Rehab 4 Addiction

Addiction and Divorce

We need to talk about addiction and divorce. Substance dependency, misuse and other forms of addiction, not only leads to mental and physical health deterioration for the person with an addiction, it impacts relationships and increases tension within the family.

Breaking the cycle of addiction won’t just benefit the sufferer, potentially saving their life, it is often a vital step towards mending relationships that feel irrevocable broken. The good news is that, with the right support and advice, divorce is by no means inevitable.

Commitment Is Key

If the commitment to marriage is still intact, there are a number of treatment and support options that could help you avoid the need for divorce. However, we cannot and should not hide away from difficult and sometimes uncomfortable realities.

Addiction, and more specifically the associated behaviours that often come with an addiction, can and sadly does lead to divorce. However, should divorce become necessary, the right guidance and advice can help to reduce any potential harm.

Whether you are someone with an addiction, facing possible divorce, or a spouse contemplating ending your marriage to a person with addiction problems, rehab4addiction can signpost you to the most appropriate services & support, and offer impartial, confidential, informed advice.

We understand that addiction places incredible and sometimes intolerable stress on a marriage, but we would like you to know that many married couples not only survive addiction, the process of recovery and reconciliation can even strengthen their relationship.

Addiction and Divorce: – The Reality

It is not without good reason that addiction is often referred to as a family disease. [1] There is a dynamic within every family and every marriage. That dynamic develops over time and adapts to circumstances. Roles naturally evolve and create the patterns of behaviour that we rely upon.

Addiction changes a person’s behaviour and this often adversely impacts their ability to maintain relationships, potentially leading to divorce. Successful relationships are based upon many factors but mutual trust consistently ranks highly in relevant studies. [2]

Unfortunately, behaviour is driven by addiction frequently erodes that trust. It is important to recognise that these compulsive behaviours are symptomatic of a recognised and treatable health condition [3].

There’s No Magic Wand

The causes of addiction, and the most suitable forms of treatment, vary from person to person. While there is no “magic wand” to solve the often complex factors underpinning addiction, we know that recovery, leading to a full and rewarding life, is absolutely possible for you and your spouse.

Research from the US [4] shows that, if left untreated, alcohol addiction alone increases the chances of divorce by more than 18% above the statistical average. However, addiction can also contribute toward many of the other leading reasons cited for divorce [5]:

1. Growing Apart

When someone has mired in addiction their preoccupation with completing the cycle of their addictive behaviour frequently takes precedent over everything else. They often spend more time away from the family home and, when they are home, they can seem distant or even unapproachable.

This significantly increases the chances of estrangement and the gradual process of growing apart.

2. Arguments

There are a number of behaviours associated with addiction that exacerbate both the frequency and severity of arguments within the household. For example, the physical aspect of “withdrawal,” which is a pain even dangerous health condition, increases stress and anxiety for the addiction sufferer.

They can be uncharacteristically volatile and are often unable to control their emotions in this highly stressed state.

3. Unfaithfulness/Adultery

Addiction, particularly addiction to substances, dis-inhibits behaviour. People with addictions are far more likely to indulge in high-risk behaviours. This includes a heightened chance of infidelity.

4. Lack of Respect/Appreciation

With skewed priorities, a preoccupation with their addiction and often a lack of awareness regarding how their behaviour pattern has shifted, it can feel like your spouse’s personality has changed beyond recognition.

Their behaviour may show little or no regard for your marriage. However, addiction is essentially self-harming and often, in recovery, people are confronted with their own lack of self-respect.

5. Domestic Violence/Abuse

These factors can combine to increase the chances of domestic violence and abuse.

Your primary concern will be the safety of your children (if applicable) and yourself and you should report any incidents to the police and find a safe space.

(Please see our free guide to the best support and advice services for survivors of domestic abuse [6] )

Addiction and Divorce: – What Can I Do To Save My Marriage?

Addiction is not a free choice. There is some evidence that some people may be predisposed to addiction [7] and many substances are physically (or chemically) addictive [8]. There are many components to addiction and the causes are multifaceted [9].

There is debate about the different models both of addiction and treatment. Ultimately all the matters are effective recovery.

Whatever works best for you, works best. The scientific debate is irrelevant when you or your loved one are in dire need.

Understanding Cravings

Ultimately, no one chooses to destroy their own lives or those of their loved ones without powerful psychological, physical or emotional drivers leading them toward it. Understanding this can be an important part of working together to stave off divorce.

Cravings are so powerful that threatening divorce rarely serves as a deterrent. The only person who can lead the recovery process is the addicted person and they will only do so when they understand the destructive nature of their addiction and the benefits that recovery will bring.

They need support during recovery and threats are not part of any effective treatment models. However, prior to recovery, the person with the addiction needs to recognise they have a problem.

