To help wife beat addiction, don’t enable her


Q. My wife is addicted to pain killers, but she denies it. She misses work, gets prescriptions from several doctors and may be buying pills on the street. I’ve been ignoring the situation, doing the chores, and covering for her. I feel people

will judge us harshly if they know the truth. What can I do to help her?

A. Since your wife will not acknowledge her addiction problem, there is little you can do to get her treatment until a crisis arises. From your description of the situation, I suspect you may be enabling your wife by doing things for her that she could and should do herself.

There are several questions you should answer to determine if you are an enabler. Do you consistently accept her explanations even when you know they are not true? Do you ignore her dysfunctional behavior? Do you make excuses to friends and family? If so, your wife will likely not come to a crisis point until you stop enabling.

Following are behaviors that you should change to be a helpful and caring spouse.

Stop covering for her.

Do not rescue her by paying her way out of trouble.

Do not argue or plead with her.

Do not constantly respond emotionally to the latest crisis.

Set boundaries.

Make rules and keep them.

Carefully explain the boundaries and the rules to her.

Stop any addictive behaviors you have.

These changes may be difficult for you; however, addicts can deny problems much longer when others are solving their problems. Only when she faces the consequences of her actions, whether they are legal or socially embarrassing, will she realize how serious the situation has become. It would be helpful for you to attend a meeting of Al-anon to have a better understanding of enabling behaviors and to get support for your situation.

Q. My children are constantly on me about my smoking. I don’t want to quit. Now my daughter has refused to let my granddaughter spend the night. Don’t I have a right to smoke in my own home?

A. You have a right to continue smoking and your daughter has a right to keep her child away from secondhand smoke. I would suggest that an immediate solution to your problem would be for you to agree not to smoke in your house or in front of your granddaughter.

Smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths, so I would also suggest that you consider quitting for your health and longevity. It’s not easy, but most people who quit feel better and are pleased to have extra money.

Psychologists believe that changing behavior depends on the person’s beliefs about their habit and their readiness to change. According to research, successful change occurs in five stages.

1. Precontemplation — At this stage you do not perceive your smoking as a problem, but believe your family members are unreasonable.

2. Contemplation — You become aware of the harm that smoking is doing to you and your family dynamic. When you reach this realization, you will begin to consider quitting.

3. Preparation — To be successful, you must make a plan. Consult your physician for advice and ask for help from your family and friends.

4. Action — You adhere to your plan and quit smoking regardless of the difficulty.

5. Maintenance — You stop smoking for six months. During this time, you will have

learned skills to prevent relapse.

You may feel that your family is being unfair, but they are most likely asking you to quit smoking because they love you and want to keep you around for many more years.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to drnryburn@gmail.com. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There

will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.