A 30 year-old man writes that his wife is stealing his Adderall. They have two small children, whom she takes care of during the day while he works. She also runs a freelance business almost full-time, which frequently keeps her up late. The husband has a prescription for the pills, but he only uses them occasionally and then to help him work.
He has noticed pills missing from his prescription bottle for three months in a row. Most recently, he had only used 2 out of 30 pills in a month, and there were only 7 left in the bottle. He asked her if she knew about this, and she claimed to have no idea. She suggested that maybe a workman stole some.
He feels bad because he advised her to try Adderall in the first place to help with work. “I’m torn between wanting to bust her for her lying and trying to figure out how serious this is. How do I confront her?”
My instinct here is to look for a root cause, but that probably doesn’t matter. It’s possible that the wife’s drug abuse and stealing are things she’s doing because she’s unhappy with her current work and family situation. It’s possible she’s doing this to medicate a relationship problem or to destroy the relationship. It’s also possible that this behavior has sources that D&S could never know. My concern is that the husband seems to think of this as his wife’s problem, but if he wants to resolve it, he’ll have to approach it as their joint problem.
Regardless of the cause of the wife’s (perhaps burgeoning, perhaps established) drug abuse and lying, this will quickly become a relationship problem. It’s bound to set wife and husband against each other and on a path to intractable mistrust and unhappiness. We can see the beginnings of that already in the husband’s approach. He wants to bust her or find out how bad it is, which is sort of a polarized, almost militant approach—not necessarily cooperative or helping.
My recommendation is that the husband confront her in the spirit of, “Let’s be honest: we both have a problem.”
There are other good reasons for this. For one, he got her started on Adderall for a non-medical purpose. For another, he is enabling her use of Adderall, and he’s going to have to stop having it around the house if she is addicted to it. Thirdly, he doesn’t really use Adderall for ADD. It’s a performance enhancer for him, not solving a true medical condition. Even if he’s not addicted, he’s either abusing the drug himself or not using as intended.
If the husband approaches this as a team effort, it’s a lot less accusatory and threatening than just saying “You have a problem.” And if they attack the Adderall problem in the spirit of cooperation, they might be able to—they might be forced to—address other issues in their relationship. We don’t know the full story, but it seems like she might need more support to manage the kids and her career.
The kids deserve to have two functioning parents, neither of whom is addicted to drugs. I realize that some people don’t see prescription drug use as abuse, but it’s damaging emotionally and physically to everyone around the abuser or abusers—in this case, you, your wife, and your two kids. You shouldn’t need a prescription drug to get through your day. That means that both you and your wife need to find a better way of managing your work and home lives.
Because so many emotions are going to come into play once the husband and wife start talking about it, and because so much is at stake here—children, jobs, relationships—this is going to be a hot-button issue that will quickly explode. Therefore, as D says, they’ll need to approach it in the spirit of cooperation—as their issue.
That’s easier said than done. Once both parties acknowledge the drug abuse, they’ll need to talk about how they talk about it so that they can be productive without being accusatory. That requires rules of engagement, politeness, and coming from a place of understanding and cooperation, not incrimination.
Usually when you approach someone as an accuser, that’s because you already have other problems in your relationship and want to be able to say, “see, I gotcha.” There’s no shame in going to a couple’s therapist if it’s something you can’t do on your own. It will help to set rules of engagement for this and other issues to prevent acrimonious, repetitive, accusatory fighting.
This is your problem or, as they say in the South, y’all’s problem. Both of you have a drug problem whether you are both abusers or not. Both of you have a relationship problem whether or not this started as a relationship problem. It’s also an opportunity. If she’s physically and psychologically dependent on Adderall, she’s not too far in. In talking about Adderall and working together, you might learn to work together as a couple.
In addition to approaching it as “our” problem, you should get a couple’s therapist. This is going to be almost impossible to solve on your own.
The other option is letting the relationship destroy itself because of the drug abuse and the lying, because of a polarized approach to the problem, or because of other underlying problems we don’t know about yet. That would suck for the kids and for you. And even if your relationship doesn’t make it through this, it’s best to figure that out in the least explosive, least traumatic way possible.