“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying;
the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving.
I didn’t want to destroy anything or anybody.
I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door…
and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love”
I’ve experienced many “irreconcilable differences” with people in my life, in my friendships and relationships, including many a bartender too. In the most part, I must admit, you can lay any blame right at my door, due to the impact and unflinching stranglehold my drug and alcohol addiction had on that closeness, those bonds we had, and which I usually broke by my actions. The bartenders? Oh, they were always my friends, my buddies – until, of course, the inevitable barfight. And then they weren’t.
If you want to kill a relationship of any kind with someone you care about, addiction will do it. It’s never quick, and it is certainly never clean. Addiction is slowly killing the addict, and believe me when I say that it will slowly kill the most important relationships you hold dear. It doesn’t care if it’s your childhood sweetheart, your best friend, your spouse, or your Mom – they’re all fair game.
One of these relationships has a lot more riding on it, though, than the others – marriage. Your children, your vows, and your finances, for a start. Now before we go any further, I’d best make it clear I am not, and have never been, married. Maybe, one day that will happen, but, as of today… No. So, if I’ve never been married, why am I bothering to put pen to paper (fingertips to keyboard, in reality)? Just two things: love and addiction, and I know both very well. Very, very well.
My name is Andy, I’m a successful digital marketing entrepreneur in my mid-thirties (I’ve got loads of time to find the “one,” see?), and a quick resume of my life would read… Teenage alcoholic, addicted to meth by nineteen, two years in the state pen, release, relapse, drug detox and rehab, and sobriety (that has lasted well over nine years). Not your average adolescence, I’ll admit, but I often wonder if I hadn’t walked that particular road in my life, would I now be on this one? One where I’m happy, content and fulfilled? I doubt it.
Now, divorce in the U.S., as with most things, depends on the state it’s in (seriously, no pun intended, but that was quite good), and the most popular avenue is the “no-fault divorce,” which requires no allegation or evidence of fault by either of the two parties. No-fault grounds for divorce include irreconcilable differences (where you can pin addiction onto), irremediable breakdown, and incompatibility (how you actually get to the step right before divorce proceedings in a marriage when it suddenly dawns on you both you’re incompatibile, I’ll never know).
So why is addiction the end of so many marriages? Let’s look at how substance abuse affects the addict and their social health, which is your ability to maintain healthy, rewarding connections and relationships. Here are your 5 reasons why marriages harboring addiction can end in divorce – we’ll begin with one you can’t actually see:
#1. Substance Abuse & The Brain
Fact: Substance abuse restructures and, ultimately, damages the addict’s brain. Actual brain damage that, obviously, you can’t see. Long-term substance abuse, either alcohol, drugs, prescription meds or a combination of these, directly affects the way the brain functions. The circuits that are affected include those that control:
- Pleasure / reward
- Learning and memory
The visible or noticeable results of this damage can include:
- Mental health disorders, such as
- Sleep disorders
- Memory impairment, such as blackouts
- Actual brain shrinkage
- Hepatic Encephalopathy (caused by cirrhosis of the liver)
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Symptoms include
- Severe memory loss
- Confabulation (or invented memories)
- Inability to converse
- Lack of perception
#2. Reproductive / Sexual Function
I am now going to make the assumption that part of any healthy marriage is a healthy sex life, and highly likely is a desire to start a family too. Think I’m on safe ground with that one. Unfortunately, the addicted spouse is going to be experiencing issues in that department (and it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman – addiction doesn’t discriminate).
The hormonal system takes a serious beating with substance abuse. The two primary hormones for the regulation of your reproductive functions are androgens, such as testosterone, and estrogens, such as estradiol, and are synthesized in the testes for men and the ovaries for women. Obviously.
In men, hormones affect sexual maturity, sperm development / fertility, and sexual behavior. In women, hormones affect several functions, predominantly breast development, body hair, menstrual cycle regulation, and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
For example, chronic alcohol consumption interferes with all of these functions, and can result in hormonal imbalance, infertility, and sexual dysfunction. Some of the problems that alcohol consumption can cause by interfering with the male hormonal system include:
- Reduced testosterone
- Male breast growth
- Abnormal sperm, and
- Sexual and reproductive disorders
In women who are premenopausal, chronic alcohol consumption can result in several reproductive disorders, such as:
- Cessation of menstruation
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Menstrual cycles with no ovulation
- Early menopause, and
- Spontaneous abortions
#3. Addiction & Finances
Finances are one of the biggest sources of disagreement within a marriage, and that’s before you throw an addiction into the equation. Google the term “cost of addiction in US,” and you’ll get plenty of results, with all of them running into billion-dollar sums.
For example, the financial cost of alcohol addiction alone in the U.S. is $249 billion every single year. Look at the problem of U.S. drug misuse, and the figure gets higher. Addiction and abuse of drugs costs an estimated $484 billion every year, including such things as healthcare, lost wages, crime and associated criminal proceedings, to name but a few of the knock-on effects.
However, that’s pretty irrelevant and inconsequential to the spouse in a marriage who isn’t the addict. Money going missing with no explanation, lost jobs, court fines, to name but a few. And let’s not forget the actual cost of the addiction itself. In my quite detailed experience, addiction doesn’t come cheap under any terms – in financial terms, it can be equally crippling.
#4. Addiction & Domestic Violence
Here’s a thing about addicts. They believe they’re good people (and mostly, like those not addicted, they are). However, they also believe they are nice people when they’re drunk or high. And that’s where big problems can lie in wait, before springing up with no warning.
The following statistics are irrefutable. Alcohol and/or drug use is prominent in:
- 80% of domestic violence incidents
- Half of all sexual assaults
- 81% of interventions by Child Protective Services
Here’s another statistic. Sadly, 45% of people with untreated substance abuse disorders take their own lives. Clearly, from all the statistics mentioned, addiction is heavily linked to tragic and violent incidents. The only protection for you and others is recovery treatment.
If there was one thing that used to spell the end of any kind of relationships I had when my addiction was running riot, it was my unpredictability. Girlfriends could never judge what kind of mood I’d be in when they came home, let alone what state I’d be in. I was irrational, prone to sudden bursts of anger, sadness, and euphoria.
My saving grace was that I was never violent to them. Being out with friends/fellow addicts? Well, that was a different story… I was always the first to clench my fists. My bizarre reactions to just normal daily stuff scared the women around me, that I knew, but was helpless to control either my mood or my behavior..
Relationships can be complex issues at the best of times, regardless of the daunting presence of addiction within them. They take work to maintain. Successful relationships are based upon honesty, respect, and compromise, which are qualities in a person that addiction will destroy.
These 5 reasons marriages harboring addiction can end in divorce – a restructured, possibly damaged brain, reproductive and sexual dysfunction, finances, violence, and unpredictability – have seen many a loving relationship torn apart. It is only when the addict realizes that the irreconcilable differences that exist in the relationship are solely down to their own irreconcilable differences with their drug of choice that a future together can be salvaged.
What experiences of you had of a marriage or relationship that has harbored addiction? Please, do share with your fellow readers by commenting below. Lastly, if you are the addict in a marriage or a relationship, please seek help for your addiction. As someone who has walked in your shoes, it is the only way. Godspeed.