Awareness Breeds Action

The first step in successfully treating any addiction, and hopefully avoiding the need to divorce, is awareness. Unless we acknowledge that a problem exists it is impossible to address it.

Often people with addictions are unaware of their escalating behaviour nor its impact upon those closest to them.

In terms of the recovery journey, we call this the pre-contemplation stage. [10] The person lacks insight into their addiction and behaviour.

This can be accompanied by denial when challenged, and your spouse may not be open to discussions about their current behaviour.

If you think your husband or wife has an addiction problem, if possible, the first step is to talk to them about it. However, this may not be practicable and it is tempting to feel there is nothing you can do to avoid divorce.

This is not the case.

If you are a spouse concerned about your husband or wife’s possible addiction, or you are worried that your addiction-related behaviour is jeopardising your marriage, the NHS offer some useful information [11]. You should also speak to your GP in the first instance, who should be able to give you further advice.

Avoid The Pitfalls

It is also worth noting some of the addiction risks that marriage can bring. A person with an addiction can sometimes continue with their harmful behaviour, longer than would have otherwise been possible, because their spouse is perhaps unwittingly enabling them [12].

This means that the spouse takes on the additional responsibilities that the addicted person can no longer discharge. They may even give the person with an addiction the financial support they need to maintain their addiction and related behaviours.

If the person who has the addiction doesn’t have to confront the costs, in every sense, of their associated behaviour they are less likely to recognise it. In some cases, the initially addiction-free spouse may go on to develop a co-dependency [13].

Co-dependency occurs when the non-addicted partner effectively defines themselves in terms of their caring responsibility for their addicted significant other. This can be a major hurdle to overcome in recovery.

In a co-dependent marriage, both the addiction sufferer and their spouse may be in denial and avoidant of increasing problems, both within the marriage and at home. They may even seek to perpetuate them as this reinforces their co-dependent behaviours and respective identities.

Professional Intervention

An effective way to support and encourage the person you care about to acknowledge the problem is to consider using professional intervention [14]. It is essential to avoid the pitfalls of enabling or developing a co-dependency.

The appropriate intervention will empower the person facing addiction to start rationalising the consequences of their actions.

The objective is to ensure the person with the addiction receives the support and treatment they need. The involvement of a professional intervention facilitator can greatly assist in getting the recovery process underway.

During recovery additional support in the form of family therapy [15] may also help both you and your spouse to hold on to your marriage. Addiction and divorce need not be synonymous.

We can support and advise you and your spouse, either individually or as a couple, to address your shared difficulties. You can both work through addiction and recovery by engaging in a mutually supportive process.

Where there is a will there is a way.

Addiction and Divorce: – How Can I Divorce Safely?

Another crucial aspect of recovery is honesty. We need to be open with everyone involved in our recovery, especially loved ones, and perhaps most importantly with ourselves.

Therefore we must acknowledge that addiction and related behaviours can justifiably lead to divorce.

While no one should be “blamed” for addiction nor is addiction an “excuse.” Nothing justifies putting others at risk.

Abuse, whether physical, psychological, emotional or financial is never acceptable.

Many of the behaviours that stem from addiction can form the grounds for divorce [16]. Though undoubtedly one of the hardest decisions we will ever make, divorce is sometimes the only viable remaining course of action.

If children are involved this complicates matters considerably. In deliberations, the divorce courts will consider the welfare of children to be paramount.

It is extremely unlikely that the parent with an addiction will get custody and visitation rights will almost certainly be subject to formal negotiation, with stringent restrictions often stipulated.

These may include a court-ordered requirement that the parent with addiction is actively engaged in a recovery program.

Divorce May Be The Right Solution

While we do not believe that any form of coercion of force is beneficial for recovery, that does not mean that desiring increased access to your children is an unwelcome motivator.

Often we need to face the stark reality of our addiction and behaviours in order to make positive change.

Though painful, divorce can be a constructive catalyst for recovery, both for the leaving spouse and the person dealing with an addiction.

Divorce is also likely to be expensive and has long term financial implications. If you feel divorce is your best recourse Citizens Advice [17] offer some useful information to help you better understand your options initially.

In the event that divorce proceeds, all of the same addiction support, advice and treatment options we have discussed remain available to you.

Whether you are struggling to manage addiction or are divorcing someone with an addiction, it is still important to seek the appropriate professional guidance and, where advisable, access the most suitable recovery services.

Divorce can reduce some risks but also increase others. If you are impacted by addiction in any way please don’t hesitate to contact rehab4addiction.

We can work with you to ensure you are directed toward high-quality local services that can either empower your recovery or support you to safely divorce someone with an addiction.

Hopefully minimising the potential harm to both parties.

Both addiction and divorce can be extremely challenging. You are not alone and we are here to help.


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Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.