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Addressing Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in Divorce Cases

By Tiffany Shea, MA, LCMHC, LCAS, CSI

Addiction is defined in the simplest of terms as the continued use of a substance (or engagement in a behavior) despite severe consequences from such use. Or…as heard in Alcoholics Anonymous when “One drink is too many and ten is not enough.” There are many severe consequences to addiction, one of which includes a divorce rate four times higher than marriages without addiction. It’s estimated that 22.2 million people (over 8% of the population) are struggling with chemical addictions and that doesn’t include behavioral addictions like gambling and sex.

If you think that you or your loved one is struggling due to a problem with alcohol or drugs or something else, it’s important to get help. Addiction is a progressive disease that, left untreated, ends in death or institutionalization. However, there are many forms of treatment, including both in-patient and out-patient.

Along with treatment, participation in some form of ongoing recovery program is recommended. Most people have heard of AA, but there are many other programs available including Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Celebrate Recovery (a Christ-based program that utilizes the 12 steps).

Family members of loved ones with addictions need help as well. Addiction is a family disease, and the family needs healing even if the marriage is ending. Imagine addiction as a car wreck – the ambulance has come screaming up to the scene, scoops up the addicted individual, and races off to the hospital leaving the injured family on the side of the road with deep wounds of their own.

Most treatment programs have a family program built into the regular treatment. There are also support groups available in the community for family members including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Gam-Anon, S-Anon, and Celebrate Recovery has family groups, as well.

Custody can be a confusing issue when addiction is involved. Once the addicted person has entered treatment, how do you know when to increase visitation, and who decides? What should you do if the addicted individual doesn’t seek treatment? The treatment facility cannot determine custody as they are experts in addiction treatment, not custody.

However, they can provide factual information on the individual’s progress in treatment which can be used by you and your mediator to make the best decision. Ask the treatment facility for specific information like drug screen results, attendance in the program, compliance with guidelines, an expected completion date, and whether the person is expected to finish successfully.

What if the addicted individual refuses treatment? Children’s safety must come first and at the same time, no one wants to keep children from a loving parent. Focus on your children’s best interests and learn how to set appropriate boundaries.

Family programs and support groups help loved ones learn how to navigate through life and make sound decisions without interference from the chaos of active addiction. In addition, utilize your mediator to help set specific, safe, and reasonable guidelines for custody.

Recovery is a journey, not a destination. The road moves backward, forwards, and sideways, sometimes encountering relapses that may lead to stronger sobriety. Two things are certain: the journey is extremely difficult and virtually impossible alone.

Take heart! There is much help available and anything is possible with a strong support team behind you. Seek treatment, find a good therapist, and lean on people who have walked the path ahead of you. Bring the darkness of addiction into the light and experience the joy of freedom from whatever may have a stronghold on you.

Tiffany is a licensed addiction counselor who specializes in seeing individuals and couples struggling with chemical addictions and sexual addiction. She enjoys helping individuals enter into treatment and rebuild their lives in recovery. She focuses not only on the addicted individual but the family members as well and believes that recovery includes healing for the whole family. You can contact her directly at 704-293-4297