Alcohol Abuse After Divorce

Alcohol Abuse After Divorce: 4 Reasons We Should Pay Attention to New Research

October 24, 2017

Adam Dodge and Dr. Jill Murray

Sometimes, scientific research confirms what we already suspect to be true.  This has certainly been the case when it comes to the link between drinking alcohol and divorce. Nevertheless, there is a ton of research out there.

As a recent article in Forbes points out, there a plenty of studies out there that show that, “when compared to married people, divorced people drink more and in more harmful ways (e.g. binge drinking), are more likely to have a lifetime or recent alcohol use disorder (AUD) diagnosis, engage in more alcohol-related risky behaviors, and have higher alcohol-related mortality.” 

Now a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in May 2017 concludes that divorce increases the risk for subsequent alcohol abuse.  Post divorce drinking may seem like a harmless distraction or a fun night out with friends, but it can, in fact, lead you down a road you’re not prepared to ride. And the backlash can have emotional and legal consequences. 

LegalCustody & Visitation

Even after a divorce is final, parents may end up back in court over issues of custody and visitation because of a change in circumstance. I can’t tell you how often allegations of alcohol abuse are thrown around in court for this purpose.  Often, one party will claim the other parent drinks around the children or is out drinking and neglecting the children. These allegations are serious and judges will typically expect accusations to be supported by something more than just one parent’s suspicion.  Nevertheless, when viewed through the lens of this new study, these allegations become all the more concerning.  

EmotionalI Just Want To Forget About Everything For Awhile

Yes, drinking a glass or three of Chardonnay has the power to make everything go away and put a rosier complexion on your life for a bit.  All the concerns and fears you’ve been dealing with magically disappear temporarily and who doesn’t want that?  Well, you don’t, because not only are all those difficulties still there when you sober up, you are also learning a new and destructive skill for dealing with them.  During the time when you were tipsy, you could have actually been making some healthy progress in chipping away at your emotional or financial concerns.  Where does that lead you?  Using unhealthy coping techniques does not make you a healthy person.

Legal Hostility & Abuse

Not surprisingly, allegations of hostility or abuse are often accompanied by claims of alcohol abuse.  If one party has an anger problem, consuming alcohol excessively is not likely to have a calming effect.  Instead, the abuse is often exacerbated.  Court records are full of accounts of fights, arguments, text exchanges, voicemails or social media posts where alcohol was involved.  In divorce, even in the aftermath, the consequences can be severe.  Restraining orders have far reaching consequences well beyond the divorce proceedings that can change someone’s life.

EmotionalI Just Want To Feel Happy For A Couple of Hours

 Of course you do; why wouldn’t you?  You’ve been dealing with a LOT of grief for a long time.  Here’s the problem: alcohol is a depressant.  In other words, at the time you’re using it to feel happier, you are actually doing exactly the opposite: drinking a depressant.  How does that make sense?  Not only do you feel worse later, it also interferes with much-needed sleep by messing up your restful sleep patterns.  You know that nightcap you’re drinking to help you fall asleep?  It’s actually doing more harm than good and giving you less restorative sleep.

Finding New And Better Ways To Feel Good

If you agree that you’re going to give alcohol a break for now, how can you help yourself with your own emotional divorce recovery?  Here are some easy ideas:


            *Yoga/Tai Chi/any form of gentle and restorative exercise

            *Walk in nature

            *Adopt or foster a dog or cat

*Give yourself a home-spa day: aromatherapy bath, facial, hair mask, the works!

            *Listen to calming music

            *Journal your thoughts

            *Make yourself a delicious meal

Jill Murray