Should You Consider Divorcing an Alcoholic Spouse?


Alcoholism can ruin your marriage and family. If the effects of alcohol abuse are too much, it’s acceptable to file a divorce to protect your mental health and children, if you have them.

However, divorcing an alcoholic spouse is a tough decision. You need to consider yourself, your spouse, and the future of your family as a whole.

If you’re thinking of leaving your partner, learn about the process and seek professional advice first to see if this is the best way for you.

This guide offers insights to help you decide if you should get a divorce.

The Signs and Symptoms of an Alcoholic Husband or Wife

Before you file for divorce, it’s important to understand and confirm your spouse’s alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that reduces one’s ability to control their drinking despite health, social, and occupational consequences.

If you’re unsure if your spouse has alcoholism, check if they show the following signs and symptoms of AUD, as stated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) :

  • Uncontrollable heavy drinking
  • Behavioral changes such as mood swings and increased aggression
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home and work, resulting in marital, family, and financial problems
  • Drinking despite having health concerns
  • Drinking or drunk in dangerous situations
  • Preferring alcohol over hobbies
  • Increased alcohol tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, nausea, restlessness, sweating, malaise, dysphoria, and trouble sleeping

Keep in mind that these symptoms can overlap with those of drug abuse or other substance use disorders.

When to Divorce a Spouse with Alcohol Addiction

Divorcing your spouse due to alcoholism isn’t easy. Before making this life-changing decision, consider consulting with alcohol addiction counselors, therapists, or support groups to gain insight and emotional support.

You may also seek help from a family law attorney to learn more about the legal process.

Also, ask yourself the following questions to see if you should divorce. These questions also show the impact of alcohol problems on family and marriage.

Does Your Alcoholic Spouse’s Condition Affect Your Well-Being?

Living with a spouse who struggles with alcohol abuse can negatively affect your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Are you constantly stressed, anxious, or depressed due to your spouse’s alcohol problem? Does your spouse’s alcoholism affect your role and responsibilities at work and home?

If you agree with the questions, it can be a valid ground for divorce.

Does Alcoholism Negatively Impact Your Marriage and Family?

Alcohol addiction affects the entire family. Many alcoholic spouses refuse to provide or care for family members, resulting in strained marriages.

Some also find it difficult to respect each other and maintain healthy boundaries, which can affect the relationship in the long run.

Meanwhile, having an alcoholic parent can impact the children’s physical, emotional, and mental health, especially with a neglectful or violent parent. If you have children, make them a priority when dealing with alcoholism and divorce.

Overall, experiencing hardships due to your alcoholic spouse’s condition is a sign to consider leaving them.

Do You No Longer Feel Safe With Your Spouse?

Does your spouse tend to get physical and harm you or your children? Alcoholism results in unpredictable behavior, which can lead to violence in some cases.

If you feel that both you and your children are in danger due to your spouse’s violent fits, these are valid grounds for divorce. Seek the help of a lawyer, local support, or emergency service as appropriate.

Does Your Spouse Refuse to Receive Treatment?

If you have tried helping your spouse quit abusing alcohol and explored different treatment options, but they refuse to receive or continue treatment, this can be grounds for divorcing them.

No matter how much you help them, people dealing with alcoholism can’t get better if they don’t accept and commit to change.

After all, the first step to healing from substance abuse is acknowledging your condition and having the inner desire to quit and acting on it.

The Challenges of Divorcing an Alcoholic Spouse

Divorcing an alcoholic spouse may be slightly different from the normal divorce process, especially when there are marital assets or spousal support for children involved. Also, divorce laws can vary per state or country.

Consult with experienced family law attorneys to learn the proper divorce proceedings. Regardless, here are common challenges you might encounter.

Proving Your Spouse’s Alcohol Abuse

Divorcing an alcoholic spouse requires gathering evidence of habitual or continual abuse of alcohol to support your divorce case, get child custody, and receive financial support, if necessary.

This evidence can include images or videos of your spouse’s excessive drinking, police reports of alcohol-related offenses, medical records related to alcohol-related health problems, and witnesses testifying about your spouse’s habits.

