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Drinking, Addiction and Divorce: Testing Times18th June 2020 Family Law
It is often said that marriage and alcohol do not mix.
I write this at a time when everyone appears to have a fascination with what others are drinking and when I say what, I mean how much.
Alcoholism has as many names and faces for me; many of them are no longer here
- “John” An advertising executive who I represented in the vain hope of seeing his children before he finished himself off. I took an assortment of therapists to his home, past the hall table with photographs of better, healthier times. He had a fall and was admitted to hospital where he detoxed and developed Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (also known as “Wet Brain”), a kind of dementia.
- “Mary” The October after her death, in the middle of her divorce, I had a call from her husband telling me that it was “autumn…..the leaves have fallen from the garden hawthorn hedge” and all he could see were the rows of empty bottles that his late wife had hidden there.
- “Peter” The sportsman who drank and rewarded himself for completing his divorce by going back to it, full tilt. My feeble intervention of telling him that I could not help him if he did not help himself, a month before his death.
I am not writing this to bring you down but to explain the difficulties of working with addiction.
Sometime before John, but a little after Peter, I realised that I was way out of my depth trying to support clients going through divorce where either they or their spouse suffered from addiction. I made friends in the addiction industry, went to lectures, read and talked.
There is nothing like experience, however, to help you try to manage the lies, manipulation and the hopelessness of the addict who rarely fits the “ideal client” category, all of the time.
The abusive overnight messages and faxes received from “George” in Hong Kong were matched by his apologies the next day but I learned to grow thicker skin and worked out my own approach when handling clients with addictions, which included the following.
- It is impossible to manage these kind of clients alone and so teamwork is essential.
- A therapeutic alliance should be mandatory if only for your own well-being. Having someone to unpack with from time to time will keep you committed, sane and honest.
- I hate to say it but the addiction industry (like any other) has the good, the bad and the ugly. Addiction is a chronic, progressive, re-occurring condition and the addiction industry, at its worst, can even put divorce lawyers to shame. Serious money can change hands for the referral of an addict into some treatment centres. Somewhere between 40-60% of addicts who go into treatment relapse within a year. A real understanding of the industry is a must because your clients and their families are likely to expect and rely on your opinion and lives are at stake.
- Experience suggests that you may only get one chance at an “Intervention” and so if you are going to try it, get a good one.
- Addiction is “a family disease”. For every drinker, many others are affected. Lisa Frederikson used the phrase “second hand drinking” to describe it.
- Children are always going to be vulnerable in the household of an alcoholic. They are recognised to adopt roles which help them cope; The Hero, The Adjuster, The Placatar, The Scapegoat, The Lost Child and The Mascot.
- Adult children of alcoholics are more likely to divorce and are recognised by their becoming fixed in one of the above roles, which in turn prevents them developing the ability to authentically communicate.
- Addiction is not just about the privileged and famous, try reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.
- If you are not representing the addict, then you are probably representing the co-dependent, “a person with an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner who requires support on account of an illness or an addiction.
- Addiction does not disappear or as Anne Lamott said
“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town”
Now this may not be the best time for such a test but if you are concerned about your drinking habits or of those of your partner, in the USA, Alcohol Use Disorder is said to be manifested by at least two of the following occurring within a year.
- Drinking alcohol in greater amounts or for a longer period than was intended.
- Having a persistent desire or made failed attempts to reduce or control drinking.
- Spending an increased amount of time in activities to obtain or use alcohol or to recover from its effects.
- Having a strong desire to drink alcohol
- Failing to meet obligations at work, school, or home due to recurrent drinking
- Drinking despite the recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened as a consequence of drinking.
- Stopping or reducing important activities due to drinking.
- Drinking when it is physically dangerous to do so.
- Drinking despite a recurrent physical or psychological problem caused or worsened as a result.
- Developing tolerance (the need to increase alcohol consumption in order to achieve the desired effect)
- Having withdrawal symptoms from disuse, such as tremor`s, insomnia, nausea, anxiety and agitation.
Michael Rowlands is a Family lawyer at JMW London and has been representing families going through divorce for more than 30 years.