Addiction And Divorce: When To Leave, Treatment, And More

Knowing when or if it’s time to divorce an addicted spouse isn’t always straightforward. For spouses of those with an addiction, it may be helpful to learn more about when to leave, what addiction treatment can offer for married couples, and more.

How Addiction Can Lead To Divorce

Drug addiction can place significant strain on a marriage. It can affect spouses emotionally, mentally, and have overarching effects on children and spouses’ ways of life.

When and if a person receives treatment for addiction, it can be difficult for a spouse to identify when a marriage can be repaired, or when it’s time to let go.

Here, you’ll find information on:

  • effects of addiction on a marriage
  • information about leaving an addicted spouse
  • effects of divorce on a spouse in recovery
  • benefits of addiction treatment for married couples

Learn more about the effects of addiction on family

Effects Of Addiction On A Marriage

The effects of substance abuse can be very distressing for someone struggling with an addiction. But this can also impact the lives of those around them, including children and spouses.

Addiction can cause significant instability in a marriage. It can sow doubt, distrust, affect a couple’s livelihood, and make a spouse feel hopeless and unsure of who or where to turn to for help.

Marital Problems And Addiction

Several of the most serious marital problems, such as domestic violence, infidelity, and child neglect can sometimes occur at higher rates within homes affected by drug or alcohol addiction.

This can be perpetrated by the person with the addiction, their spouse, or others within or outside the immediate household.

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Co-Occurring Issues In The Household

Addiction commonly co-occurs with other emotional and behavioral health problems, including mental health disorders like depression and behavioral addictions like sex or porn addiction.

Having one or more mental health or substance use disorders is known as having a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders, which can affect the lives of individuals and families.

For instance, co-occurring disorders are associated with:

  • emotional and mental instability
  • severe substance use problems
  • greater difficulty achieving recovery
  • poorer treatment retention
  • challenges with communication
  • more limited treatment options

When Is It Time To Leave An Addicted Spouse?

Not all marriages affected by drug or alcohol addiction are salvageable. But identifying when this is the case isn’t always as clear as some might like to think.

Seeing the impact of addiction on someone else’s marriage, and experiencing it for yourself, are two different things. There’s more at stake for a spouse emotionally and financially.

Divorce isn’t always a choice made by spouses of those with an active addiction. Sometimes it’s a decision made by one or both spouses after seeking treatment or well into a person’s recovery.

When A Spouse Won’t Get Help For Addiction

Substance use disorders are defined by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a chronic, relapsing condition. And not all people are willing or able to get help.

Confronting this reality, and living with its consequences, can be immensely painful for a spouse, particularly in cases of chronic or long-term addiction, which can cause:

  • financial problems
  • arguments
  • tension and stress in the home
  • legal consequences
  • health problems
  • effects on social life
  • depression and loneliness
  • resentment

Eventually, this can lead spouses of those with a drug or alcohol addiction to reach a point of no return—when they must take it upon themselves to say: no more.

During Addiction Treatment

Having a spouse enter treatment willingly or through a mandatory treatment process can be a relief. But it can also provide time and space for reflection.

The spouse without the addiction may consider questions such as:

  • What kind of love do I have for my spouse?
  • Do I feel indifference toward them?
  • Do I trust that they can get well? And is that enough?
  • Can I offer the support that they need from a spouse?
  • Is staying with my spouse the best decision for my happiness?
  • Am I happy?
  • Is there a lack of intimacy in our marriage?
  • Is my spouse willing to put in the effort to repair our marriage? Am I?

Spouses of those with an addiction can feel plagued by feelings of guilt.

They may ask, was there more I could do? Am I leaving this on the table too soon? Am I a bad person for wanting a divorce?

The truth is: Only you know the answer to when it’s time. Your spouse may or may not agree.

Deciding it’s time for divorce—even after a loved one has sought treatment—is a valid decision, and it doesn’t inherently make anyone a bad or uncompassionate person. You know when it’s time.

Divorcing Someone In Addiction Recovery

Like those who consider divorce during the treatment process, spouses of those in recovery may also have difficulty grappling with the idea of divorce.

When you know, you know. But even that is not always so clear. Through the treatment process, people can change. Your spouse may change. You, your wants, and your needs may change.

