Divorce and Substance Abuse

California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that a spouse or domestic partner asking for divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong. Instead, the individual claims “irreconcilable differences.” In other words, the couple agrees to disagree. No fault divorce entitles both parties to a fair and equal settlement (which includes division of assets and debts, child custody and visitation, and spousal and child support).

Addiction is one of the leading contributing factors to divorce. Although it is irrelevant to no fault divorce as a whole, it can carry immense weight in settlement proceedings—especially in regards to child custody and visitation. All decisions regarding a child are made on the basis of the “Best Interest Standard.” This means that a court acts with the child’s best possible health, safety, and welfare in mind. It follows that a judge is less likely to entrust an addicted parent with a child. Often a court will attempt to ensure the child’s safety by ordering the parent complete mandatory drug tests, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and participate in supervised visitation. In the most extreme cases, a court may award full custody to the sober parent.

Substance abuse is an issue of national scale. According to the most recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health (2015), “Approximately 21.5 million people aged 12 or older in 2014 had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 17.0 million people with an alcohol use disorder, 7.1 million with an illicit drug use disorder, and 2.6 million who had both an alcohol use and an illicit drug use disorder.” Accident—including overdose—is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The National Vital Statistics Report (2016) calculates “a total of 49,714 persons died of drug-induced causes…[and] a total of 30,722 persons died of alcohol-induced causes in the United States” in 2014 alone.

Addiction is by no means a foregone conclusion, but if it persists untreated, marriage may be one of many relationships to unravel. If you suspect a loved one to be suffering, consider the following warning signs from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:

  • Loss of Control: Drinking or drugging more than a person wants to, for longer than they intended, or despite telling themselves that they wouldn’t do it this time.
  • Neglecting Other Activities: Spending less time on activities that used to be important because of the use of alcohol or drugs. Drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
  • Risk-Taking: More likely to take serious risks in order to obtain one’s drug of choice.
  • Relationship Issues: People struggling with addiction are known to act out against those closest to them, particularly if someone is attempting to address their substance problems. Complaints from co-workers, supervisors, teachers, or classmates.
  • Secrecy: Going out of one’s way to hide the amount of drugs or alcohol consumed or one’s activities when drinking or drugging. Unexplained injuries or accidents.
  • Changing Appearance: Serious changes or deterioration in hygiene or physical appearance – lack of showering, slovenly appearance, unclean clothes.
  • Family History: A family history of addiction can dramatically increase one’s predisposition to substance abuse.
  • Tolerance: Over time, a person’s body adapts to a substance to the point that they need more and more of it in order to have the same reaction.
  • Withdrawal: As the effect of the alcohol or drugs wear off, the person may experience symptoms such as anxiety or jumpiness, shakiness or trembling, sweating, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue, loss of appetite, and headaches.
  • Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences: Even though it is causing problems (on the job, in relationships, for one’s health), a person continues drinking and drugging.

If you or a loved one is known to be suffering, consider the following treatments:

  • Individual and group counseling
  • Inpatient and residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Partial hospital programs
  • Case or care management
  • Medication
  • Recovery support services
  • 12-Step fellowship
  • Peer supports

Addiction Resources:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

National Addiction Resources

American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Illnesses

Association of Intervention Specialists

Leave a Comment