If you can’t get evidence, try asking experienced attorneys or private investigators for help.

Claiming Child Custody

Cases with children always prioritize the minors’ best interests in terms of safety and environment.

The court will consider factors like your physical and mental health, your financial capability, and the children’s wishes. Before getting a divorce, make sure you can provide and care for your kids if you want full custody.

In rare cases, both parents can lose custody if both suffer from substance abuse disorders or can’t care for their children properly.

Protecting Your Children During the Divorce Process

Don’t forget to check your children’s well-being during this difficult process. After all, growing up in dysfunctional families can impact their adulthood.

For example, an adult child of an alcoholic parent might deal with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse in the future.

During the process, provide emotional support by loving and comforting them. Help them understand that it’s not their fault you’re divorcing. Also, let the children see a counselor or therapist to help them cope.

If necessary, you may file for a temporary protective order against a violent or disrespectful spouse until you finalize the divorce.

Preparing for the Financial Impact of Divorce

Divorce in the U.S. can cost a median rate of $7,000 but can go up to $20,000. As a result, you should be ready to face the financial impact during and after the divorce process.

Before proceeding, check your financial situation first and determine if you need to get a new job or apply for child support.

You also need to consider your finances after divorce. Can you provide for your kids on your own? Do you need to move to a new home? How much should you need? Ask your lawyer for help to prepare yourself financially.

Your Life After Divorcing an Alcoholic

What should you do after going through the divorce? It’s also important to think about the aftermath of your divorce. Here are some tips to help you live a better life moving forward.

Try Counseling or Joining a Peer Group

After the divorce, expect to feel various emotions since you might find it difficult to begin a new life as a single person/parent. Consider getting professional help from a therapist or counselor to help you through the healing process.

Also, seek help from a support group for family and friends of people dealing with alcoholism, like Al-Anon Family Groups.

If you want to learn more about alcoholism and recovery, feel free to get resources from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Build a Healthy Routine

Start your new life with healthy habits and routines to help you move on. Practice eating healthy, regular meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising several times a week.

Ultimately, establish good habits to bring stability and normalcy for you and your kids during a period of change.

Set Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Keep in mind that you may still see your ex-spouse when they visit or spend time with your kids, or if you happen to live in a small town or work in each other’s vicinity.

It’s best to set healthy boundaries with your former partner to help both of you move on. For example, let them know you’ll only talk to them when necessary, such as during an emergency with the kids.

Besides this, you can decide when and how your ex-spouse can see the children. If you don’t know how to set these boundaries, try asking your attorney for help.

How to Help a Spouse with Alcohol Use Disorder

If you decide against getting a divorce, know that it’s not too late to help your alcoholic spouse and fix your marriage.

Substance abuse treatments can help your alcoholic spouse recover. When discussing this with them, approach them when sober and talk to them in a calm and encouraging manner.

The alcohol treatment options include:

  • Primary Care Physician: Have a doctor check your spouse’s condition and refer them to treatment programs or alcohol addiction treatment centers for recovery.
  • Licensed Therapist: Help your spouse develop coping skills and strategies to reduce their drinking habits. The treatment can be one-on-one, group, or family sessions.
  • Telehealth: Consider online consultations from sites specializing in substance addiction treatment, like Curednation. If you don’t have a nearby treatment center or your spouse wants to keep it private, they can book an appointment and receive treatment at home.
  • Medication: Your primary care physician or board-certified addiction doctor can prescribe certain medications. The U.S. has only approved three medications for this condition so far; acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.
  • Mutual-Support Group: Encourage your spouse to join groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to find support and gain insight from peers.

Final Thoughts

Deciding to divorce your spouse due to alcoholism isn’t easy, as it involves complicated emotions and difficult decisions for you and your family.

Try to explore treatment options first before divorcing, especially if your spouse is willing to change.

And remember, divorce only becomes the best course of action if your alcoholic spouse turns abusive, neglectful, or unwilling to get rid of their alcohol addiction.

Regardless of your decision, take care of yourself, and don’t hesitate to seek help from professionals, family, and friends.


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