“Chains do not hold a marriage together.
It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people
together through the years.”
– Simone Signoret, French actress
Once bitten, twice shy… Not always the case when it comes to divorce, however.
Did you know that just under half of those choosing to tie the knot in the U.S. will end up divorcing each other? Sadly, yes. And did you also know for those who, having been bitten the once, don’t feel shy at the prospect of being bitten again, and will gladly put their wedding ring finger into the jaws of another marriage, the divorce rate is significantly higher? Again… sadly, yes.
Marriages can end for a whole host of reasons, the obvious and the not-so-obvious, but this article isn’t about the reasons why marriages fail,. It’s about the reasons why marriages shared with addiction are heading for divorce, where one (or even both) of the supposed happy couple are addicts, either alcoholics or drug abusers (or, again, even both).
Me? I’ve never been married, and in no way do I profess to have any expertise in the matter. Maybe my time will come one day, but, as yet, that day hasn’t dawned. I do, however, have a fair amount of knowledge and experience of addiction, the possibly known but definitely apparent third member of a marriage where substance abuse exists – addiction that will happily live with you both, destroying everything in its path as it goes, and doing what it does best.
If you wish to assassinate any kind of relationship, addiction will do it for you. However, unlike the movies, it’s never quick, and it is certainly never clean. Addiction is already 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.
I’d best introduce myself. My name’s Andy, I’m a mid-thirties, successful digital marketing entrepreneur (Disclaimer: this is not a Lonely Hearts ad, ok!), and I have enjoyed over 9 years of being clean and sober. This sobriety began the day two happily married, but seriously stressed people (my Mom and Dad) dropped me at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in the next state over from the family home, both then kissed me on the forehead, and together drove away.
This article will look at how substance abuse affects the addict and their social health, which is the ability to maintain healthy, rewarding connections and relationships. These are your 4 reasons why marriages shared with addiction are heading for divorce (unless, of course, positive action regarding treatment is taken), and we’ll begin with one you can’t actually physically see:
#1. Addiction’s Effect On Brain Function
Addiction can have a reasonably unpredictable effect on the sufferer’s thought processes, ranging from clarity to downright craziness. Did you know that substance abuse, be it alcohol or drugs, will affect and actually restructure the brain itself – the circuits that are affected include those that control:
- Pleasure & Reward
- Learning & Memory
- Decision-making, and
The visible, noticeable results of this brain damage (because that’s what it is…) can include:
- Mental health disorders, eg.
- Sleep disorders
- Possible psychosis
- Uncontrollable aggression
- Memory impairment, eg. blackouts
- Shrinking of the brain itself
- Hepatic Encephalopathy (caused by cirrhosis of the liver)
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome:
- Severe memory loss
- Confabulation (or invented memories)
- Inability to converse
- Lack of perception
#2. Addiction’s Effect On Finances
Finances are always one of the biggest sources of marital disharmony, and that’s before you add an addiction into the equation. Addiction hits you, your spouse, your community, and the whole country you live in where it hurts – in the pocket. Type “cost of addiction in US” into your favorite web browser, and you’ll see plenty of results, with all of them running into billion-dollar sums.
The financial cost of alcohol addiction alone in the U.S. is around $249 billion every single year. Try getting your head around that figure. Looking at the problem of U.S. drug misuse, and you’ll see the figure gets higher. Drug addiction 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 financially damaging effects.
However, that’s pretty irrelevant and inconsequential to the spouse in a marriage who isn’t the addict. You name it – sooner or later, money goes missing with no explanation, jobs are lost, court fines need paying, to name but a few. And let’s not forget the actual cost of the addiction itself. For example, a cocaine habit doesn’t sit well in the weekly household budget. In my quite detailed experience, addiction doesn’t come cheap under any terms – in financial terms, it can be equally crippling.
#3. Addiction’s Effect On The Reproductive & Sexual Function
Yep, I’m not married, but, like us all, I know a little about this. 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. 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 certainly doesn’t discriminate).
The hormonal system will be seriously affected by long-term 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.
So what do they do exactly? 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, let’s look at alcohol. In men, chronic alcohol consumption interferes with all of these functions, and can result in hormonal imbalance, infertility, and sexual dysfunction. Problems include:
- Reduced testosterone levels
- Abnormal sperm
- Male breast growth, and
- Sexual and reproductive disorders
In women who are premenopausal, chronic alcohol consumption can result in several reproductive disorders, such as:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Cessation of menstruation
- Menstrual cycles with no ovulation
- Early menopause, and
- Spontaneous abortions
#4. Addiction’s Criminal Effect: Domestic Violence
Here’s a thing about addicts. Anger is a real issue. They believe themselves to be good people. However, they also believe they are nice people when they’re drunk or high. Sadly, that’s rarely the case. It’s here where big problems can lie in wait, before springing up without warning, and sometimes in a violent way.
The following statistics are, sadly, irrefutable. Alcohol and/or drug use is a prominent factor within:
- 80%: Domestic violence incidents
- Half of all sexual assaults
- 81%: Child Protective Services intervention
Here’s another worrying statistic regarding violence in the home. 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 and consequences. The only protection and safe haven for you, the addict, and other family members is recovery treatment.
If there was one thing that used to signal the end of any kind of relationships I had when my addiction was running riot, it was my unpredictability, and all of the reasons given above – brain function, finances, reproductive and sexual function and domestic violence – are echoes of this. The women in my life (and there weren’t that many who stuck around) could never judge what kind of mood I’d be in when we met up, let alone what state I’d be in. I was irrational, prone to sudden bursts of anger, sadness, and euphoria. In a word, unpredictable.
I was never violent to them, if that’s some sort of saving grace. But I never had a relationship even approaching mildly successful. Relationships can be complex issues at the best of times, regardless of the daunting presence of addiction within them. They take work to maintain and to succeed. Successful relationships are based on honesty, respect, and compromise, which are qualities an addict lacks.
Are you experiencing problems with substance abuse in your relationship? Remember, there is always hope. Please, do share with your fellow readers by commenting below. Lastly, there is only one answer for the addict – abstinence. Yes, it is a hard way to go, but the alternative is far, far worse. Above all, take care.