Living with an Addict

Q: I've been married for 22 years, and yes, we've had our ups and downs. Mostly downs. My husband has had a drinking problem from the time we met at a party when I was 18 and foolish. I also drank at the time and even did a bit of Mary Jane. We had a lot of fun together and six months later got married. We had a beautiful daughter a year later. The partying stopped for me as I grew to realize there was much more to life than that and I wanted to give our daughter a safe, secure home. My husband unfortunately did not seem to feel the same way and continued to party. We had several fights about this and I even left him a few times. But he always begged me to return and told me things would change. I went back every time and things were good (or so they seemed). Now 20 years later we are still married.

I thought he'd eventually grow up and the drinking and sneaking around would stop, but instead it's gotten worse. Three years ago he lost his job of 21 years, which threw him into a deep depression. He got involved in heavy drug use and got into trouble for possession. It seems he's totally changed: He thinks only of himself and sometimes refuses to help me pay our bills or even buy groceries (we are currently in Chapter 13 bankruptcy). He has been through rehab and counseling and claims he's not involved with drugs anymore. He works every day and comes home every night, but I do NOT believe him as he's still hanging out with a couple of the people he used to party with. He has had a couple relapses and almost died. I do love him, but at the same time I can't stand him and I don't feel whole anymore. Will he ever stop doing drugs? Should I divorce him? -- Vicki, 41

Dr. Susan: Vicki, you've hung in there and stood by him for so many years - a whole generation! - and he has only repaid the support by digging his own grave deeper and deeper and dragging you down with him. Not only that, but research has found that many wives of addicts are at risk for HIV because their husbands use dirty needles or have secret sex lives. I can't see why you're still sticking around. It's time for a sincere ultimatum, which should include his not hanging around with people who don't have his and your best interests at heart. But before you do that, consider some counseling yourself, because you're going to have to be stronger than before if you're to walk away when he's begging you not to. Addicts can change, but it sounds like your husband will only do so if forced to. It's also possible that he's telling the truth this time, but I can't blame you for mistrusting him after all the hell he's put you through. He owes you big-time, and for starters, he has to prove his commitment in ways that will rebuild your trust in him. It's even possible that what you think is love is merely habit and a shared history of trouble and conflict. You are still young enough to start over, so decide how many more years you want to spend fantasizing that he'll wise up.

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