I remember hearing awhile back that alcohol addiction was the number one cause of divorce. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, I wouldn’t be surprised. Divorcing an alcoholic (or deciding to stay) is not an easy choice. There can be guilt involved, along with fear, frustration, anger, resentment, compassion, and a lot of other emotions.
Here is one reader’s story about divorcing an alcoholic:
My husband and I are in our 60’s and have been married for 22 years. We are in the process of getting divorced, but now I am having second thoughts. My concerns are my husband’s use of alcohol and other drugs.
He doesn’t get falling down drunk, but seems to need alcohol, pot, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety meds to manage his anxiety. He has struggled to stop drinking, but always starts again. I have done my best to detach from his drug use and live my own life, but I worry about our future together.
Recently, I found him drinking wine in a coffee cup on a Sunday morning. He had told me that he had stopped drinking, but then it came out that he had hidden a box of wine in the basement. He won’t go to AA or otherwise seek help; he wants to do this on his own. I see his mind slipping; don’t know if this is due to all the drugs or just age.
In addition to this, we have very poor communication. Any discussion about anything important devolves into an ugly argument, often with him making insulting, hurtful comments. For example, in an argument about money, he threatened to cut me out of his will and called me petty.
We have tried 4 couples’ therapists, with little or no improvement in our relationship. I still love him, he can be a sweet, sensitive guy, but there is another side to him which is not so nice. We have a beautiful home together, travel with each other, and basically like each other.
He has so many good qualities, but I never feel heard when we have a disagreement. We are more like companions than a couple. I am realizing I will really miss our life, but I don’t feel that I can rely on him and don’t know how to be close to him.
I subsequently corresponded with this woman, and found out she did decide to go through with the divorce, but that it was a very, very difficult decision for her, and that she has decided she will still stand by her husband and help him. That is to be seen, in my opinion, since no one can “help” an alcoholic except the alcoholic.
Here is how I feel about this, and for anyone divorcing an alcoholic. Every couple has marital issues. There’s no getting around it. But the problem here isn’t the marriage. The problem is an ugly ugly disease called addiction. This woman’s husband is an addict, in my opinion.
I feel terrible for this couple because alcohol addiction is a tricky disease that causes so much conflict and pain, and destroys marriages and lives. A person living with an alcoholic can feel love and compassion and feel like they want to help so badly, and then after a bad night have so much hatred and anger and disgust for the same person. It’s very conflicting and emotions are all over the place. It’s a vicious cycle that really never stops.
Alcoholism can truly ruin not just the alcoholic’s life, but his or her loved ones, including children. If you are wondering if you should stay or leave an alcoholic, please keep your children in mind. While divorce is very difficult, it might be the better decision because if the kids grow up living with an alcoholic, it can truly take a toll on their emotional health and how they will be as adults.
In this case, the husband, in my opinion, cannot break his addiction on his own (like almost all alcoholics). He needs to go to a professional alcoholic rehab center and let doctors and therapists help him. It works in so many cases. I have seen it work. But he has to want it. Hopefully the separation will be the motivation he needs to get help.
There is also the option of an intervention. This woman could get a couple of his close friends and family members together with a trained therapist and confront him, and then take him straight from the intervention to a rehab facility. These interventions do work in some cases, and if it doesn’t work, at least you know you tried.
Addiction has a personality of its own, which is why the guy and his wife can no longer communicate. It’s like she is trying to have a conversation with a bottle of wine. It’s not possible.
Addicts (even during the times they are sober) can’t cope with any type of stress or conflict, and therefore cannot communicate effectively with others, especially a spouse. They tend to get angry, irritated quickly, impatient, mean, and hot-tempered, whether they have been drinking or are sober.
Also, never try to talk to an alcoholic about quitting drinking if the person has been drinking. Do it when he or she is sober.
I personally think this woman did the right thing divorcing an alcoholic. But, I would never judge anyone for staying, either. The decision to stay or leave an addict is very personal and there are lots of factors that go into the decision. No one should judge someone for staying or leaving or how long they wait before leaving.
Here is the good news. I know someone who has been in AA for two years. He said the reason he went into AA is because his wife said she was going to leave him if he didn’t.
In his recovery, he realized he was an addict and has never had a drink to this day. The couple and their children are so much happier and life is good (even though he says it is still very difficult not to drink.)
Having an addiction is like having another disease or chronic condition, like cancer or Parkinson’s or anything. But, in my opinion, it is much more difficult because it’s hard to see it that way.
If you have cancer, no one gets mad at you. You go to the doctor and get help, and everyone feels compassion for your situation. And, I don’t think someone would want to divorce someone because the person has cancer. But when it comes to alcoholism, part of the disease is not being able to face the fact that you need help, your family is frustrated and angry with you, and you might be functioning fairly normally. So, divorcing an alcoholic isn’t something that’s unheard of.
On the upside, there are countless stories of addicts living in recovery for very long periods of time—some for the rest of their lives.
I hope this guy ends up getting the help he needs, but I also want to stress that his wife needs to get help, too. She has lived in an abusive situation for a long time. (Not that the guy meant to be abusive because he’s a bad person, but the addiction is the abuser.)
She would benefit by therapy or going to Al Anon. She is greatly affected by this ugly disease, too, and she would be comforted and educatted by hearing the stories of others and how people cope with a loved one who is an addict.
For those considering divorcing or divorcing an alcoholic:
Addiction is an ugly disease. It creeps in and ruins relationships, it lies, it’s tricky and plays with people’s minds. And, there is no cure for addiction, only management of the disease. The number one weapon to managing addiction (getting it under control) is education and support.
I hope this couple understands that and takes steps to do that. But, the wife has to realize that she is powerless. The desire and realization that he needs professional help has to come from him, not her or anyone else close to him. I pray for these people, and for all addicts.
If you think you or your spouse might have a problem, PLEASE tell someone: a therapist, or your physician, or contact a local AA support group.