Drugs, Alcohol, and Divorce

Millions of people struggle with drug and alcohol addiction in the United States. Addiction has loads of negative effects on a person’s life. It also affects their family. So what happens when you mix drugs, alcohol, and divorce? Ben, Nikki, Susan, and Kate brought in Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a clinical psychologist with over 15 years of experience and one of NYC’s experts in Cognitive Behavioral Theory, to discuss just that in a recent livestream.

Substance abuse and how it affects divorce hits close to home for Ben and Dr. Cohen. When Ben and Nikki filed for divorce, Ben was 13 years sober. Dr. Cohen was formerly married to an alcoholic whose addiction heavily affected their marriage and divorce. There is no doubt that there is a psychological element to addiction, but there are a lot of hurdles and misconceptions people wouldn’t expect when dealing with addiction.

Focus on healing.
Even when sober you still have to take care of yourself. Everything doesn’t magically get better when you’re sober. Relationships sometimes can’t be fixed and lives can’t always go back to how they were before. Substance abuse is a coping strategy. Underneath the substance is psychological pain, and possibly trauma. An addict isn’t somebody trying to hurt their friends and family, they are somebody who is struggling. Dr. Cohen explained that because of this, you have to address that pain. If you don’t address the pain and trauma that your addiction stemmed from, then you aren’t able to grow from it even if you are sober.

An accusation may be made in a divorce.
While the situation is very much a “my word against theirs” situation, a judge will often err on the side of caution and believe the person who made the accusation against their soon-to-be former spouse who is an alcoholic or a drug addict. This can cause restrictions on visiting children. Examples of this would be ordering no alcohol to be around the children or having supervised visitation. Accusations are also hard to deal with because once the children hear them, they question their own safety. 

Children are not as resilient as we think they are.
They can be really hurt, upset, and confused by a divorce. It’s not something we can expect them to just get over. When one of the parents is an addict, recovering or not, it can cause them to draw back from that parent. They may feel afraid or ashamed of a parent struggling with substance abuse, but if you openly communicate about what happens when a parent disappoints the child and how they’re feeling about the situation. It’s a hard conversation to have, but you ultimately need to hear what your children are feeling and want, even if that means being away from the parent who is drinking or doing drugs.

Substance Abuse is Hard to Deal With.
Substance abuse is also hard to deal with in a divorce from a legal perspective, and can even change some of the proceedings. If you or your partner are truly lost in alcoholism and drug addiction, your lawyer may not be able to fully trust you to make sound decisions. Susan discussed how she once had a client like this and she had to appoint a guardian ad litem for her to make decisions for her in the divorce. Some people are even so incapacitated at times they can’t show up to their court hearings. Despite the poor decisions that come with this disease, it is important to remember that the partner who is struggling is still a human behind all of that.


To listen to watch other livestreams from Our Happy Divorce, visit our Youtube page.

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To learn more about Kate Anthony and The Divorce Survival Guide, visit her on Facebook and Instagram or visit KateAnthony.com. Listen to her podcast at: kateanthony.com/podcast-1

Discover more about Susan Guthrie and The Divorce and Beyond Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or at DivorceandBeyond.org. Listen to the Divorce and Beyond Podcast here: divorceandbeyond.podbean.com

For more information on Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, visit her Facebook or her website DrElizabethCohen.com. Listen to her podcast, Off the Couch, here: https://drelizabethcohen.com/podcast-2/.

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