A person with a substance use disorder may be fighting an incredible battle, but addictions take a toll on the entire family. As a spouse of someone battling addiction, there’s the added burden of supporting the partner, managing one’s own trauma, and protecting the children.

Here are some helpful tips for protecting your family during the addiction recovery process.

Plan Your Conversations

Many parents try to shield their children from what’s happening by not discussing the issues. While the intention is pure, the ostrich approach of putting your head in the sand can do more harm than good. Instead, having meaningful conversations about substance abuse and addiction recovery with your children is essential.

Map out your conversations before you have them. Be honest, but use age-appropriate language. Choose times for your conversations that reflect the child’s schedule, so you don’t feel rushed or emotionally dysregulated.

Remember that children need reassurance during this difficult time. Use every opportunity to remind them that their parent still loves them, that nothing is the child’s fault, and that they’re protected.

Set and Protect Boundaries

Create strict boundaries about what behaviors and actions are acceptable around the children. The top priority is protecting the children from things that could cause them physical or mental harm.

Communication is key when setting boundaries with a spouse undergoing addiction recovery. While having time and building a parent-to-child relationship is important, prioritizing the child’s well-being trumps all.

Setting boundaries also means knowing when to draw a line in the sand. It’s one thing to support a spouse as they face addiction recovery and another to tolerate abuse. Be clear about the deal breakers and have a plan in place should those lines get crossed. Having an emergency list of shelters or a safe place is the best plan you’ll hopefully never have to use.

Most importantly, be consistent and follow through when those boundaries are crossed. Setting boundaries is an ongoing process. You will likely experience challenges and setbacks that take you back to the drawing board. However, following through will communicate to your partner that you’re serious.

It’s also wise to explore financial boundaries — especially if your spouse’s behavior in active addiction caused financial hardship. This can be a tough topic to broach during recovery. Discuss this with your partner’s support team to find the best possible approach.

Seek Professional Support for All

When a spouse goes through addiction recovery, they’ll often go through different therapies and interventions to help them process underlying trauma and develop healthy coping mechanisms. The family of the spouse also needs this support.

Mothers, in particular, tend to take on the caregiver role to a fault bearing the emotional labor and weight of the family. Seek support resources like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon for family support. Seeking private counseling for children is also beneficial. 

When looking for professional support, keep the following metrics in mind:

  • Find someone who specializes in addictions. While addictions and mental health go hand-in-hand, it’s crucial to have someone experienced in the impacts of addiction on families. Additionally, having someone who specializes in children and youth can help.
  • Reputation and certification. Take some time to read reviews and understand the therapist or counselors background and education. For example, they may be a licenced therapist or a social worker. Both can be beneficial, but one may have more hands-on experience than the other.
  • Methodology. Some therapists focus on CBT and talk therapy. Others specialize in art therapy. Take some time to review and find an approach that works for your family.
  • Cost and coverage. Mental health support is expensive. Look at coverage options, total costs, and sponsored alternatives.
  • Fit. Determine the comfort level and overall fit with the therapist or counselor. This factor has a significant impact on outcomes.

The first therapist or treatment style you try may not be the right fit, but don’t give up. There’s a support option for everyone.

Communicate the Situation

There’s a sense of stigma or shame around managing an addiction. Some parents are hesitant to share the information out of pride or fear that someone may take their children away. However, secrecy can cause more harm to the child.

Children tend to lash out and experience behavioral issues related to stress at home. These actions could impact their education or be misconstrued by other adults in their lives. Communicating the situation with the school or childcare providers is essential for context and ensuring safety for all. Schools can often provide free resources — such as counseling — to families with financial limitations.

When communicating the challenges with your children’s teachers, coaches, and other supportive adults, keep the following in mind:

  • Be as honest and specific as possible. The more context your children’s safe people have, the better they’ll be able to help.
  • Prioritize confidentiality. Make it clear that this is a private issue and choose the right setting to have these conversations.
  • Respect your child’s privacy. Understand that your child may not feel comfortable having conversations about the situation with these people, even though they need to know. Be clear in setting expectations and boundaries around communication.
  • Ask for help, even though it’s hard. Be specific in what you need, whether it’s family support resources or understanding for your child.
  • Keep an open mind. Be open to suggestions and resources, even if they feel unnatural or it feels awkward to take advice. 

Communication is essential for ensuring your child’s safe places stay safe and welcoming during this trying time, especially as they navigate big feelings.

Make Time for Fun

Find time for intentional fun and relaxation to help children get away and be kids. Making happy memories during this challenging period will help offset the stress and emotional weight of living with a parent going through recovery.

Unfortunately, addiction and treatment can put an undue financial hardship on the family. These effects can make it difficult to plan activities. Fortunately, there are some low-cost and free solutions to try:

  • Plan unplugged family game nights
  • Cook together or eat fun foods
  • Set up a picnic or camping night – you can do this indoors if the weather is bad
  • Go on a hike or nature scavenger hunt
  • Explore free community events
  • Have a kitchen dance party
  • Host a talent show
  • Create a relaxing at-home spa experience
  • Read books together

When your child looks back in the future at this period in their life, it’s the positive moments that will stand out. Don’t worry that it’s not enough — it’s the relaxing time together that matters.


Addiction affects everyone. Use these strategies to keep your children and yourself healthy and well during the recovery process.