And for better or worse, who they come out as on the other end may not be someone you want to spend your life with in a marital capacity. And sometimes the feeling is mutual.

It’s not unheard of for a married couple, or singular spouse, to decide to file for divorce weeks, months, or years into a person’s recovery journey.

Choosing divorce doesn’t mean you didn’t try—nor that there was necessarily any serious wrong-doing on either part. It simply becomes the right decision, for one or both parties.

Divorce And Addiction Statistics

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 41 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce.

When heavy drinking is involved, this rate increases to an estimated 50 percent of couples, according to a study by the University of Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.

Another study, published in 2013, shows that substance abuse is a common “final straw” for spouses seeking a divorce, along with infidelity, lack of commitment, and too much conflict.

Considerations For Divorcing An Addicted Spouse

Before and during the divorce process, there are several factors that a spouse may need to consider, particularly if children, pets, or valuables are involved.

For instance:

Legal Assistance

Filing for divorce from an addicted spouse may require finding a divorce lawyer or attorney who has experience handling cases where drug or alcohol abuse is a factor.

This can offer several advantages for spouses who are seeking to divorce a spouse with an active or former addiction.

Advantages of this may include:

  • planning a safe exit strategy
  • collecting evidence of the substance use
  • protecting your financial assets
  • planning child custody and support arrangements
  • explaining your legal protections and next steps

Living Arrangements

Divorcing a spouse may require finding alternative living arrangements for yourself and any others in the household, such as children or other family members living with you.

Child Custody And Support

If you and your spouse have children under the age of 18, making a plan for child custody and child support arrangements may be a factor to consider in filing for divorce.

This can typically be discussed and executed with the help of legal counsel. It may also be helpful to discuss the plan with trusted friends or family members who are aware of the situation.

Documentation

In divorce cases involving substance use, court decisions can be influenced by both the reliability and types of documentation a person has of their spouse’s drug or alcohol abuse.

Forms of documentation might include:

  • photos of drugs or paraphernalia
  • criminal records
  • records detailing past treatment history
  • medical records
  • witness statements
  • journal entries about a spouse’s substance use
  • financial statements

What this can do is help support statements about a spouse’s substance use in court.

This can offer protection and evidence if an addicted spouse is attempting to deny the existence of their illness, its severity, or the scope of its impact on the marriage.

Seek Support From Loved Ones

Going through the divorce process can be an emotionally trying time.

For spouses, it may be helpful to consider reaching out to family members or trusted friends who can offer emotional support and help you navigate this often painful process.

How Will Divorce Affect My Spouse In Recovery?

It can be difficult to consider how divorcing a spouse might affect their mental and emotional stability, particularly if you still have love for your spouse and strongly desire to see them well.

Major life changes, including separation or divorce, can be a trigger for people with substance use issues. This is true of most stressful or emotionally distressing events.

But it’s important for a spouse to feel that they have the freedom to make choices that are best for their own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

Sacrificing your own happiness or health in order to protect a spouse with addiction will eventually catch up with you—and you deserve to have your needs met, too.

How Family Therapy And Couples Counseling Can Help

Many drug and alcohol rehab programs offer family therapy, couples counseling, and other opportunities for spouses to participate in their spouse’s treatment process.

Why is this important? Research shows that people with substance use disorders are more likely to achieve and sustain recovery when they have loved ones who can support them in meaningful ways.

Therapy for couples in rehab, for instance, can offer:

  • an opportunity to air thoughts and emotions in a safe setting
  • an opportunity for spouses to share both concerns and their hopes for their spouse
  • tips and strategies for supporting a spouse in addiction recovery
  • effective communication skills for married couples
  • relapse prevention planning for families/couples

Finding Spousal Support Outside Of Rehab

Support for spouses of those with an addiction may find additional support through individual counseling, or a community support group for families or couples of those with addiction.

Support groups for spouses can offer a number of benefits, including the opportunity to share stories, strategies, and tips for coping with a loved one’s addiction or recovery process.

Find Drug Treatment For An Addicted Spouse Today

Getting a spouse into treatment for addiction can for many be the first step in the process of discovering where you are in your marriage and what comes next.

Call us today for more information about addiction treatment, and how to find the right treatment program for you or your spouse at a rehab center near you.

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This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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