How Can I Tell if My Spouse is Using Drugs?

Carly never worried about her relationship before. She had been happily married for 3 years, but then, things started to change. Her husband, Matt, started coming home late from work, going out on the weekends and wasn’t at the office when he said he was. Matt became defensive anytime Carly questioned him about his whereabouts. Carly decided to do what many suspicious spouses do: spy on him. She went through his emails and text messages, and while they didn’t prove anything, she found that he had an entirely different circle of friends. She was convinced: her husband was having an affair.

But, Matt wasn’t having an affair. His strange, secretive behavior, defensive attitude and new friends were hiding something entirely different but equally devastating: drugs and alcohol.

Carly knew that Matt had struggled with addiction in the past. He had gotten the help he needed and it didn’t seem to be that much of an issue when she met him. He preferred to stay away from bars and parties, and Carly didn’t mind. She wasn’t a drinker, and certainly not a drug user, so the two created a happy and sober lifestyle. It wasn’t until now when Matt admitted what he was doing that she realized that his past was going to rock everything she had hoped for.

More Adults Struggle with Addiction Than We Realize

Carly’s story isn’t one of a kind. Many adults struggle with addiction, either because their dependency has advanced into a full blown addiction, or because past experiences with drugs and alcohol fueled the need to use again. Unfortunately, many spouses are left unsure of what signs to look for and how to handle the news. Many suspect that their spouses are cheating, when in reality, they are engaging in illegal drug use.

The assumption by some is that adults should have past addictions “figured out” by now. This isn’t the way it works, however. While it’s possible for some adults to form addictions later in life, especially if they were prescribed prescription medications for pain or anxiety, many are no stranger to drugs and alcohol. What was once viewed as normal teenage behavior can easily fuel into something greater.

What is the Scope of the Problem?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug use among people in their 50s is increasing. In fact, substance abuse of both alcohol and prescription drugs among adults 60 and older is one of the fastest growing health problems in our country. Yet even with the increasing rates of drug abuse among older adults, the problem remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. In fact, if you do a quick search on this topic, you’ll find that there is little information available. Most of the data and resources surrounding drug addiction are related to teens and young adults.

What are the Signs of Adult Drug Use?

If your spouse is acting out of character, don’t automatically assume that an affair is at the root of the problem. This is especially true if he/she struggled with addiction in the past, even if you know little about it. Though it may appear that your spouse put their past behind them by the time you met them, addiction has a way of creeping back into people’s lives if they don’t continue on a very particular path.

Here are some of the signs we recommend looking for.

  • Have there been changes made to your spouse’s daily schedule? Maybe you show up to bring him lunch one day and he’s not there. Or perhaps he has started going out after work or on the weekends when he used to love staying in.
  • Does your spouse disappear during the day? Does a quick run to the grocery store turn into a 4-hour trip? Yes, some guys will take every opportunity to get away on the weekends, but you’re looking for uncharacteristic behavior.
  • Has anything gone missing in the home? If you’ve noticed that certain items are MIA with no explanation, it’s time to investigate further. It may not be a shopping habit or affair she’s trying to fund but an addiction.
  • Are you having money problems? Is your account balance unusually low? Some women love to shop, but strange behavior coupled with money problems is a sign of adult addiction. And, if you aren’t seeing new items to go along with the added spending, this is another red flag.
  • Is your spouse’s personality changing? Does your husband seem distant, distracted or lazy? Addiction influences personalities, so it’s almost certain you will notice some change in your spouse’s demeanor.
  • Have you noticed paraphernalia in the home? Empty liquor bottles? Pipes? Adults are sometimes more careless than teens because they feel in control, so don’t turn the other cheek if you’ve noticed some extra material lying around.

Not Falling for the Lies

Remember, drug addicts are very good storytellers. They are excellent liars, too. They often believe that they have things under control, and this is especially true for older adults. Teens and young adults tend to be more secretive because they know they are being watched by parents and teachers. But adults have jobs, their own homes and salaries, so they feel more in control of what they do.

If you suspect a problem, confront your spouse. Ask them what’s going on. Don’t  automatically assume it’s infidelity. Treat any drug or alcohol problems seriously. And don’t believe the lies. Very, very rarely does drug use get better on its own.

Addiction isn’t erased by the birth of a child, the purchase of a new home or the start of a new job. Your spouse may decrease their usage, but they will likely return. An acknowledgment of the problem, some type of treatment program (inpatient, outpatient or day program) and a strict routine (with AA or NA meetings) is the only real way to manage the addiction.