Does the Drink have your Marriage on the Brink of Divorce?

Divorce and Alcoholism Have A Direct Correlation.

Divorce_AlcoholismIf you have been considering a divorce from your partner because of the problems in your marriage due to excessive drinking, please read on. Over half of all adults in this country have a member of their family who is addicted to alcohol or who, at the very least, is an alcohol abuser. When this person happens to be a spouse, the results can be devastating on a marriage and a family. The mental, emotional, financial and physical health of all members of the family can be at great risk and the situation often leads to divorce, but not before the real damage is done. When alcoholics first begin their journey, their priorities tend to shift from living a normal, well-balanced life to designing home and social life around drinking – either engaging in it or hiding it. It is truly amazing how many divorce pleadings state that one or both spouses has a drinking problem but it is not just the alcohol user who is affected. The non-addicted spouse will usually move from being a partner to becoming a caretaker. They find themselves constantly either nagging them to quit or helping the addict hide it from the community, the children, their parents and sometimes divorce is the only answer.

As stated by Registered Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill “… with alcoholism in marriage, compulsive care-taking often grows alongside the deteriorating self-care of the compulsive drinker. An alcoholic spouse may neglect or abuse his or her family, deplete financial resources, and create legal problems for the family, including divorce.” Some effects of alcoholism on marriages include marital distress, anger, alienation from the family and, of course, psychological distress and ultimately divorce. Those married to and divorced from alcoholics often complain of a lack of satisfaction, which is usually a result of the inability to communicate effectively. Alcoholics tend to be more aggressive and hostile, and when communicating to their spouse, the message is often angry and begging for an argument.

Sex, Alcohol…Divorce

Sex is a form of communication at the most primitive level. Studies both scientific and personal show that alcohol abuse is related to sexual problems, such as lower sexual satisfaction and erectile dysfunction among men and a reduced sex drive and sexual satisfaction for women. Women often complain that it takes longer and more intense stimulation to allow them to reach an orgasm. That alone is reason enough to put down the bottle and check yourself into rehab. Sex in a marriage is vital, so if your needs or your spouse’s needs are not being met, it is possible that your marriage will end in divorce.

As everyone who has ever been married knows, there is a great deal of problem solving that is required to maintain peace in the household. Solving big problems, like whether to buy a home, file for bankruptcy, foreclose on the family home, file for divorce, stay at home with the kids or get a job, to the small stuff like whether or not to get a family pet or replace the antiquated dishwasher that doesn’t have a china cycle. If alcohol is an issue in your marriage, you probably do little problem solving. Problem solving is also necessary when divorce is the path you have chosen. Perhaps this is because you have learned that the conversation will most likely become a blame-game, a shouting match or something far worse. However, this avoidance leaves critical areas often ignored, such as family finances, sexual intimacy, and child rearing decisions. You have learned that it is just easier to avoid communicating than it is to deal with the stress and negativity that is associated with alcohol-related problem solving. This is a common predicament among alcoholics and their spouses, especially since  alcoholics tend to be less conscientious, less agreeable, and more anxious and hypersensitive than are nondrinkers. These personality characteristics make successful problem solving virtually impossible. When common problems within a family go unsolved and ignored, once again your marriage is headed for divorce. So, you are probably asking, “So what do I do, if I bring it up and my spouse meets me with anger and all we do is argue? Nothing gets resolved, and if I ignore the issue, nothing gets resolved.” It has been said that arguing with an alcoholic seems so pointless, and evidence suggests that it just might be. Research shows that alcohol has a profound effect on one’s ability to understand and properly interpret what someone is saying. They often take things said quite negatively, which leads to an aggressive, outright mean response. Haven’t we all witnessed that drunk girl at a party crying profusely because someone might have said something she took the wrong way? Then once the “liquid courage,” hit she swore revenge on the individual who commented on her “…new haircut, but liked it the old way better.”

This leads us to look at the very troubling, but often very real problem, of violence in marriage. As we have discussed, alcoholism hinders one’s ability to think clearly and rationally. Pair this truism with the fact that people who are intoxicated tend to be more impulsive, aggressive and lack restraint.

