Navigating Addiction & Divorce


In the United States, the current divorce rate is approximately 45%. However, data shows that more than 7% of divorces occur due to substance abuse issues. When a loved one suffers from substance abuse or addiction, it can be very challenging to know how to help. It can be even more complicated when that loved one is your spouse. Understanding the complications of addiction and the potential options for treatment can help you determine the best course of action for your future.

Addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s mood and behavior. Addiction leads to an inability to control alcohol, drugs, or medication use. Even if a substance or activity is harmful, the person will continue pursuing it.

Many who suffer from addiction start with the experimental use of recreational drugs or alcohol in social situations. Not all who participate will become addicted, but several factors like genetics or the type of drug used can affect someone’s likelihood of developing an addiction.

While some individuals may succumb to recreational drugs, others may find themselves addicted and abusing drugs their physician legally prescribed them. It’s important to remember that people who become addicted can come from all walks of life.

Dependence happens when a person’s body becomes used to a substance and adjusts to receiving that substance regularly. Their body has, quite literally, learned to become dependent upon that substance.

When someone is dependent on alcohol or drugs, they need more of it to feel the same effects. Individuals may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using prescription or illicit drugs or stop drinking alcohol. While it depends on the drug in question, dependence simply indicates the presence of withdrawal symptoms and doesn’t automatically mean addiction is present.

Addiction is a degenerative disease that affects the person’s brain chemistry, causing an inability to stop using the drug or alcohol, often at the expense of relationships, work, and financial responsibility. An addict does not need to be physically dependent on a drug to become addicted, but physical dependence can occur due to long-term drug use.

Due to the secretive nature of addiction, drug or alcohol abuse can take a huge emotional toll on a marriage. As the substance abuse worsens, resentment, conflict, emotional detachment, and sometimes even physical abuse can manifest.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 24.6 million people are in a marriage where one spouse suffers from a substance use and or mental health disorder.

Substance abuse frequently damages trust in a marriage, as the addicted partner may attempt to lie, distract, or hide that they’ve been using or drinking. It’s common for an addict to lie about where they have been or the cause behind a negative event (e.g., a car accident, an arrest, a fight, etc.).

It’s essential to remember people feel a compulsion to use, often at extreme personal costs. Shattered trust can be difficult to rebuild, and you are allowed to feel betrayed. Married people sometimes feel they can’t trust anything their partner says due to frequent lies about their substance abuse. If there are children in the relationship, the loss of trust can be even more upsetting when the safety of minors becomes a risk.

Divorce cases often deal with “money issues” as the primary reason for the dissolution of marriage. Many spouses who abuse substances will go to great lengths to buy their substance of choice, sometimes spending money set aside for a necessary expense. It is also not uncommon for a spouses to go into debt or sell possessions to get more money.

Debt can be a significant point of contention in a marriage when money begins disappearing. Substance abuse can affect a person’s ability to maintain the family’s financial security. However, ironically, for high-functioning individuals, the last thing to go is their work and their financial stability. Oftentimes, CEOs and celebrities who inadvertently help and aid them.

Arguments over substance abuse are prevalent, especially when a partner discovers the extent of their spouse’s addiction. The situation often becomes a vicious cycle: a spouse uncovers their partner’s substance abuse, and an argument ensues. Sometimes, the stress of the fight alone can compel the person to abuse again. As the arguing continues, resentment builds in the marriage, potentially escalating into domestic violence.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one-fourth to one-half of men who commit domestic violence also have substance abuse problems.

SAMHSA also found that substance abuse by one parent increases the likelihood that the substance-abusing parent will be unable to protect children if the other parent is violent. Once violence is introduced into a situation where the love one may be in an altered state, the situation can quickly become dangerous.

The two primary forms of intimacy are emotional and physical. Because intimacy is heavily reliant on trust, it’s typical for closeness between a couple to suffer because of substance abuse issues. When your partner has broken your trust, you may find it challenging to feel safe and secure, wondering if your spouse is currently under the influence and lying about it.

In addition, many who abuse drugs or alcohol may experience sexual dysfunction. Research has found illicit drug use can cause erectile dysfunction (ED), decreased sexual desire, and increased ejaculation latency. While sexual satisfaction is not always dependent on performance, these factors can still harm the relationship.

Addressing whether or not your partner is struggling with addiction can lead to much anxiety and even fear that they could be in danger. Whether confronting them for the first time, discussing treatment, or staging an intervention, the stress of addiction on marriage can be intense.

Other causes of fear might include:

  • Whether the drug is legal
  • Where your partner is getting the drug
  • The safety of the individual (i.e., driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol)
  • The purity and safety of the drug
  • The risk of overdose, especially if hiding drug use

Minors living in a home with substance abuse could accidentally (or even knowingly) access the substance of abuse. Additionally, if the loved one is supervising children while under the influence, will they be able to act quickly in the event of an accident? Can the loved one respond appropriately or drive a vehicle if the child is injured and needs medical support?

Family members can contact Dr. Stanger at All About Interventions once they have grown tired of tactics they have tried and failed. Continuing with these attempts leaves families exhausted and discouraged.

It’s also common for family members to have their own boundary issues that must be addressed. Frequently families look away or minimize damaging behavior.

Through the intervention process and family coaching, family members discover how to improve the quality of their own lives. They can learn to set and keep boundaries and begin to take care of themselves.

