divorce when substance abuse is involved

Divorce When Substance Abuse Is Involved

When two people enter a marriage, the idea that it might not last isn’t a thought. Unfortunately, a large portion of American marriages end in divorce, with substance abuse being one of the significant contributing factors. In this article, we will explore how drug addiction and alcoholism affect divorce, the prevalence of divorces caused by addiction, the legal implications of divorcing due to substance abuse, and the impact on children involved. We’ll also discuss the phases of addiction and how to provide support during such challenging times.

How do drug addiction and alcoholism affect divorce?

Substance abuse, in any form, affects all members of a family, and its impact can be profound. Financial hardship, abuse and violence, unmet developmental needs, emotional distress, and legal issues can all be consequences of addiction within a marriage. Moreover, children are particularly vulnerable in these situations, and divorces involving substance abuse become more complex due to custody agreements. State legal systems attempt to prioritize the children’s best interests, but when substance abuse is involved, this may lead to unique challenges.

How many marriages end in divorce because of alcoholism?

A study covering 18 years found that drug or alcohol use was cited as the third highest reason for divorce, following infidelity and incompatibility. Alcoholism can be a significant contributing factor to the dissolution of a marriage.

Can you divorce based on alcoholism?

Yes, in “fault” states, substance abuse, including alcoholism, is an acceptable ground for divorce. In such states, one party’s actions or behaviors can be considered the reason for the marriage ending. However, some states do not permit “at-fault” divorces. In “no-fault” states, divorces can occur without proving substance abuse issues, which can lead to a less contentious process.

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Should I share substance abuse concerns with the court?

If substance abuse poses concerns about the outcome of your divorce, it is crucial to share this information with the court. Depending on the state and the specific situation, providing evidence of substance abuse may be necessary to protect yourself and your children during the divorce process.

How many divorces are caused by addiction?

As many as 40 to 50% of American marriages end in divorce, and rates are even higher when substance abuse and addiction are involved. It is worth noting that divorce and addiction can sometimes be intertwined, with one potentially contributing to the other.

What are the four phases of addiction?

Addiction typically progresses through four stages:

  1. Experimentation: voluntary initial use of drugs or alcohol.
  2. Regular use: deciding whether to continue use casually or crossing into addiction.
  3. High-risk use: using substances despite negative consequences.
  4. Addiction: a state where quitting becomes seemingly impossible, and the individual’s behavior becomes unrecognizable.

How to help your children during a divorce with substance abuse involved?

Approximately eight million children have experienced life with an adult suffering from substance abuse. These children are at a higher risk of experiencing issues with their behaviors or emotions and developing a substance abuse disorder later in life. Custody agreements may vary, depending on the situation and whether the parent is actively using or working towards recovery.


Substance abuse and addiction can have devastating effects on marriages, leading to complex and challenging divorces. When children are involved, the situation becomes even more difficult to navigate. Seeking legal counsel and support is essential to protect the best interests of both the children and the affected parties.

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Remember, addiction is a disease, and those affected need help. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is always help available through organizations like SAMHSA’s National Helpline.


  1. Is substance abuse a common reason for divorce in the United States? Yes, substance abuse, including drug addiction and alcoholism, is a significant contributing factor to many divorces in the United States.
  2. Can I get divorced without proving my spouse’s substance abuse issues? In “no-fault” states, you do not need to prove your spouse’s substance abuse issues to get divorced.
  3. What steps can I take to protect my children during a divorce involving substance abuse? If you believe your children’s safety is at risk, it is crucial to share your substance abuse concerns with the court and provide any necessary evidence.
  4. Are divorces caused by addiction more challenging than regular divorces? Yes, divorces involving substance abuse can be more complicated due to the additional legal and emotional complexities.
  5. Where can I seek help for substance abuse and addiction? If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline for support and resources.

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