Fears for Children When Divorcing an Alcoholic

Fears for Children When Divorcing an Alcoholic

The thought of divorcing an alcoholic is terrifying for so many reasons, but when one has children, it can be paralyzing.

“I am terrified to divorce because my children aren’t safe with him.”

And one of the saddest truths is that often the alcoholic is not terribly mean or abusive when drunk. But mean or not mean, they cannot be trusted to be alert and in command of all their faculties when it’s their turn to have the children. They cannot be trusted not to drive after drinking, and worse, not to drive with the children in the car after drinking; to make sure the children are fed and put to bed; to not smoke and leave burning cigarettes in the ashtray when they pass out…. And even if divorce is not the option being considered, these same fears are constantly present when living under the same roof, trying to co-parent with an actively drinking alcoholic. These very real, justifiable fears are the ones that churn nonstop throughout the day in a constant worry loop of questions:

“He drinks and drives all the time. How can I protect myself and my children financially – should I have a separate insurance policy?”

“How do I tell my 3 and 5 year old they’re not to drive with daddy – ever?”

“I’m having an impossible time trying to ‘do it all’ – work full time, drop off and pick up the kids, never leave them alone with her – but if I don’t stay with my kids 24/7 when they’re not in school, I’m afraid she might get drunk and think she’s safe to drive or start her crazy talk, which they don’t understand and then she gets mad at them for that. What do I do?”

“What if something happens to me? My children won’t be safe with him. How can I be sure they’re financially taken care of if he gets fired or runs through the insurance money if I should die?”

How do you tell a 3 or 5 year old they are never to drive with daddy and mommy is not "fine."

How do you tell a 3 or 5 year old they are never to drive with daddy and mommy is not “fine.”

These very real, justifiable fears turn the non-alcoholic spouses into shrill, fear-filled, anxious, frantic people. They become persons they were never like before the insanity and were certainly never meant to be. They become the other half of this family disease and are often as equally confusing for their children to understand, because like the alcoholic, they are not “there;” they are not consistently approachable, calm, warm and loving, with consistent reactions and actions that make sense to their children. Instead, they, too, are in their own world — a world that takes on a life of its own as they try day in and day out to control the uncontrollable — namely, the brain of an alcoholic who is actively drinking. I mean, really, how do you tell a 3 or 5 year old they are never to drive with daddy, or the real reason mommy is not “fine” even though that’s her pat answer when they ask, “Mommy, are you okay?” “Mommy what’s wrong?”

The concerns shared above are those mothers, fathers and family law attorneys have expressed to me over the course of my work as BreakingTheCycles.com. There was a time when they were my concerns, as well. They are a big part of why I do the work I do, for when my daughters were young, I lived in constant fear of dying and leaving them to fend for themselves, and I lived in constant fear of staying. My repeated prayer was, “Please let me live until they’ve graduated high school and are enrolled in college.” So in fear, I dug in and tried harder to control the uncontrollable. It was the ultimate Catch-22.

And why are we here in this Catch-22?

Because most people still view alcoholism as a shameful lack of willpower; most people are not aware of the 21st century brain and addiction related research that proves alcoholism to be one of the brain diseases of addiction, which is defined as a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. [Research resources are shared below.]

So let me be clear, this post is NOT to bash alcoholics, many of whom I know to be kind, loving people when sober (or drunk, for that matter). [And trust me, I’ve never met an alcoholic who is proud of what they’ve done while in their untreated disease.] Nor is it to bash parents like myself. Rather it is to shed light on the disease of alcoholism and how it hijacks families. It’s to help the alcoholic, the non-alcoholic, the judges, the family law attorneys, the doctor treating the non-drinker for depression instead of the “real” problem, the in-laws…; it’s to help all of us better understand we have a very BROKEN system. This post is written for the sake of children, who are the innocent victims of our combined ignorance. And – who knows – perhaps in this process of getting to a better understanding, we can collectively help with fixing families along the way.

What to Understand for Children’s Sake If Divorcing or Choosing to Live With an Alcoholic Who Continues to Drink

Sadly, I don’t have hard and fast answers or solutions. So I share what I know we need to know in order for all of us — the judges, family law attorneys, treating physicians, spouses, in-laws… — to work together to change our understanding of alcoholism and its impact on families, and thereby fix our broken system.

