Blog | Addiction Recovery

What Happens When a Drug- or Alcohol-Addicted Couple Seeks Treatment?

We often only hear about one family member struggling with addiction while everyone else tries to intervene and provide support. However, it is not uncommon for couples to be struggling with a substance abuse issue simultaneously.

Dysfunctional dynamics often develop in order to keep the family unit together during the addiction process. If both of the individuals want to recover, the systems that have developed within the family will have to change significantly if the couple is going to maintain a successful sobriety and stay together.[1]

Recovery is not easy when only one person’s needs are considered, so the difficulty is magnified when two people’s needs and the dynamics of a relationship are involved. However, it is possible and, if done right, can be helpful for two people to seek treatment at the same time.

Recipe for Success as a Couple in Drug or Alcohol Recovery

In addition to finding a quality rehabilitation program, there are a number of factors that need to be in place both during the active treatment phase and after both people return home.

These include the following:

  • Each person must put their own sobriety first.
  • Both must reach out to others outside the relationship for support through 12-step meetings, in addition to helping each other.
  • Both should participate in individual and couples counseling to identify dynamics that no longer suit the relationship moving forward.
  • Both should accept that recovering as a couple will be a journey that takes flexibility on the part of each individual.
  • Both should seek out the help of books or DVDs that may help in the recovery process.
  • Each person should demonstrate respect for the other as well as an unwavering commitment to the relationship.

Be Wary of Attempts to ‘Eliminate the Witness’

Couple in therapy sessionMarriage and family counselors, Elaine and John Leadem, explain in their book, An Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention[2], how the people closest to us mirror back the best and worst parts of ourselves. Those closest to an addict in recovery will often be the target of negative moods and comments as they are the “most revealing mirrors in our lives.” Just like in the age-old fairytale, when the mirror does not reflect back what you want to see, you either have to take a look at the cold hard truth about yourself or break the mirror in a process the Leadem’s call eliminating the witnesses.[3]

Couples in recovery together need to be hyper-aware of this process and remain vigilant not to break the mirror, so to speak, but instead use support services such as counseling and self-help groups to work through these issues. Usually, the closest family and friends will be the first to know when relapse is imminent, and listening to their honesty may be key in both short- and long-term recovery, especially for couples moving through these difficult challenges together.

What challenges do you think couples in recovery face that individuals do not? Tell us your thoughts below.

If you or someone you love—potentially a partner—are struggling with addiction, please call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline today. We want to help you begin a new life apart from addiction. We want to help you have the most successful relationships possible. Please call now.


[1] https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/07/23/introducing-couples-in-recovery/

[2] http://www.leademcounseling.com/store/our-publications/an-ounce-of-prevention-a-course-in-relapse-prevention

[3] https://blogs.psychcentral.com/couples/2012/07/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall/