Tell Me About It

I think my husband has a drug problem, but he says that’s nonsense

Tell Me About It: His moods are unstable, his spending out of control, and he sleeps very little

PROBLEM: My husband’s best friend recently contacted me and told me he was concerned about my husband’s behaviour. He said he noticed he was acting erratically and he suspects my husband is addicted to cocaine.

While many would dismiss this as gossip, I was unsurprised as I too have noticed a dramatic change in him. We first met at a party more than 20 years ago and at the time we were both high. Over the years we have both dabbled a little but since I had my first child 10 years ago, I haven’t indulged in any drugs. But I know that at Christmas parties my husband has taken cocaine.

We are a liberally minded couple and, at night-time, my husband will often stand outside the back door and smoke a joint. This never concerned me, as he has always been a hard-working, successful and balanced individual and, most of all, a great dad and husband.

But, over the past year, he has started to look dishevelled, and often says unusual things. He sleeps very little and his mood is somewhat unstable.

Initially, I thought he might be having a mental health breakdown, but after speaking to his friend, I checked his bank balance and found that his spending is out of control. I am also aware that he has been in contact with some very shady characters.

I recently told him of my concerns, and he told me that it was nonsense, that he just enjoyed a line every now and again, and not to worry about it. But I cannot help feeling that he needs help.

ADVICE: All the signs are there that your husband might be in trouble, particularly as his best friend is bringing this to your attention. As you are no doubt aware, it is completely in keeping with having a drug problem to deny the situation, so perhaps you need to create a crisis to head off something much more un-manageable happening in the future.

At least two of you who care about your husband are deeply concerned and it might make sense for both of you to present him with your worries. You sound as though you are somewhat ambivalent about asking your husband to stop taking drugs, as it was part of your liberal lifestyle for so long, but now you have to be unequivocal in your stance with him; he is endangering his own wellbeing as well as that of his kids and family.

It will be very difficult for your husband to admit he has a problem and you will have to be both committed and clear in your determination that he gets help. It may take many attempts to get him to accept that something needs to happen and you will have to be the one who continues to assert that this problem is addressed and that both of you are going to tackle it.

It may be useful to address it in stages. Ask him to have an assessment to see where the issue is at and accompany him to any appointments. You can seek assessments from the HSE – type “HSE addiction services” into a search engine for a list of countrywide supports – or from private providers such as the Rutland Centre or St Patrick’s Addiction Services. Referrals can be made by your GP, a counsellor or by any individual, and drugs.ie can provide a list of services particular to your local area.

When your husband is being treated, a lot will be demanded of you … so it is really important that you have your own supports in place

Treatment can come in many forms ranging from in patient residential settings to outpatient or community support options, including individual and group supports. All of these services have a mental health component so that your husband’s overall wellbeing will be assessed, and appropriate services put in place.

During this time, when your husband is being treated, a lot will be demanded of you in terms of keeping the family functioning, the finances on track and also supporting your partner, so it is really important that you have your own supports in place. These can come in the form of the extended family being aware of, and involved in, the situation or of friends offering you a listening ear but it might be a good idea to acknowledge the depth of impact on you and set up your own counselling or psychotherapy to help see you through this.

There is no doubt that you will need a safe place to vent your anger and frustrations so that you can keep being the strong parent and partner during the expected long time of recovery for your husband. Most treatment of addiction involves setbacks along the way, and this can be devastating for the partner, or family, who can feel that their efforts are going nowhere and that their loved ones prefer their addiction to them.

There are many supportive bodies that can help on this journey, predict the pitfalls and support the carers along the way. See al-anon-ireland.org or look up an accredited counselling websites – the Irish Council for Psychotherapy (ICP), Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) – and type in addiction speciality.