Addictions of all kinds plague the 21st century. Drug addiction, in particular, can devastate lives and marriages. Drugs control every waking moment of the addict’s life, whether he or she is hooked on illegal street drugs or lawful prescriptions. The physical and psychological addiction is real and painful. For spouses of drug addicts, the pain is of a different sort. The drug addiction violates their finances, time, and emotional security. They may feel helpless to stop the addicted spouse from destroying everything that matters to them. But drug addiction does not fall within specific biblical guidelines for divorce, so what can a spouse do?
Many situations are not directly addressed in Scripture, so we have to find applicable biblical principles. For example, cell phones and the Internet were unheard of when the Bible was completed, yet we can find principles that govern their use (see Psalm 101:3 and Matthew 6:33). It may surprise some people that the Bible actually does address drug use. When it does, it is always closely connected with sorcery and witchcraft.
The Greek word pharmakeia, found in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 18:23, means “sorcery,” specifically, “the use of drugs and medicines related to spells.” The word pharmakeia is where we get our words pharmaceuticals and pharmacy. Pharmaceuticals are related to witchcraft in that magicians and witches concocted potions that they used in casting spells or curses. The mind-altering chemicals put the user under the magician’s control. Any connection with pharmakeia was harshly condemned in the Bible. In Galatians 5:20, drug addiction is listed along with idolatry and hatred as sins that control people and keep them from the kingdom of God.
If a Christian is married to a drug addict who refuses to end the addiction, it may be safe to assume the addict is not born again (John 3:3–6). The essence of saving faith is placing oneself under the Holy Spirit’s control. Though Christians still sin, their allegiance is to God, and their desire is to honor Him with their lives (I John 1:8–9; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 5:18). By definition, drug addiction is placing oneself under the control of a chemical substance. We cannot be controlled simultaneously by two forces (Matthew 6:24). Drug addiction is not a “disease” as society often describes it. It is sin. Drug addiction may feel overpowering to the addict, but it is an ongoing choice. Running to a substance or behavior that controls one’s life is a form of idolatry, and idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Revelation 21:8).
A spouse’s ultimate concern must be for the salvation of the addicted husband or wife. Prayer is powerful (James 5:16), but is that all God expects of someone who is married to an addict? Matthew 18:15–17 instructs us about what to do if an addict professes to follow Jesus but continues in his addiction. First, confront the addict. If ignored, take someone with you to confront again. If the addict refuses to listen, tell the church. If the sin continues, cut off contact. These steps, especially the last one, may be altered some between a married couple, but with godly oversight a spouse can apply these principles and pray God uses the tough-love approach to bring the addict to repentance.
After all these steps have been followed and the addict still refuses to get help, physical separation may be in order. Separation is not divorce, but it may be the motivation the addict needs to seek help. While caught up in a drug-induced haze, addicts have very little concept of what their drug abuse is doing to loved ones. Often, it is only when the addict faces all he is losing that he seeks help. If he is truly a follower of Jesus, he has the Holy Spirit to help him overcome the idolatry of drug abuse.
If the addict does not claim to be a believer, it may be time to engage with 1 Corinthians 7:15. A Christian spouse can create healthy boundaries for the home. If the addict will not abide by those boundaries, he or she is free to leave. For example, a spouse may say, “This home is becoming unbearable because of your drug addiction. Neither I nor our children can live like this anymore. I cannot control what you do, but I don’t have to stand by and watch you kill yourself or someone else. So if you come home high or try to bring drugs into this house, I will call the police. If you drive with our children in the car while high, I will report you for child abuse.” Those boundaries may seem harsh, but a spouse is dealing with the irrational effect of drugs. Many times, an addict must hit bottom before he or she is willing to seek help. If, even after hitting bottom, the addict will not seek help, at least he or she is out of the house and out of sight of a grieving spouse and impressionable children.
Enabling drug addiction is a common mistake spouses make. We enable someone’s sin when we cover for it, won’t hold the person responsible, or minimize the consequences her choices bring. Enablers tell themselves they are “helping,” when they are only further entrenching the addict in his addiction. Imagine a ten-foot wall someone needs to scale to be who God created her to be. Help is a hand up that boosts that person higher until she can climb over herself. Enabling is lying by the wall and letting the person jump up and down on you until she destroys you. Then he moves on to someone else. No one has improved, and the person you thought you were helping still cannot scale the wall.
Spouses of drug addicts have difficult decisions to make, but it helps to remember that sometimes the most loving thing we can do is enforce healthy boundaries. When people in an addict’s life refuse to enable the addiction, the addict has a greater chance of successfully overcoming that addiction. God uses consequences to teach us. Fools never learn and continue repeating the folly (Proverbs 26:11). But wise people realize what they are forfeiting by indulging their cravings. They set their own boundaries, make themselves accountable to others, and seek community to support them in their fight.
A person married to an addict will encourage, support, praise, and comfort as long as the addict seeks God and help. He or she encourages the addicted spouse to seek counseling to uncover the emotional void the addict is filling by using drugs. The spouse will attend recovery meetings, seek pastoral support, and pray. But he or she does not have to allow the addiction to destroy the family, influence the children, or ruin his or her own fruitfulness. The spouse of a drug addict lives believing that Jesus has come to give us abundant life (John 10:10) not bondage.