  1. Clearly understand alcoholism as the brain disease it is. Alcoholism is one of the brain diseases of addiction (these same issues apply to the prescription or illegal drug addict, as well). When we understand the brain disease, we understand the person with the disease will NEVER act in any other manner as long as they continue to drink ANY amount. It is the alcohol (or drug in the case of a drug addict) that sets in motion the myriad of neural networks that have embedded around their brain disease. This means there is no amount of promising that can keep a next time from happening. It also helps you to separate the person from the impacts of their drinking behaviors, the term for which is secondhand drinking. Check out: NIDA’s Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction (please know alcoholism is one of the brain diseases of addiction) and NIDA, NIAAA, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, HBO’s The Addiction Project. Related post: Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat, Steal.
  2. Review the Executive Summary of The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. This was just issued November 17, 2016, and goes a long way to debunking common myths about addiction, treatment, and recovery.
  3. Visit the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) website. There you can find a medical professional with an addiction specialization who can provide a medical evaluation as to the person’s current medical status in terms of their addiction recovery. Quoting from the website: The American Board of Addiction Medicine provides assurance to the American public that Addiction Medicine physicians have the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognize and treat addiction.
  4. Know there are simple, anonymous assessments you can use to determine your spouse’s drinking pattern and thus what it is you are dealing with – alcohol abuse vs alcoholism. Check out WHO’s Alcohol Use Disorders Test (copy and paste this link in your browser, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/67205/1/WHO_MSD_MSB_01.6a.pdf), and NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking > What is You’re Drinking Pattern Related video: Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse  Related link:  NIAAA’s Clinician’s Guide to Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much
  5. Clearly understand what effective treatment for alcoholism (or drug addiction) looks like so that if that becomes the solution, it has the best opportunity of being successful. Check out: NIDA’s Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment
  6. Understand that if there is a co-occurring mental illness (ADHD, PTSD, bipolar, depression…) that it must be treated, as well, for that is often the trigger to drink or use. Related post: Effective Dual Diagnosis Treatment | Relapse Prevention
  7. Understand the non drinking spouse is deeply affected and needs to get their own help. For me, this was three years of therapy (mostly cognitive behavior therapy – CBT) with an addictions specialist (it is imperative it be a therapist who understands what happens to family members of addicts | alcoholics). I also attended Al-Anon for several years and then immersed myself in the research that’s become the basis of my blog, books and presentations. Out of these experiences, I wrote two books to help family members, and though the one refers to loved one in treatment, it can help anyone (the family law attorney, the judge, the treating physician, the in-laws…) better understand what happens to the alcoholic | addict and to the family member | close friend. Check out: If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! and Loved One In Treatment? Now What!

With This Understanding, Questions Still Remain:

Once you are clear about what it is you are dealing with, you’ll then likely need to educate the professionals you’ll want to consult with about how to protect you and your children. Frustratingly, I don’t have easy answers for this, either, and that’s primarily because each situation is different. So I share some of the questions…

  1. How do you, the non-drinking spouse, talk with the alcoholic? What does it mean to set boundaries?  Can you make them get help? Should you involve an addiction’s specialist / therapist to “broker” conversations with your alcoholic spouse or should you proceed with an intervention? What are you supposed to do/can you do to help yourself?
  2. How do you, the non-drinking spouse, legally and financially protect yourself and your children, which may require the alcoholic to participate in creating or signing legal documents when sober. Do you set up a trust to hold the family assets? Do you include a clause in your Will to describe your concerns for your children? Do you spell out instructions for the Executor of your Will to only issue checks for child-related expenses to the payee not to their alcoholic parent to then pay?
  3. How do you talk to your children in simple terms to explain their parent has a disease that makes them unsafe when they drink (or drug)? [And know your children know “something” is wrong [and often think it’s them or something they’re doing or not doing], so it’s important you talk to them.] How do you help your children understand the disease makes their parent unsafe, period, because their disease makes it so they cannot predictably control if, when or how much they drink or use? How do you set up a safety plan for your child in the event there are times they are alone in the alcohol parent’s custody? Should you get therapy for them? Are their young children’s programs? Check out: Talking to a Child About Secondhand Drinking | a Parent’s Drinking.

Keep all of this in perspective. If you were dealing with a spouse’s cancer, would you not be addressing all of these questions? Of course you would. But we don’t with alcoholism or drug addiction because it’s still so shrouded in secrecy and shame. So remember: disease by its simplest definition is something that changes cells in a negative way. Cancer changes cells in the breast, liver, lungs, for example, which is what changes that organ’s health and/or function. Alcoholism (addiction) changes the way cells in the brain communicate with one another, which is what makes it a brain disease. The brain is the organ that controls everything a person thinks, feels says and does, which is why the complexities of the brain disease of alcoholism makes your spouse behave the way they do.

