Updated on April 3, 2024
6 min read

How Does Addiction Lead to Divorce?

Substance Addiction and Divorce

Substance abuse and addiction are linked to higher divorce rates. Approximately 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.7 The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

This is because substance abuse and substance use disorder (SUD) can seriously affect your health and behavior. Once you get addicted to a substance, it becomes your highest priority and impacts your family.

As a result, someone may begin to neglect relationships, including with their:

  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Friends
  • Family
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Signs of Drug or Alcohol Addiction

The following are common symptoms of substance abuse:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Emotional stress
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on drugs
  • Problems at work
  • Neglected appearance

How Does Substance Abuse Damage Relationships?

One spouse’s addiction can strain a marriage, and the signs listed above can often lead to divorce. This is because the signs of substance abuse can be stressful and emotionally taxing.

Those who struggle with substance abuse also have financial troubles, which can lead to divorce. A drug addict can spend 50% or more of their income on substances. Additionally, some people spend up to $1,200 daily on drugs.

Additionally, alcohol and/or drug abuse is associated with domestic violence. Rates of domestic violence are significantly higher in those who abuse substances than those who do not.


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How Do Addiction and Divorce Settlements 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
  • Whether you have children or not

Child Custody and Court Proceedings

Parents who don’t misuse substances will likely get full custody of their children, especially if their spouse has an alcohol and/or drug addiction.

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 previously attended addiction treatment 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. This occurs in extreme cases.


If a spouse spends much money on substances during a marriage, alimony might be awarded to the sober spouse. Alimony is a legal obligation that states a spouse must provide financial support to the other after the marital separation is official.

Although divorce procedures and rules vary for different states, many U.S. states reimburse the sober individual for any finances lost to their spouse’s addiction. Furthermore, many U.S. states allow you to file for divorce, with your spouse’s addiction being the primary reason for the separation.

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Abuse vs. Addiction

Substance abuse and substance addiction, or SUD, are two separate terms. However, in many cases, they are connected.

For example, someone who abuses substances may be at a higher risk for addiction. This depends on which substance they are misusing and for how long.

Substance misuse is defined as a pattern of harmful substance use for mood-altering purposes. On the other hand, SUD is a diagnosable disorder that results in physical and psychological dependence.

Commonly Abused Substances

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:8

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids and pain relievers
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants
  • Stimulants
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Depressants
  • Heroin
  • Dissociatives
  • Inhalants

Someone who abuses drugs is typically able to quit. But this is not the case for everyone.

Addicted people also experience severe withdrawal symptoms after stopping use. Those who abuse drugs do not.

Seeking Treatment For Addiction

If you suspect your spouse may be abusing drugs or secretly misusing drugs, talk to them about your concerns before their addiction escalates. However, talking to them about the subject can be difficult, so setting up an intervention.

Convincing your spouse to seek treatment is important, especially if their SUD is affecting your:

  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Finances

An interventionist can be beneficial in helping your spouse seek treatment, especially alongside family members and close friends.

Organized interventions help you address the problems in a safe, private environment. You also receive help from an addiction professional or counselor.

How to Talk About Your Spouse’s Substance Abuse?

Talking to your spouse about their addiction can be difficult. Their behavior can be problematic, and they make poor decisions.

If you want to talk to your spouse about their addiction and seek treatment, here are a few things you can do:

  • Don’t talk to them while they’re inebriated
  • Don’t use judgemental or accusatory language
  • Show genuine concern and empathy
  • Don’t enable their behavior
  • Don’t force them into recovery or use ultimatums
  • Talk to a healthcare professional or addiction specialist
  • Do your research on SUD and treatment options
  • Provide concrete plans for treatment
  • Set realistic and achievable goals

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Treatment Options for Addiction

If your spouse is already addicted or diagnosed with SUD, professional medical treatment is crucial. It might be effective to ask your spouse about addiction treatment. If they agree, you may be able to save your marriage and work through the issues.

Many treatment centers offer various therapies and addiction recovery programs. Available treatment options for SUD include:

An addicted spouse can also be dangerous around. Fortunately, resources, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, are available if your safety is at risk.


Drug and/or alcohol abuse can lead to a substance use disorder. This condition can affect your relationship.

Substance abuse can cause behavioral changes, financial problems, domestic violence, and more. All of these are factors that can lead to divorce.

If you are the sober partner in the divorce, you’ll most likely gain your child’s custody and alimony. However, if divorce isn’t an option, various treatment programs are available to help your spouse recover from their addiction.

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Updated on April 3, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2024
  1. Bhatt, R. “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, 1998.

  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” NIDA.

  3. “How a Spouse’s Substance Abuse May Change Your Divorce Strategy.” Lawyers.

  4. “Risk and Protective Factors|Intimate Partner Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.

  5. Collins et al. “The role of substance use in young adult divorce.” Addiction (Abingdon, England), 2007.

  6. Edwards et al. “Associations Between Divorce and Onset of Drug Abuse in a Swedish National Sample.” American journal of epidemiology, 2018.

  7. Marriage & divorce.” The American Psychological Association (APA).

  8. NIDA. “Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.

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