If you’re married to an addict, you suffer directly and by watching your spouse deteriorate. Addicts lie, are reckless, and they cheat. Moreover, you’re partly responsible for the damage they do. If your alcoholic spouse drives, you worry when he’s out, you bail him out of jail at 2 a.m., and help pay the fines and attorney’s fees. Addiction is a huge challenge and couples are more likely to divorce when facing drug or alcohol issues.
There are approximately fourteen million persons addicted to alcohol in the U.S., about two million cocaine addicts, nearly one million heroin addicts, and over two million persons addicted to gambling. If half these addicted persons are married, this means over nine million couples suffer from substance abuse problems. Addiction is a progressive disorder and the prognosis is poor. Generally, addicts deny they have a problem and continue using addicting substances until their health deteriorates and they die of disease or overdose.
Helping Your Addicted Spouse
The threat of divorce rarely gets an addict into treatment. Don’t threaten divorce unless you intend to follow through with it. It’s better to seek professional help. Contact a twelve-step program such as Co-dependents Anonymous or find a counselor in your area who specializes in treating substance abuse and talk with her about what to do. Another effective tactic is to conduct an intervention to educate the family about addiction, how the family system may be unconsciously enabling the addict to abuse substances, and develop a treatment program to help your addicted spouse recover.
Steps Before Divorce
Before filing for divorce from an addicted spouse, take steps to help him/her recover. Talk to your spouse about their addiction and how disruptive it is to the family. Engage an addiction counselor and visit them with your spouse. If none of these steps works, then tell your addicted spouse you will divorce him/her if they don’t seek help and recover. Sometimes it helps to do a trial separation to see if that will shock your spouse into entering treatment. If these tactics fail, file for divorce because the alternative is more suffering for you and your children.
Divorcing an Addicted Spouse
If you have tried to help your addicted spouse get treatment and threatened to divorce them without effect, the next step is to get legal advice from an attorney who has handled divorcing couples with an addiction problem. Let your attorney deal with your addicted spouse. Once you’ve filed for divorce, be prepared to offer emotional and financial support to your addicted spouse during the divorce because he/she will need it. Also, reach out to your family and friends for support so you can help your children through the tough times ahead. Make sure you safeguard your financial assets during the divorce. Addicted spouses do stupid things when they feel threatened. Separate your accounts and make certain your addicted spouse can’t lay his/her hands on your money. See a counselor and take your children to a child therapist if they seem distressed.
Addiction and Child Custody
When dealing with an addicted spouse, there are several specific steps you need to take to ensure the safety of your children. A well- designed drug or alcohol testing program is an essential part of any visitation schedule. This involves testing for drugs or alcohol before the children visit and every four or six hours during the visitation period. Sometimes, supervised visitation is necessary in addition to drug or alcohol testing, because the addict can’t be trusted to abstain during the children’s visits. Also, install an alcohol or drug monitor on their vehicle so they can’t drive under the influence.
Being married to addict is chaotic and stressful because they take risks and you are partly responsible for the damages. Substance abusers usually deny they have a problem and refuse to seek treatment until it’s too late to save your marriage. Threatening divorce rarely gets an addict into rehabilitation. Seek professional help and conduct an intervention instead. Talk to your addicted spouse about how disruptive their behavior is to the family and engage a counselor.
If these steps don’t work, file for divorce and hire an attorney who has handled couples with an addiction problem in the past. It’s important to institute a drug or alcohol testing program as part of any visitation schedule to ensure the safety of your children.