Healthy boundaries are paramount for personal health and happiness. As family members begin to examine their own behaviors and seek change, they can begin to understand how to be part of the solution and not the problem.

Getting Help for Your Spouse

Dealing with an addicted spouse can be frightening and leave you feeling uncertain. The good news is that there is always hope and strategic solutions available to help.

As your partner receives the treatment they need, you can also be part of the process to support them and have access to support for yourself.

Addiction affects not just the individual but everyone around them—their partner, children, family, and friends. It’s important to remember that, while your spouse needs and deserves help, you also deserve support and treatment for the stress and trauma you may be going through.

What treatment fits your partner best will depend on their unique situation, so it is essential to meet with a physician or specialist to assess and develop a game plan. This section will discuss the most common treatment options available to addicts and their families.

How Can I Stop My Spouse’s Substance Abuse?

One of the most challenging situations a couple can face is when the addict isn’t ready to change. It’s crucial to remember that addiction is a brain disease.

No one can force someone else to change because they must want to change for themselves. However, there are strategic ways you can help them start the process.

Educate yourself on substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Consult with a professional interventionist to ensure your intervention is as successful as possible. Speak with your friends and family about the issue and get them on board. There may come a time when an invitation to change will be effective, so getting other people in their life involved is essential.

The road to treatment for your partner may be messy and even painful, but ultimately, it will be worthwhile if your partner decides to work towards a healthy, sober life.

Inpatient Rehab

When people think of rehab, they often imagine inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment programs involve your partner living at the treatment facility in a controlled, substance-free environment with 24/7 medical supervision.

Inpatient rehab is beneficial if a detox phase is necessary, as healthcare providers can administer medical care to ensure your spouse’s safety during the withdrawal phase.

During their time at the treatment center, your spouse will participate in support groups, behavioral therapy, and recreational activities with other recovering addicts on the same journey. Inpatient rehab typically lasts between 30 to 90 days.

Inpatient treatment is ideal for more severe addictions or individuals with previous addiction history.

Outpatient Treatment Options

Outpatient addiction programs come in a few different levels of care. Most commonly, recovering addicts can choose between a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) or an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) are considered a step down from inpatient treatment. Like inpatient treatment, a PHP offers medical detoxification, health monitoring, therapy, and educational services. The main difference between a PHP and inpatient rehab is that the patient can go home after treatment each day.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) are ideal for individuals with mild to moderate addiction. For ten or more hours each week, patients visit the treatment center for individual and group therapy sessions, medication management, and life skills education.

Medical detoxification services are usually available through a PHP but not an IOP. Patients going to an IOP can request a referral for medical detox at a separate location before they begin the rest of their treatment.

Medical Detox Services

Many substances cause withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using them. Depending on the type of addiction, some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. Medical detox programs provide medical care and support during the early stages of withdrawal to ensure your spouse’s safety and lessen their discomfort.

Healthcare providers sometimes prescribe prescription drugs during medical detox to make the withdrawal process more manageable. These prescription medications can reduce cravings, lessen withdrawal symptoms, and help prevent relapse.

Medical detox is available as an inpatient or outpatient treatment option, depending on the severity of the patient’s addiction and the type of substance involved.

Addiction Counseling

Therapy is a significant component of addiction treatment and recovery. Your spouse will participate in individual and group therapy sessions during their treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are the most common therapies offered during addiction recovery.

Some additional types of therapy used during addiction treatment include:

  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Supportive Therapy
  • Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT)
  • Family Therapy

Family therapy can benefit married couples because it allows them to work together in recovery. Family therapy sessions also allow married partners to work through any trauma or emotional issues that developed due to one spouse’s addiction.

Getting Help for Yourself

Regardless of the outcome of your marriage or your partner’s recovery, taking care of yourself is also important.

It is common for spouses of recovering individual to struggle mentally and emotionally after the “dust has settled.” If this happens, remember that you deserve help and support to work through everything you’ve just experienced.

Find a Support System

Many different support groups exist for families who’ve dealt with addiction, found through online forums or in your community. For example, Al-Anon Family Groups provides a 12-step program for families and friends.

The treatment centers in your area may also have support groups or great online recommendations for you.

When Is It Time to Walk Away?

If you’re contemplating divorce due to your partner’s ongoing addiction, there’s no simple answer about when it’s time for you to move on. Ultimately, you are the only person who can make that decision.

First and foremost, you should prioritize your safety (and your children’s, if applicable). Separation may be necessary depending on the severity of your spouse’s addiction and the resulting behavior.

If you decide divorce is the only option, consult with an attorney on your next steps. Your lawyer will explain what to expect during and after the process, including details of your divorce settlement, child custody, division of assets, alimony, etc.

You should also seek support through family or friends. A solid support system during this challenging time can make a big difference in your overall well-being.

How can I help my spouse with addiction recovery?

It all starts with an invitation to change.

Some spouses commit to sober living with them. For example, if your spouse is recovering from alcohol abuse, you can decide to no longer drink socially to show your solidarity.

Should I divorce my spouse for addiction issues?

Divorce is a difficult choice to make, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Ultimately, you must decide how far you are willing to go without sacrificing your or your family’s safety, sanity, and overall happiness.

For more guidance and support in dealing with addiction, interventions, or family healing, reach out to All About Interventions or by phone 619-507-1699. We can provide you with the resources and assistance you need to navigate this challenging journey. Don’t hesitate to take the first step towards a healthier future for you and your loved ones.