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Divorce And Addiction: How To Get Help

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Addiction is a progressive disease that gradually weakens a marriage, undermining the commitment each partner made to the other. Without professional help, the damage from drug or alcohol use can build up to the point where the marriage isn’t salvageable.

Though marriage can be a protective factor against substance use, substance use and addiction can be a severe risk factor for marriage troubles and ultimately lead to divorce. Research has found that excessive alcohol or drug use is the third most common reason why for divorce.

The Ways That Addiction Stresses A Marriage

Addiction is often referred to as a family disease, due to the way it negatively impacts the addicted person’s loved one. This impact can be acutely felt within the landscape of a marriage.

Excessive drug use within a marriage may lead to maladaptive and hurtful behaviors, potentially creating a dysfunctional marriage and unstable home environment.

Alcohol and drug use can:

  • destroy trust and create a cycle of blame and shame
  • disrupt intimacy, both on an emotional and physical level
  • cause conflict, disagreements and fights
  • induce stress in the parent/child dynamic
  • be linked to increase rates of domestic violence and aggression
  • be linked to increased rates of childhood use and neglect
  • lead to financial hardship, turmoil, and instability
  • cause resentment in the feeling of the spouse choosing drugs or alcohol over them

The cumulative effects of these stressors can be great. “Alcohol and substance use are among the most common reasons given for a divorce—the third most common reason for women and eighth most common for men,” as found by the University at Buffalo.

Signs Of Substance Use Damage To A Relationship

The effects of drug and alcohol use can permeate every aspect of a relationship.

These are some signs of damage to a relationship due to substance use:

  • The only way that a couple can communicate or be physically intimate with each other is when one or both partners are under the influence.
  • Consuming drugs or alcohol becomes one of the main activities a couple does together.
  • The relationship or family becomes isolated from other loved ones in an attempt to hide the addictive behavior.
  • The majority of arguments and stress within the relationship revolve around drugs or alcohol.
  • One or both partners claim they use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with marital tension.
  • One partner has begun to enable the other person’s substance use.
  • The non-addicted partner begins to feel like a caretaker instead of a partner of equal standing.
  • One partner begins to be dishonest about their drug or alcohol consumption, sabotaging the trust they share with their partner.
  • Using alcohol or drugs has become more important to a person than providing for their family or spending time with their loved ones.
  • A person’s career is on the rocks due to substance use, to the extent that it threatens the family’s financial security.
  • There is not enough money for food or bills due to how much money is spent on the used substance.

Faced with the stark reality of these issues, many couples may begin contemplating divorce.

Is Addiction A Good Reason To Get Divorced?

There is no clear cut answer to this question. Instead, each couple must be honest with themselves and examine the role of the addiction within their relationship.

Certain couples find that pursuing marriage counseling and drug rehabilitation can offer the support and healing necessary to help their marriage stabilize. Other couples decide that the toll of addiction runs too deep and decide to divorce.

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Even if this is the case, the addicted individual should still strongly contemplate treatment. Should one partner decide to file for divorce, a lawyer can offer guidance on the best ways to document the role of the addiction as grounds for dissolving the marriage.

It is important for both parties to evaluate the role addiction has taken in the relationship. They should each look at the ways it has negatively impacted their health, their family’s finances and the stability of the home. If there are any children involved, it’s important to be aware of how the addiction has been detrimental to their well-being, too.

Addiction, Divorce and Codependency

In a codependent relationship, the non-addicted partner enables the addicted individual’s substance use and the lifestyle which supports it. The codependent individual maintains the relationship despite the fact that it’s emotionally destructive and harmful to their health.

In striving to mend the relationship, each partner will likely need to overcome these negative behaviors. Both therapy and counseling, inside or outside of treatment, can help with these concerns.

Alcohol’s Effect On Marriage

Many individuals are able to incorporate alcohol into their relationship in a healthy and moderate way. But other couples struggle to maintain control over alcohol consumption, to the extent that it devastates their relationship.

Recent research shows that heavy and incompatible drinking (where one partner drinks more than the other) significantly increases the odds of divorce. Further, the highest rates of divorce were when a wife consumed high levels of alcohol and her husband did not.

“Among couples where the wife’s alcohol consumption was high and the husband’s low, the divorce rate over 15 years was 27 per cent [sic]. When the drinking roles were reversed, the rate was 13 per cent [sic],” according to ScienceNordic.

A second study found that when one partner drank quite a bit more than the other, the rate of divorce was 50 percent. In comparison to couples where both individuals were light drinkers, relationships where both partners were heavy drinkers had a notably higher rate of divorce.