Bottom Line

It’s complicated. It’s scary. But, it can change. And change starts with understanding that alcoholism is a brain disease. It is not a moral weakness. It is not a shameful lack of willpower. It’s a brain disease that can be treated and from which there can be full recovery, but until treated, this disease will cause your spouse to continue to behave in the manner they behave – that’s the convoluted nature of this brain disease.

But One More Thing… What About the Addict | Alcoholic in Recovery?

There is a flip side to all of this and it has to do with what happens to the addict | alcoholic in recovery going through a divorce. If you do not understand the disease of addiction, it’s unlikely you understand secondhand drinking and therefore the contribution of the non-addict | alcoholic spouse to the “muck of it all.” If the person on “that side” of this family disease does not treat the secondhand drinking impacts they’ve experienced, it’s doubtful they’ll ever be able to appreciate that addiction recovery is real, it works and it can be trusted (or if not trusted, then addressed through stipulations for outcomes if relapse occurs). This post explains, “Family Law Discrimination Against Recovering Alcoholics | Addicts.”

©2013 Lisa Frederiksen. Rev. November 2016

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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39 Responses to Fears for Children When Divorcing an Alcoholic

  1. Sandi Tinsley says:

    Once again, you have hit home for me. Thank you!

    I was that one. My Jeremy & Stephanie were only 3 & 5. I was married to a bi-polar/alcoholic man. He was such a wonderful husband, step-father & friend. That is, until the “manic” came out….then the alcohol….then the guns. He held shotguns to my head, shot up our home (on a military base), and held myself & my children hostage. It did not matter that there was a full military SWAT team outside each time.

    I just knew I had to find a way to get away to save my children & myself. But how could I do that? They adored him! And, I so wanted to “fix” him. How could I do that, if I wasn’t with him?

    If I had known then that I & my children needed counseling….would it have kept me from turning to drugs? Would it have kept me from becoming an addict? Would it have spared my daughter from becoming an addict? I will never know for sure….but I can’t help but think our lives would have been much better.

    Thank God he had over 25 years sober, prior to his death. He got to become that adoring husband (to another) & father. Sadly, the wreckage of his past (Hep C) caught up with him & took him out.

    Thank God, today both my daughter & I are both in recovery! Today I get to be there for her, as she fights this battle called cancer.

    I would love to see all this information made available at the fingertips of every Al-Anon & Nar-Anon group world-wide. That’s how important I think it is.

    So once again, I need you to know how grateful I am for the work you do on a daily basis. Though it will never be enough, all I can say is Thank You Lisa!

    • Oh Sandi… my heart breaks reading your story and what you endured and now what you and your daughter are going through. You are incredibly courageous to have gotten your own help to break this cycle, as is your daughter. And I know your sharing will help others – it’s through our stories that we can see how others managed, survived and now thrive, so thank you. And lastly, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your daughter as she battles her cancer.

      and one more thing, I so appreciate your heartfelt thanks for my work – it means a great deal, so THANK YOU!

  2. Christopher Lloyd says:

    Just to underline that this is something that affects both sexes,
    10 years ago I left my wife because of her drinking, taking the children (3 girls – 14, 12 and 10) with me.
    It is never an easy decision but I realised the person I was living with was nothing like the person I had married. There were a few attempts to get help on my wife’s part, as well as countless ones by me, but in the end she always went back to the drink. The children (and I) needed to get away.
    We were lucky. All three are fine, happy adults. Their mother finally drank herself to death three years ago. We were all of us sad but, as the girls said to me, ‘we really lost her a long time ago’.

    I quite agree that this is indeed an illness and one that needs treatment. But sometimes separation is needed to maintain security for other vulnerable individuals.

    If advice such as that found here had been around when I needed it (or if I had found it) things would have been a whole lot easier. Keep up the good work.

    • You are absolutely right, Christopher – it definitely affects both sexes and sometimes separation and divorce are the only answer to protect one’s children and self. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experiences with this, and I’m so happy for you and your daughters that you are now able to enjoy happy, thriving lives.

    • DeAnn Lee says:

      I agree. I keep looking for books that will help me as the non- alcoholic to heal after divorcing my alcoholic spouse. He has quit drinking no, but the damage it caused to me and our son.. I can still feel it every day. All I find are books on how to stay or how to keep loving or how to help them. I want to find one on what to do when enough is enough… and how to heal myself.

