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How to Divorce an Alcoholic:  Studies show that alcohol is the number one drug problem in the United States, so it’s no surprise to find that alcohol abuse can be a main contributor to divorce.

Dealing with an Alcoholic Spouse

In the past, many people held the belief that you either are an alcoholic or you are not an alcoholic. Research has found this isn’t always the case.  Someone could have a drink every day, but that does not necessarily mean that he/she has a drinking problem.  Someone could also be a high-functioning alcoholic (HFA), one who is able to “maintain” their life responsibilities (job, school, relationships, etc.) yet continuously abuses alcohol.  It is for this reason that alcoholism is best considered as existing on a spectrum rather than in terms of distinct categories.

Divorce is three to four more times more likely when a spouse has alcohol issues.


If you are in a marriage with someone whom you believe is struggling with alcohol, then you are likely experiencing to some degree its painful consequences.  Addiction impacts everyone’s life it touches.  It is important to understand that although substance addiction is considered an incurable disease, there are treatment options.  You can openly express your concerns with your spouse and encourage them to get help.  There are numerous recovery programs, support groups, counseling services, and other options available. How you approach your spouse will depend on many factors, such as how safe you feel about addressing them and how open you think they will be at the prospect of making a lifestyle change.  That is why it is best to seek professional advice before moving forward.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do to help your spouse. If they are in denial or unwilling to take the necessary steps to get help, there may be nothing more you can do.  In the end you have two choices:  Accept it and live with it, or leave. If you find that you have reached a point where you feel you have exhausted all of your efforts, divorce may be your only option.

5 Powerful Tips on Divorcing an Alcoholic

If it is not possible to save your marriage and you have decided to divorce your alcoholic spouse, it’s important to be fully prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally.

1. Protect Yourself (and your children)

Alcohol abuse is often connected to increased aggression and marital violence.  If you are in an abusive marriage and/or have any concerns at all about your safety and the safety of your children, you will want make a well-defined plan to leave your home safely. You must take the necessary preparations for a safe exit and have a good support system in place to help you during this difficult time.  Plan for a safe place to stay, such as a close friend or relative’s home.  At the very least, be sure to have friends and family members whom you can reach out to in case of an emergency.

2. Lawyer Up

Find a reputable local family law practitioner and set up a consultation to discuss your legal options.

An attorney that has specific experience and knowledge in divorces that deal with alcoholism will be particularly helpful.  A good attorney should have access to the resources you may need to navigate through the divorce process during this difficult time.

3. Gather Evidence

In extreme cases of alcohol abuse, it may be necessary to collect evidence of your spouses drinking.  Any court is going to require evidence when you accuse a spouse of alcohol abuse. When minor children are involved, the process of divorce can be incredibly tricky.  You must be able to prove that the spouse’s alcohol abuse endangers the safety of the child.  For that reason, an alcohol monitoring device may be necessary to provide the courts a way to monitor the alleged alcoholic while the children are in their care.

4. Get Help from a Counselor

Get help from a counselor and have your children go as well.  Addictive illness and recovery programs like Al-anon, CoDa (Codependents Anonymous) and AcoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) can provide additional support because you will be surrounded by those who have been through similar situations.

5. The End is Really just the Beginning

At first, it may seem that divorcing an alcoholic spouse can be more painful than just staying in the marriage.  The idea of being on your own can be terrifying, but if you ask those who have come out on the other side, they will tell you with absolute certainty that it was worth it.  With pain comes personal growth. More importantly, the knowledge and wisdom you gain about yourself and your experience can put you in a unique position to inspire others in similar circumstances.  Remain committed to the process and love yourself enough to know that your well-being is ultimately worth it.

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