drug use. Prepare for threats that are meant to undermine the talk if they occur. Make sure that if physical violence is a threat, you and other family members are safe from harm.
If your wife is addicted, she may make a scene in front of other family members, threaten or move out of the house, use substances more, or retaliate against you or other family members. Be ready with a list of changes in behavior to help foster the understanding that it is not a personal attack but rather a talk about the changes you have noticed.
Set Small Goals to Move Forward Step by Step
The ultimate goal is to have your wife assessed by a professional who can help guide you on the best path based on how severe the problem may be, as well as her psychological and medical history. If you believe your wife is willing to admit there is a problem, gently suggest seeing a trusted doctor, counselor, or contact a treatment center.
Talking Points for Sensitive Discussions
Some pointers to use during the conversations:
When to Have the Conversation
- Don’t discuss drugs or alcohol if your wife (or yourself) is under the influence. When a person is not sober at the time, there are more difficulties with understanding and problems following logic. She also may be more angry, impatient, dismissive, or blaming than usual. Poor impulse control, irrational behaviors or violence are more likely when someone is under the influence.
- Schedule a time for the conversation where the two of you are alone and can talk at length. Your goal is to have a give-and-take conversation in which you can say your concerns and gain an understanding of your wife’s perceptions, as well. Set up the time to talk by asking what time is good to speak together over the next few days, and you have things on your mind you want to discuss. If the person wants to talk right then, advise her you would rather have a set time where there are no interruptions.
During the Talk
- During your talk, be sure to let your wife know you care for her and had scheduled this talk because you are concerned about her health.
- State the behaviors you have seen that led to this point. Talk about the worry you have over your wife’s drinking or drug use and how you are worried about what will happen if these behaviors continue.
- Don’t make your wife feel like you are giving a lecture or badgering her. Keep the conversation flowing both ways by asking open-ended questions.
- If your wife denies there is a problem, request another discussion at some point in the future. Your aim is not to convince your wife she has a problem; it is to let her know you believe there is one. Let her know your belief is based on the behaviors you have seen.
- Don’t judge. Also, do not try to pin down motives. Both can serve as distractions.
- Don’t count on a dramatic shift in thinking or behavior right after your talk. This discussion could be the first time your wife has considered this problem.
- Manage your expectations. Remember there are no quick solutions to addiction, and that it will take some time to resolve the problem.
It May Take Multiple Talks
If you are not successful in your discussions with your wife, consider enlisting a trusted loved one or family member to talk with your wife. Possibly a close friend or family member, doctor, clergy, or another meaningful person in your wife’s life might be able to have a productive talk.
Sometimes having multiple talks may make you feel like a broken record, but don’t get discouraged. If your wife is addicted, she may need to hear the same things numerous times before it sinks in. Remember that consistency is critical: the message is you love her, and you want to see her get help. Be supportive when she does decide to get help. Before she decides to get help, you must set concrete rules and boundaries for acceptable behavior until the addiction is under control.
Set Concrete Rules and Consequences
Keep in mind that, despite the best of intentions, your wife may not be able to cut back or stop on her own, most cannot. She may be successful and cut back or stop for a few days or weeks before going back to heavy use. This failure may be the push she needs to realize the problem is more serious than she thought before.
A note of caution: It’s dangerous and sometimes deadly to stop or cut back on certain drugs or alcohol without professional help. Talk to a doctor, counselor, or addiction specialist about this.
In addition, set concrete rules that will protect your home, finances, and relationships, and be sure to stick to those rules. Set healthy boundaries and limits, such as no alcohol or drug use in the house.
Also, set consequences if the rules are not followed. This may mean some “tough love” is involved, like cutting off access to family and money. For example, you may decide to ask your wife to move out. Offer to see a helping professional or looking into a treatment program as an alternative to tough love consequences.
Don’t Wait for Your Wife to “Hit Bottom”
It’s a common misconception that a person will not accept help for substance abuse until he or she “hits bottom.” In fact, the earlier the intervention and the person gets help, the better the chances for a successful recovery. At the first sign that your wife is addicted, take action.
Some people can learn to cut back, while some need further assessment and possible treatment. Some people can cut back on their usage early on, but others need treatment to recover. Early treatment for a substance use disorder is more likely to cause less anxiety, have a lower intensity, and be less disruptive to the family.
While it is challenging to confront someone you love over a substance abuse problem, it is better to do it as early as possible rather than let outside negative consequences be the triggers. It is best not to wait. If your wife is addicted, she could
My Wife is Addicted but Won’t Get Help. What Now?
Unfortunately, your talks may fall on deaf ears, and addictive behaviors continue. If your wife is addicted and refuses treatment, prepare yourself to follow through with the consequences you have laid out. You may not have control over your wife’s behaviors, but you can remove yourself and any children from a harmful situation. You and others involved in your wife’s life can make helpful changes, such as not enabling the destructive cycle of behavior and taking actions to make sure positive changes come about.
Be sure to continue taking care of yourself during these difficult times. Eat healthily and get enough sleep. See a therapist yourself to help cope with the situation. Find activities that help you relax, like exercise, yoga, or meditation. Don’t neglect your own health. Attend a local support group for family members of people with addictions, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. And don’t get overwhelmed; take it one day at a time.