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Addiction and Divorce

    Addiction and Divorce

    It can be very difficult to be in a relationship with someone who is struggling with a substance or behavioural addiction, and as a result addiction is one of the leading causes of divorce in many countries across the world. [1]

    In fact, one study showed that 1 in 4 divorces in the UK during the UK national lockdown cited alcohol use as a factor, a marked increase from the year before.

    Addiction can put a strain on even the strongest and most resilient marriage, contributing to a dysfunctional home dynamic and affecting each member of the family. In many cases, divorce seems to be the only way out of an unhealthy and struggling relationship.

    Why does addiction often lead to divorce?

    Addiction is a multi-faceted disease, and as a result, there are a number of factors that can cause a physical or psychological dependency to result in divorce.

    These include financial burdens, domestic abuse, emotional distress and a lack of trust, all of which are described in more detail below.

    1. Financial trouble

    Addiction can be a financial burden on a marriage or family, with the addicted spouse spending a large amount of money on substances or other addictive behaviours and leaving very little leftover for bills and other expenses.

    They may also incur large legal fees including fines as well as job loss due to poor performance, potentially affecting their future employment and earning potential.

    2. Emotional neglect and distress

    Being married to someone who is struggling with an addiction can be extremely stressful and isolating. The non-addicted partner may feel constantly on edge and worried about their spouses’ behaviour and physical safety, often taking on additional responsibilities within the home in order to compensate for the addicted partner.

    They may also find that their partner withdraws from them, seemingly preferring to spend time using alcohol and drugs as opposed to building a life with them.

    3. Lack of trust

    In the majority of cases, addiction within a marriage is synonymous with dishonesty and a lack of trust. The addicted individual may lie to their partner about their substance use, behaviours around addictive activities such as gambling or pornography and how much they spend on their addiction.

    After experiencing numerous broken promises and disappointments, the trust within the marriage may be broken beyond repair.

    4. Abuse

    Being under the influence of drugs or other substances can lead to impulsivity and poor impulse control, potentially increasing the chances of domestic violence.

    There are many forms of domestic violence including physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse, all of which can irreparably damage a marriage and put the non-addicted spouses physical and mental safety at risk.

    Is addiction and substance use affecting my marriage?

    When your partner is struggling with a substance or behavioural addiction, it can be easy to normalise their behaviour.

    You may have convinced yourself that their substance use is under control and that it has no impact on your marriage when it reality it is extremely difficult for a relationship to flourish and thrive if one or both partners are dealing with an addiction.

    The following statements are written on behalf of a non-addicted partner, however, it is important to remember that many relationships involve both partners who are struggling with a substance or behavioural addiction. You should try to read through the points with an open mind and be honest with yourself about your reaction – do they sound familiar to you?

    • The majority of our arguments and disagreements revolve around addictive behaviour or substance use
    • I feel as though I have to care for my partner as they are no longer able to take care of themselves
    • My partner frequently lies and is dishonest about their addiction or substance use
    • My partner spends too much money on their addiction or substance use, leaving little money for bills or other expenses
    • I often find myself making excuses for my partner’s behaviour or enabling them in other ways
    • I rarely see my partner sober these days
    • I feel resentful towards my partner due to the consequences of their addiction or substance use
    • My partner is unable to be physically intimate with me unless they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
    • My partner is at risk of losing their job due to their addiction or substance use
    • I have to take full responsibility for running the household and taking care of children as my partner is no longer able to help
    • My partner blames me for their addiction or substance use
    • I feel unable to speak about the problem to other family members or friends, and as a result, I feel isolated from most people
    • My partner and I frequently drink alcohol or take drugs together to the point that it has become our main activity

    If you can relate to a number of the above statements, it is highly likely that addiction or substance use is taking a toll on your marriage and steps should be taken as soon as possible in order to heal the relationship and move forward together.

    Should I divorce my spouse because of their addiction?

    Building a life with a partner who is struggling with an addiction can be a heavy and isolating journey. It can often appear as though the only options are to suffer in silence or initiate a divorce, both of which are emotionally charged and difficult decisions.

    Living with the addiction is not recommended, as it can take an immense toll on the entire family and in severe cases could potentially lead to dangerous situations if the individual becomes physically or emotionally abusive.

    However, if your spouse is addicted to a particular substance or behaviour, divorce is not always the answer. Addiction is not necessarily permanent but will very rarely improve without professional help – it takes time, energy and dedication to recover from a physical or psychological dependency and will likely be an ongoing process for years to come.

    The good news is that anyone can overcome an addiction, particularly when they receive the help and support that they need. It is recommended that anyone dealing with a substance or behavioural addiction should enter a rehabilitation centre or treatment programme, either as an inpatient or an outpatient.

    Here they will undergo a medically supervised detoxification (if necessary) and receive in-depth counselling to tackle the roots of the addiction and develop healthy coping skills.

    While it is possible for many couples to work through and overcome an addiction, each relationship is different. In some cases, divorce is necessary, particularly if your physical or mental safety is at risk.

    A marriage counsellor, individual therapist and trusted friends or family members will be able to help you make this extremely difficult decision based on your personal circumstances.

    The link between addiction and codependency

    Codependency is an unhealthy relationship dynamic in which one partner spends the majority of their time and energy attending to their spouses emotional and physical needs, often leading to resentment and a lack of healthy boundaries on both sides.

    Unfortunately, codependency is very common in relationships and marriages where addiction is a factor.

    The non-addicted partner may ignore their own needs in order to care for the addicted individual, often to the detriment of their own life and unknowingly worsening the addiction.

    They may make excuses for their behaviour, purchase alcohol or drugs for them and stay silent with their concerns in fear of upsetting their spouse. Conversely, the addicted partner does not have to face the consequences of their behaviour and may sink deeper into the addiction.

    While this type of relationship may appear to work on the surface, neither partner is truly happy and the marriage can quickly become suffocating and unhealthy for both parties.

    The addicted individual should seek professional help and support in order to recover from their dependency, while the caretaker needs to address their own mindset and behaviours to prevent the same patterns from reoccurring in future relationships.

    Can divorce trigger an addiction?

    For many people struggling with a behavioural or substance addiction, a divorce can prompt them to reevaluate their behaviour and eventually lead them to seek treatment.

    However, in some cases, a divorce can increase the risk of developing an addiction and lead a once-healthy individual down a dark path of substance abuse.

    It’s common for people to attempt to numb their painful emotions and memories with alcohol and/or drugs during and after a divorce, with levels of binge drinking and risky behaviours increasing among divorced people.

    In fact, one study shows that the risk of developing an alcohol dependency increases over sevenfold in women and almost sixfold in men after experiencing a divorce. [2]

    As an often traumatic life event, divorce can also increase the chances of relapse in previously-recovered individuals. Therefore, it is important for both partners to have access to a strong support network and professional therapy when going through a divorce in order to safeguard their physical and mental health.





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