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The Role of Substance Abuse in Divorce

 “Enough is enough! No More Tears” is an old classic song by Donna Summers and it pretty much sums up the feelings of a spouse of a drug addict when contemplating putting an end to the devastation and depravity that the addicted spouse has caused in our lives.

No more enabling – no more willingly offering excuses or covering up for the addict’s behaviors or actions – no more anything.  IT IS NOT ABOUT QUITTING – ITS JUST KNOWING WHEN YOU HAVE HAD ENOUGH so put your foot down and take control of your life again!  

My soon to be ex-husband is a habitual drug addict – cocaine, crack and alcohol being his drugs of choice for the past 40 of his 55 years of life.  It has been the focal point of our almost four years of marriage – relapses, loss of jobs and income, theft from family and friends, adultery, days and weeks of absences from the home, dragging him out of drug and dope dens, embarrassment and futility.   

His latest relapse on June 20,2014 was my breaking point – the very instance when I said “enough is enough” and began taking my life back.  I filed for divorce, obtained a Protection from Abuse order and signed warrants for his arrests.  Being an enabler, I was the one who always stepped up to the plate and took him back one last time because “he needed help and promised to never ever do it again.” Famous last words. Actually, they were the last words he said to me before I cut off all means of communication between us. 

Being married to an addict, not only do you suffer from watching the person you love go down the tubes, you are directly effected.  You have to deal with the person you love behaving irrationally, getting sick, perhaps lying, cheating or any other number of unacceptable behaviors and, on top of that, you are legally bound to this person. That means that you bear the brunt and are on the hook for any damage they may cause. 

Because all addictive illnesses are progressive, the only path for the addict and his or her spouse is a downward spiral  - if they don’t get help.  While this decline seems preventable - and there is no shortage of rehabs, 12-step programs and other types of supports - an addict has to want help in order to stop acting self-destructively. 

But addiction is a disease that tells the addict s/he doesn’t have a disease. Unlike other diseases, such as cancer that may invoke a patient’s survival instincts, addiction wants its victims dead (but, as the saying goes, it’s content to just make the person miserable).

So getting back to the issue of marriage and addiction, it would seem that there are just as many millions of people out there suffering from the effects of living with an addict.  Some of these people will divorce, some will live with the problem for the rest of their days and, sadly, the smallest number of people will get the help they need and enjoy recovery from the addiction and go on to live a happy and fulfilled married life.

The threat of divorce is not usually enough to get an addict in the throes of their addiction to stop. It’s almost never a function of their love for their mate, rather it is an indication of the level of progression in their addictive illness.

While the threat of divorce should never be used if you don’t plan on following through with it, divorce can be a bottom for some addicts and can be the impetus for them to stop using. After all, when you are responsible for yourself and living on half of all the assets you once had, it is much harder to maintain an addiction.

It’s important to seek professional guidance with regard to the strategy you use in moving forward. For those who need professional advice, it can be helpful to find a therapist in your community who specializes in addictive illness and recovery.

When all else fails, you may have to look at getting a  legal separation or even a divorce. A legal separation is a legal proceeding in which you maintain your marital status but you are no longer tied to your spouse financially. You would need to speak with a local attorney to know if this is a good or practical option for your particular situation.

Having to get a divorce is unfortunate to say the least. It can be heartbreaking and devastating, but it sometimes is the only choice you have as the non-addict. This is especially true when there are children involved because they need a stable adult around. When addiction is present, both parents are unavailable and there is little or no stability and consistency.

Most states retain addiction as grounds for a fault divorce. Even if he is not a danger to the wife, this individual cannot support his family, and his addictions are leaving the family destitute. This situation falls within the boundaries of habitual drunkenness or drug addiction.  

Even in no fault states, there are ramifications of drug and alcohol abuse.  The first falls into the category of dissipation of marital assets.  If a spouse is spending a fortune on his/her drug habit, the court can award the innocent spouse a substantial portion, more than 50%, of the existing marital estate to make up for the expense of the other.   
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