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Addiction and Divorce: A Loss of Stability

“Why me? Am I being punished? Could it have been avoided?”

People who are going through divorce often ask themselves these questions, desperate for answers and relief from their emotional pain.

Though everyone’s particular divorce is unique, the experience can contribute to intense feelings of paralysis, fear, anger, grief, and shame. Bluntly put, breaking up a marriage can be traumatically destabilizing.

Divorce Can Be Traumatic

Psychological trauma is defined as something shocking and painful for you. The definition is entirely subjective. If you thought it hurt, then it did.

That said, we acknowledge that it’s possible to divorce someone and not experience trauma from the experience.

Perhaps the marriage itself was traumatic or abusive, and your primary feeling about the divorce is one of relief. If so, that’s totally valid.

But maybe you don’t want to end your marriage at all. Or maybe you know that parting ways is wisest choice, but you’re deeply grieved by the decision.

If so, divorce probably qualifies as a traumatic event for you.

A Few Potentially Traumatic Elements of Divorce

There’s a need for tremendous support and care for everyone involved in a divorce.

Do you know what elements of divorce can contribute to trauma? Here are just a few:

  • The emotional impact of separating from a person you’re close to; feeling isolated and alone
  • The experience of physical aggression or violence from your partner, or fear that this will occur
  • The experience of releasing your heartfelt vows; the belief that you’re going back on your word or losing integrity
  • The experience of relocating and letting go of the place you called home
  • Helping your children to process intense emotions and perhaps being on the receiving end of a lot of anger, grief, judgment, and blame; facilitating other people’s well-being when you’re struggling yourself
  • The social impact of suddenly feeling that friend groups are divided, or that you’re not a part of the same communities as before (i.e. your church, or your ex-spouse’s extended family)
  • The financial impact, including loss of income and assets
  • The ways in which the experience touches on old, unhealed emotional issues and triggers feelings of anger, self-loathing, or hopelessness

Even if your divorce is mutual, separating from your spouse can set off a cascade of personal pain … which can then set you up for a struggle with addiction.

How Trauma Contributes to Addiction

Trauma and addiction are closely linked. And while it’s true that early life trauma plays a powerful role in the development of addiction, there’s no age limit for pain. Emotional wounds need healing no matter how old you are.

What constitutes an addiction? How can you tell if you’re in trouble, be it with substance abuse or compulsive behavior?

Consider what author Caroline Myss writes in her bestselling book Anatomy of the Spirit:

“In energy terms, any behavior motivated by the fear of internal growth qualifies as an addiction. Even behavior that is usually healthy – exercise or meditation, for instance – can be an addiction if it is used to avoid pain or personal insight.”

So, if you’re using shopping or overeating or alcohol or painkillers in order to soothe trauma, avoid your feelings and working with your emotional pain, then it qualifies as an addiction.

Your Life, Your Choice

The bad news is that the pain from divorce trauma can contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and it can also increase your risk of substance abuse. There is a strong connection between anxiety and addiction, and depression symptoms can complicate recovery.

(National Depression Screening Day happens on October 5, so see a professional if you’re concerned about this mental health condition.)

However, the good news is that you have a choice about how you act and respond to your situation.

Will you stuff your pain and disappear down the dark well of addiction, or will you do the work of healing underlying core issues and stepping into new possibilities?

Will you reframe your perception of the divorce, gently and patiently delving for its deeper meaning and underlying positive purpose in your life?

It’s your choice. We hope that you open up rather than shut down, seeking the help and support you need to make it through this difficult time and come out stronger on the other side.

Addiction and Divorce: A Loss of Stability

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Addiction and Divorce: A Loss of Stability. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Oct 2017
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