ScienceNordic continued to say that “The divorce rate for couples where neither drank much was 6 per cent [sic] while the rate was only 2 per cent [sic] among non-drinking couples.”

Drug Use And Marriage

As America faces the opioid epidemic, a growing number of marriages suffer under the weight of opioid addictions. Heroin and prescription painkillers are the chief substances responsible for this destruction.

Aside from opioid drugs, the following are examples of commonly-used substances which can become problematic within relationships:

  • cocaine
  • marijuana
  • methamphetamine
  • prescription benzodiazepine medications (Ativan, Valium, Xanax)
  • prescription stimulants (such as ADHD medications Adderall and Ritalin)

Substance Use And Domestic Use

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is frequently connected to drug and alcohol use. Intimate partner violence includes acts of:

  • deprivation
  • intimidation
  • physical injury
  • progressive social isolation
  • psychological use
  • sexual assault
  • stalking
  • threats

Research has found that drug or alcohol use is present in 40 to 60 percent of IPV cases.

Divorce And Addiction: The Impact On Children

Far too many American children live in a home where drug or alcohol use is present. According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in the past year, roughly:

  • one in eight children lived in a home where one or both parents had a substance use disorder
  • one in ten children lived in a home where one or both parents had an alcohol use disorder
  • and one in 35 children lived in a home where one or both parents had an illicit drug use disorder

Children are not immune from this exposure. Living in an environment made unstable by drug or alcohol use can create behavioral, emotional and health problems.

These children face a higher risk for child maltreatment and child welfare involvement, compared to those who do not face these influences. It’s estimated that eighty percent of child abuse and neglect cases are linked to substance use.

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A Pediatrics article cautions that “Children whose parents use substances and misuse alcohol are 3 times as likely to be physically, emotionally, or sexually used and 4 times as likely to be emotionally or physically neglected.”

Additionally, children of an addicted individual have been shown to struggle with:

  • birth defects if the substance use happened while the child was in the womb
  • chronic depression
  • fears of abandonment
  • feelings of helplessness
  • guilt
  • high levels of tension and stress
  • higher rates of behavioral and mental health problems
  • loneliness and isolation
  • low self-esteem
  • higher rates of addiction as adults
  • problems at school
  • sense of responsibility for their parent’s addiction

Divorce Can Be A Risk Factor For Substance Use

While divorcing because of an addiction may offer protective measures to one or both parties, divorce itself is a risk factor for addiction.

Medscape reports that “Getting a divorce increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) by more than sevenfold for women and almost sixfold for men.” Additionally, divorced individuals have been found to:

  • binge drink more frequently
  • take part more frequently in alcohol-related risky behaviors
  • have higher alcohol-related mortality

Instances of drug use may also climb in the periods during and after a divorce. For these reasons, both the individual in recovery and their ex-spouse need to be mindful of the role alcohol and drugs play within their life.

A divorce can be deeply painful, leading many individuals to numb their feelings with the use of drugs or alcohol. Without the proper support system, these substances can take center stage within a person’s life and quickly accelerate to addiction.

Staying Sober During And After Divorce

Whatever choice is made, to stay together or get divorced, the transition isn’t necessarily easy. If a couple is staying together, the sober individual staying active within the addicted partner’s recovery will help both to nurture a drug-free life.

On the other hand, those who are newly divorced or in the process of getting divorced may find that enrolling in a peer support group can help in the process of healing and growth for a healthy future.

For the addicted individual, it’s important to stay centered within the recovery principles to counter these threats. Various 12-step and non-12-step programs exist for this purpose, including:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • LifeRing Secular Recovery
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S.)
  • SMART Recovery
  • Women for Sobriety

The partner can also greatly benefit during this time from support. Various peer support programs are available for family members of addicted individuals. They include:

  • Al-anon
  • Families Anonymous (FA)
  • Nar-Anon
  • CoDA (Codependents Anonymous)

Enrolling in a peer support group helps to promote healing, understanding and independence for all parties involved.

Getting Treatment

Whether a person is seeking treatment in an attempt to save their marriage or enrolling in a program after a divorce, recovery success hinges on finding the right program.

The methods used within treatment may vary depending on the state of a person’s marriage. If a person is pursuing treatment not only for themselves but as a way to heal their marriage, the program should be designed with this in mind. Rehabilitation programs that promote individualized methods may be helpful for those struggling with both alcohol and drug addiction.

With substance-induced marriage troubles in mind, a program which offers family therapy and support and/or marriage counseling should be made a priority. The most successful programs offer a blend of behavioral therapies and counseling, set against a variety of engaging treatment methods which inspire a person to live a sober, balanced life.