“What should I do if my partner is drinking or using drugs?” The answer is that there are many answers, many paths, and many ways to help your partner change his relationship to substances. The answer for your partner will depend on the dynamics of your relationship and your partner as a unique individual. It will depend on what sorts of other problems he has, how long the behavior has been going on, who your/his friends are and what they think about substances, and about fifty other things. One size does not fit all. There are as many ways to change as there are people. It’s a more complicated, perhaps unsettling answer than a universal solution, but worth grappling with because it’s reality.

Improving family relations and friendships, reinforcing healthy habits, and introducing new interests are all helpful. Treatment and other therapeutic activities can help, and there are many options— some better supported by evidence than others, some more available and affordable than others, but altogether many possibilities to explore. In other words, in many ways your partner can get the help he needs.

If you are brave enough to ask for it, people will give you their opinions, advice, and even veiled criticism about helping your partner. You might hear, “How could you let that happen in your own house? He needs to go to rehab!” in one ear, and “It’s not such a big deal, everybody overdoes it sometimes,” in the other.

Whom should you listen to? What’s the best advice? Again, no one size fits all and having a choice among treatment plans and plans for change in general predicts positive outcomes. On these points the evidence is crystal clear: giving people options helps them feel less trapped and invites them to get invested in the plan. This is also true for your partner.

So, as you think through ways to help your partner, do your homework. If the first (or fifth) person you consult tells you they know exactly what you should do, you might want to get some more opinions, especially if the person says this without meeting your partner. Black-and-white thinking abounds when it comes to figuring out how to deal with a substance use problem, and you may hear the range from “If you don’t make him deal with this now, the next thing will be him landing in jail, or worse” to “It’s just a little pot, what’s the worry?” Falling into the black-and-white thinking trap can prevent you from understanding the subtleties of who your partner really is and how to help him. Give yourself permission to take the time you need to sort out what is going on and understand your options and try to be patient—with yourself and your partner.

After you collect information about your situation, we encourage you to trust your sense of what is best, putting aside your feelings of anger and self-doubt. Getting input is important, but you also need to trust what you know about your partner and your family.

A Suggestion
If you consider asking your partner to get a professional assessment, it may be helpful to describe it to him as a “consultation,” which sounds a little bit less like “trapped in therapy forever.” Ask around. Ask people about psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and so on that they liked. “The Top 100 Doctors” might not be the best place to start; the guy your friend from work liked might be a more appealing and accessible port in the storm.

Next Page: Behaviors Make Sense . . . Even Your Partner’s