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Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder.

It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli (e.g., drug-seeking behaviors and use) despite harmful consequences. When it comes to substance use disorder most of the time and attention is spent on the person who is struggling with addiction. Although this is important, it equally important to be mindful of the fact that there are others who are negatively impacted by addiction. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) pointedly explains that the effects of having a partner struggling with addiction have a ripple effect that “is felt by his or her children, relatives, friends, and co-workers. However, many would argue that, aside from the abuser, the greatest price is often paid by the abuser’s partner.” Divorce and addiction are often linked, and divorce due to substance use disorder has become increasingly common.

Addiction and Divorce

No one enters a marriage expecting it to end, and unfortunately, divorce is a reality for millions of Americans. According to statistics provided by Health Street, 7.3% of marriages that end in divorce do so because of substance abuse. Although some attribute this to the growing divorce rates in America, others argue that it is a direct result of the emotional turmoil and the effects addiction has on marital relationships. While substance use disorder may not necessarily be the leading cause of divorce, it is often a contributing factor. Habitually abusing drugs and/ or alcohol will affect the way one’s brain functions, as one’s body becomes increasingly accustomed to functioning with the presence of the substance in its system. It is not uncommon for an individual struggling with an addiction to experience negative physiological effects, financial strain, run into legal complications, lack of personal hygiene, and an inability to maintain steady employment, all of which can have grave implications for his or her spouse.

Stop Enabling

It is impossible to go uninfluenced or unscathed by a loved one that struggles with addiction. Addiction is a disease that essentially overpowers an individual’s ability to behave authentically. Often to protect oneself, the spouse of an addict will engage in enabling behaviors. Enabling behaviors to allow an individual struggling with addiction to continue to engage in substance-abusing behaviors, as the addict becomes void of responsibility. For example, covering for a loved one that arrives late to a commitment (or does not show at all) by lying or excusing this behavior is essentially enabling the individual to continue to prioritize drinking and/ or abusing drugs, and inadvertently helps him or she avoid experiencing the natural consequences of his or her actions. This can perpetuate destructive substance-abusing behaviors and prolong an individual’s untreated addiction. 


There are a variety of treatment options available for an individual struggling with addiction. Some treatments involve participating in individual counseling, group counseling, and/ or attending support group meetings. Often recovery plans will include the spouse as substance abuse by a partner causes damage to the marriage or relationship and these fractures must also be treated. If relationship issues are not repaired, they can set the stage for continued conflict and, in turn, relapse to drinking or drug abuse. Thus, lasting recovery from substance use depends, in part, on improving relationships. 

Further Information and Support

Navigating the challenges that arise from living with mental illness, struggling with substance abuse, and/ or addiction can not only be all-consuming but are often impossible to effectively handle without proper support. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding mental illness, substance abuse, and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. Bear in mind that you do not have to be on this journey alone. At {Upwell Advisors}, we offer unique, customized concierge therapeutic services to provide our clients with unparalleled support throughout every step of the recovery process. 

Feel free to reach to contact us anytime via email at [email protected] We look forward to supporting you on your journey.

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