Alcohol is the number one drug problem in the United States and a major factor in many divorces. At some point in their lives, more than one out of every eight adults in the United States faces alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Put another way, nearly 14 million people in the United States — or one of every 13 adults — are alcoholic in nature, and nearly half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism.
Alcoholism affects not only the health and well being of alcohol abusers, but also the lives of their significant others, families, children, and friends. Some couples persevere and overcome one spouse’s alcohol problem, but often alcoholism causes families to deteriorate and marriages to fail.
The alcoholic spouse casts a dark shadow on his or her family, and during a divorce or separation, alcoholism’s life changing consequences radiate from the alcoholic to his or her spouse, children, family and friends. When an alcoholic’s marriage ends in a divorce, family court can intervene to deal with the needs of families struggling with a spouse’s addiction.
The fact that someone has a drink every day does not mean he or she is an alcoholic. However, when alcohol dependence causes problems with human relationships, problem drinking as well as a disregard of the damage it does to the spouse and the family, the spouse’s alcoholism must be faced. A spouse’s alcoholism may not be an issue if minor children are not part of a divorce; however, it is a significant issue when minor children are involved.
Alcoholism is the elephant in the room. It is a beast, and spouses and children make excuses to keep it hidden. The power of the alcoholic’s denial may be so strong that it transfers to his or her family and important people in his or her life, convincing them that the alcoholic’s problem is something other than it is—weak health, bad luck, accident proneness, depression, a tendency to be preoccupied and worried, a mean temper and countless other possible problems.
Often the most difficult aspect of divorce for the spouse of an alcoholic is facing the beast that the spouse has hidden so well. Alcoholism has been called the disease of denial. So often the alcoholic drinks because they are unhappy, and they become unhappier because they drink, and thus a downward spiral ensues.