Addiction and Divorce

Substance abuse and substance use disorders (SUD) can lead to serious negative consequences in one’s life. Divorce rates are also much higher among those addicted to substances. If you have filed or are about to file for divorce due to your spouse’s addiction, there are a few ways substance abuse can impact the divorce process. Learn more below.
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Substance Addiction and Divorce

Substance abuse and addiction are linked to higher divorce rates. In fact, 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

Substance abuse and substance use disorders (SUD) can lead to serious negative consequences in one’s life. Despite this, addiction negatively impacts the individual’s family as well, which is why divorce rates are much higher among those addicted to substances.

Once a person is addicted to a substance, it becomes the highest priority over everything else. As a result, he or she may begin to neglect relationships, including spouses, children, friends, and family. Extreme mood swings, aggression, emotional stress, and spending excessive amounts of money on drugs are also common. All of these factors can lead to divorce.

In addition to these factors, other reasons why substance abuse and addiction are responsible for many divorces include:

  • Financial Troubles — some people struggling with substance abuse or addiction spend 50 percent or more of their income on the substance of their choice. In marriages, this can cause trust issues and financial problems, ultimately leading to divorce. Additionally, some individuals spend up to $1,200 a day on drugs
  • Domestic Abuse drinking alcohol excessively, and using tobacco products and/or narcotic drugs are associated with domestic violence. More specifically, rates of domestic violence are significantly higher in those who abuse substances than those who do not.
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Overview — Abuse vs Addiction

Substance abuse and substance addiction, also called substance use disorder (SUD), are two separate terms. However, in many cases, abuse and addiction are connected. For example, someone who abuses substances may be at a higher risk for addiction, depending on which substance they are misusing and for how long. Addicted people also experience serious withdrawal symptoms after stopping use, while those who abuse drugs do not.

Moreover, substance misuse is defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. On the other hand, SUD is a diagnosable disorder that results in physical and psychological dependence. Someone who abuses drugs is typically able to quit, but this is not the case for everyone. Depending on the drug’s addictive potential, substance abuse can lead to addiction.

The most commonly abused substances among adults that can lead to addiction include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids and pain relievers
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants
  • Stimulants
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Depressants
  • Heroin
  • Dissociatives
  • Inhalants
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Addiction And Divorce Settlements — How Do They Relate?

If you have filed or are about to file for divorce due to your spouse’s addiction, there are a few ways substance abuse can impact the divorce process. These all depend on your unique situation, what state you live in, and whether you have children or not:

Child Custody and Court Proceedings

If you have children with your current spouse, custody will be an important factor in the divorce process. If he or she has a current issue with drugs and/or alcohol, it is more likely that the parent who does not misuse substances will get full custody of the children. However, if both parents only drink in moderation and do not use drugs, it is much more difficult for one parent to get custody over the other.

Two other factors to keep in mind about child custody include:

  • If your spouse attended addiction treatment in the past and is working towards recovery, the court may allow supervised visitation and overnight stays. They will also randomly screen the parent with alcohol and drug tests to ensure they are staying sober.
  • If there is proof that your spouse’s addiction puts your child’s safety at risk, full custody may be granted to the parent who does not abuse substances. This means they also have no visitation rights. While this situation is rare, it does occur in extreme cases.

Alimony

If a spouse spent a large amount of money on substances during a marriage, alimony may be awarded to the sober spouse. For reference, alimony is a legal obligation that states a spouse must provide financial support to the other after the marital separation is official. Many U.S. states reimburse the sober individual for any finances lost to their spouse’s addiction.

Divorce procedures and rules vary from state-to-state. However, in many U.S. states, people can file for divorce with their spouse’s addiction being the primary reason for the separation.

Graphic of two people with one on a couch showing talk therapy or psychotherapy.

Seeking Treatment For Addiction

If you suspect your spouse may be abusing drugs or secretly misusing drugs, it is important to speak with them about your concerns before the situation escalates. Setting up an intervention with family members and close friends may also be beneficial. In short, organized interventions help you address the problems in a safe, private environment with help from an addiction professional and/or counselor.

If your spouse is already addicted or has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD), it is crucial to seek professional medical treatment. This is especially true if his or her SUD is interfering with your marriage, family, and finances, among others. If your safety is at risk due to your spouse’s addiction, there are resources available, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Further, if you are thinking about starting the divorce process, it might be effective to ask your spouse if they are willing to give addiction treatment a chance. If they agree, you may be able to save your marriage and work through the issues. Common treatment options recommended for substance use disorders (SUD) include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotic Anonymous (NA)
  • SMART Recovery
  • Detoxification and professionally-monitored withdrawal
  • Inpatient or outpatient treatment
  • Medicine assisted therapy
  • Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Individual, family, and/or group therapies
  • Aftercare and supervision to ensure he or she stays sober after treatment

Ready to Make a Change?

Resources

Bhatt, R V. “Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse.” International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics: the Official Organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 1998, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10075209.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics.

“How a Spouse's Substance Abuse May Change Your Divorce Strategy.” Lawyers. https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/family-law/divorce/how-a-spouses-substance-abuse-may-change-your-divorce-strategy.html

“Risk and Protective Factors|Intimate Partner Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/riskprotectivefactors.html.

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Updated on: August 7, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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