How Therapy Can Help Couples in Addiction Recovery

Healthy relationships and substance abuse do not mix. In fact, I would argue it is absolutely impossible to have a successful relationship with a partner who is abusing substances. Substance use disorders have a way of causing harm to the entire family, not just the individual using.

Couples impacted by substance abuse often experience:

  • Problems with intimacy and sexual function in the relationship
  • Poor communication
  • Increased verbal abuse and physical violence. Substance abuse has been found to co-occur in 40-60% of intimate partner violence incidents across various studies.
  • A parent with a substance use disorder is 3 times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child
  • A lack of trust or honesty in the relationship
  • Financial issues
  • Patterns of codependency

These issues worsen over time and cause couples to drift further apart and experience more relationship dissatisfaction. When one or both members of a couples seek treatment for addiction and achieve sobriety, the couple has a chance to regain its strength and recover.


There are three recoveries happening here

Each individual AND the relationship must recover from the turmoil and chaos caused by substance use disorders and addiction. Longitudinal research indicates that relationship stability is a significant predictor of established long-term recovery. We also know that addicted couples’ divorce rate is 4x higher than the national average. Couples in recovery with strong relationships have a better chance of reaching long term recovery.

Addiction a family disease, so why aren’t we treating it like one?

couple hands

I believe that couple’s therapy is an integral part of a solid relapse prevention plan for recovering addicts. What I am about to say has been widely debated in the therapeutic community, but I am going to say it…Couples in early recovery can benefit from couple’s counseling. Let me be clear, this isn’t about couples work replacing individual recovery. Individual recovery plans are still vital and necessary to the addicted individual’s recovery. Both partners will still focus on their own recovery as a priority, but we can work on the relationship while this is happening. There is no currently published research stating that couple’s therapy has a negative impact on individual recovery.

Couples therapy for addiction and substance use disorders may include helping partners understand how to deal with potential relapse, how to support one another in recovery, or how to discuss triggers and develop coping skills.

How can couples therapy for addiction help?


When one or both members of a couple seeking addiction treatment, they often expect the relationship problems to disappear after sobriety has been achieved. Many couples are disappointed and shocked that they continue to have many of the same fights and arguments after the substance abuse has ended. It is very important that the problems in the relationship be treated so help both partners sustain recovery. Research shows that involving partners in the treatment is vital to treatment success.

Studies also show that couples therapy produces greater abstinence and improved relationship functioning in comparison to typical individual treatments. It also reduces social costs, domestic violence, and emotional problems of the couple’s children. Couples therapy is an excellent addition to individual therapy, 12-step or other self-help groups, group substance abuse counseling, and recovery or anti-craving medications.

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT, LCDC-Intern is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor Intern at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene can help you create healthier patterns in your relationship so you can build a stronger foundation. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.