According to the World Health Organization,, “Strong links have been found between alcohol use and the occurrence of intimate partner violence and rates of divorce in many countries. Evidence  is also available to support relationships between alcohol and intimate partner violence and divorce that include:

  • Alcohol use directly affects cognitive and physical function, reducing self-control and leaving individuals less capable of negotiating a non-violent resolution to conflicts within relationships and increased risk of divorce.
  • Excessive drinking by one partner can exacerbate financial difficulties, childcare problems, infidelity or other family stressors. This can create marital tension and conflict, increasing  the risk of violence occurring between partners and ultimately leading a marriage to divorce.
  • Individual and societal beliefs that alcohol causes aggression can encourage violent behavior after drinking and the use of alcohol as an excuse for violent behavior, which is often noted in divorce proceedings.
  • Evidence suggests that differences in alcohol consumption between partners are also important and couples where only on partner drinks excessively are more likely to experience alcohol-related arguments, physical violence and ultimately divorce.
  • The impacts of intimate partner violence is wide-ranging. For the victim, health effects include physical injury (which for some women may lead to pregnancy complication or miscarriage), emotional problems leading to suicide, depression, and alcohol, drug abuse as a method of coping and of course the contemplation of divorce. In sever cases, the injuries sustained from an intimate partner can be fatal, and in the US around 11% of all homicides between 1976 and 2002 were committed by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence are more likely result in physical injury when the perpetrator has consumed alcohol.
  • Related social problems often affect victims’ relationships with family, friends and future intimate partners as well as their ability to work or attend school.
  • Children who witness violence (including threats of violence) between their parents are more likely to develop violent and delinquent behaviors during childhood and heavy drinking patterns or alcohol dependence later in life increasing their risk of becoming perpetrators of violence and victims of divorce.


If all seems lost and you are wringing your hands wondering what to do, here is a suggestion, Behavioral Couples Therapy(BCT). BCT combines a focus on recovery and repair and who’s primary objective is to heal the couple and prevent divorce. Alcoholism can take its toll on any relationship, but especially on a marriage. It is vital, if you wish to avoid a divorce, that both partners be deeply committed to improving the relationship and to the therapy and work it will take to do so.

This type of therapy typically includes teaching the skills necessary for the non-alcoholic partner to effectively support and communicate with the addicted. Believe it or not, the non-addicted’s challenges are sometimes just as difficult as those of the addicted, but it is vital to overcome them so you can help advance the treatment and sobriety. An integral component of couples therapy involves developing a “contract” agreeing that:

  • The alcoholic-dependent partner will commit to abstinence
  • The non-dependent partner will offer continual support and reinforcement
  • Neither partner will discuss past addictive behavior and its consequences
  • Neither partner will discuss the future and misuse outside of the therapy sessions

Once alcoholism invades a family, it is no longer an individual problem. It is sobering sometimes to realize that families often play a significant role in the “cause” and “cure” of alcoholism, and sometimes the “cure” comes in the form of divorce. It has been said that hitting rock bottom can come when served with divorce papers, however do not ever consider this action as a “trick” to getting your spouse to sober up. Divorce is serious and should you choose to divorce you need to do so for the right reasons for yourself and your family. First, try suggesting therapy but not just for your spouse but for the family too.  We know for a fact therapy that involves the spouse and possibly other family members is far more beneficial in helping your spouse to overcome their abuse of alcohol. So to avoid the seeming inevitability of divorce, you might want to give it one last try and seek out behavioral couples therapy, but always keep yourself and you family safe.


  • More than 100,000 U.S. deaths are caused by excessive alcohol consumption each year. Direct and indirect causes of death include drunk driving, cirrhosis of the liver, falls, cancer, and stroke.1
  • 48 percent of persons aged 12 and over in the U.S. are drinkers This translates to an estimated 109 million people.
  • Nearly 18 million Americans (8.5 percent of adults_ meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. For diagnostic criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMV-IV)
  • Alcohol abuse and dependence is more common among males than females and decrease with aging.
  • The progression of alcoholism appears to be faster in women than in men.
  • More than one-half of American adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism
  • Approximately one in four children in the U.S. under 18 years old is exposed to alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence in the family.
  • Alcohol is the top drug of choice for children and adolescents.
  • Each day, 7000 children in the U.S. under the age of 16 take their first drink.
  • Children of alcoholics are significantly more likely to initiate drinking during adolescence and to develop alcohol use disorders
  • Approximately 20 percent of persons aged 12 or older participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior. Binge” drinking means having five or more drinks on one occasion.
  • The highest prevalence of binge and heavy drinking was for young adults aged 18 to 25, with the peak rate occurring at age 21.
  • More than 35 percent of adults with an alcohol problem developed symptoms such as binge drinking by age 19.
  • Alcohol–related crashes (i.e., those in which a driver or pedestrian had a blood alcohol concentration greater than zero) account for 41 percent of all fatal car accidents
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 31 minutes and non-fatally injure someone every two minutes.
  • The economic costs of alcohol abuse in the U.S. are estimated to be approximately $185 billion annually.

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  1. Couples in which both spouses have an alcohol use disorder experience more positive interactions and a greater ratio of positive to negative interactions than couples in which only one partner is an alcoholic. Couples in which both spouses use alcohol heavily are less likely to divorce than those where one spouse uses alcohol heavily and the other does not.

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