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Dear Friends,

I believe we can learn a lot from each other’s difficulties and accomplishments. I created the Ask Dr. Michelle column to share my advice with many people at the same time, who although they don’t know it, are often facing some of the same challenges. I hope that my comments provide you with some insight into situations that you are facing in your life. If you have a question that you want me to answer, submit it below. I wish you all the best. (I try to answer as many questions as possible, but please understand that due to the number of questions that I receive I am not able to answer every question.)

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My husband has a substance abuse problem, will tough love work?

  • After three years, my husband has a tumultuous battle with substance abuse. I have been supportive through al-anon and several treatment facilities during this period. I have had enough and I put him out of the family home (with a great deal of guilt!). I couldn’t ask for a more loving partner except for the fact that, when he relapses, he will lie, cheat and steal from anyone, including those who are closest to him. Of course, I love him, but I would like to know if this is the appropriate “tough love” technique to take?

  • I think you finally made a long over due decision.  If you had said that you only supported him for three months instead of three years then I might say give it a little more time, but three years is long enough to wait for change.  You have waited and supported him through many attempts to get clean.  It is so hard to put someone out of the house when you know that they don’t have it all together, but the bottom line is, that is exactly why you have to put some people out.  Someone who doesn’t have it together, like a drug abusing spouse, usually doesn’t get it together when they have you around to make it all too easy for them to stay exactly the way they are.

    You have probably heard of “enablers.”  Those are the people who help drug addicts maintain their habits by making excuses for the addicted person’s behavior and supporting them with money or other essentials. If he could continue to stay there with you and abuse drugs, lie, cheat and steal, why would he ever stop?  I mean he could have stopped while still living at home, but he didn’t in over three years so that was a sign for you to take matters in your own hands.  That is not to say that he will change overnight because he is out of the house but it is a first step towards making it clear that you will not tolerate that behavior or treatment and that you don’t want to expose the rest of the family to it either.

    He will probably try to push you to change your mind and it may become difficult to maintain your decision to keep him out of the house until he is clean, but stay strong!  Once you make a decision like that you need to stick with it until you get solid evidence that he is clean for good.  If you change your mind and let him return while he is still addicted, he will know that he has the ability to manipulate you and that you don’t really mean what you say.  You can’t tell him how serious you are–you have to show him.  I know you said you love him, so show him by helping him to help himself.  Once he is clean he will thank you for it.

    I wish you and him all the best!

    Dr. Michelle