      • Danielle says:

        I’m dealing with this as we speak I have two daughters 3 & 5! I’m starting counseling in January! They will need it unfortunately.. I’m constantly seeking advise! I told him he had to seek help or leave in January! I’m starting next year off for the best of my girls! We need peace in our home… my fears are him trying to get some kind of custody ( he never got his first go around) I’m sure he would never get it but fl is so pro 50/50 scares the life out of me. He can’t pick them up from school due to his drinking at work! Any advise please share

        • Hi Danielle – I’m very sorry to hear what you are going through.

          In addition to the suggestions in this article, many counties have a family law department and within that department, they offer free legal consultations, so I suggest you check that out. For example, San Mateo County offers this one http://www.sanmateocourt.org/self_help/contact_us.php You might also search for pro bono family law services in your area – that would be private firm or a nonprofit that offers free legal services.

          Also, LegalMatch.com offers a national database of family law attorneys, as well as other legal aid and resources. It allows you to search for an attorney in your area via zip code, and then submit your concerns/objectives by filling out a quick questionnaire about your situation and providing a small detailed description — all free and confidential.

          Feel free to email me with further questions as lisaf@BreakingTheCycles.com

  3. Wow Lisa it looks like you have really hit the nail on the head for a lot of people. Such a terrible bind, and your information, so nicely written is such a huge help. I will definitely be sharing this one for all to see. Thanks so much for all you do.

  4. Hi Lisa,

    Great topic. I know this is an issue for so many families and is certainly challenging to know how to proceed. There certainly is no one right answer for families, but certainly the children need to come first. Thank you for bringing this topic out into the limelight.

  5. Yet another bit of subject matter thoroughly covered. You always do such a fine job, and your compassion for your work – and clients – always comes through. Have always admired that about you. As a divorced father of two (5 and 2 y.o old at the time), I am witness as to how deeply hurtful the whole divorce trip is to them – and their parents. And I can’t image how much more hurt would be on the scene were one of the parents substance abusing/dependent. Damn! As bad as it was anyway, this recovering alcoholic is thankful he was well into his recovery when it was time to part company. Thank you, Lisa, for this relevant and helpful material. I know many will print the article for daily reference…

  6. Jody Lamb says:

    AMAZING advice. Thank you, Lisa. I’ll be sharing.

  7. L. Good says:

    I have been with my husband for many years, hoping on many occasions that he would just die and get it over with.
    I am still fairly young and pray that I can have someone who doesn’t smell like liquer when they go to bed at night.
    Sixteen years ago, I separated from him and told the courts about his drinking and the abuse that came along with it. The mediator said no one could wake up drinking and go to bed drinking- they didn’t know him. Needless to say, they gave him vistation with my young son. I was scared to death. Soon after, he received three dui’s and lost his license. A few years after that he received a felony. By that time, we were back together. The judicial system failed me and I was in fear of something happening to my child.
    My family thinks I’m crazy to be with this man but I know that I’ve done the right thing for MY family. I’ve done what the legal system refused to do-protect!
    This article and shown me that I am not alone. Thank you.

    • Hope D. says:

      Hello, I can relate to all of the comments, I am married 8 years, two children, 6 and 7…. We have our good days but when it’s a bad day, I feel like crawling in a hole with my children… my husband is a loving father, husband hard worker, but …. When he drinks it is awful, I find myself isolating from the family so that no one will witness my drunk husband, he has ruined and embarrassed me in many gatherings, it’s a party for him before the party… It’s back and forth to the garage for beer, maybe 20-25 in one day, he doesn’t eat and slurring words stumbling, cursing etc… Then when he comes in after drinking he will eat and go to sleep, when he sleeps it’s calm quiet and not disturbing to my beautiful children, I wish it was like that all the time, sometimes I too wish that he drinks himself to a point that will scare him…how do I protect my children from the man they call daddy and love so much….
      One night he came after me, verbally abuses me and that moment I realized this is how the rest of my life will be like:((((, embarrassed in front of my children, & am exhausted physically from his drinking, I do not know how the passenger seat feels in my car, I am lost for words and thoughts of how to “fix” the issue or disease……thank you..

    • Julia Fisher says:

      Wow I just read this and I’m reading my story. My husband is an alcoholic and has gotten dui’s. His only punishment was on 2 separate occasions he had public drunkenness and spent the night in jail. He also gotten into trouble for harassing the neighbors and got citations and fines.
      Then after dui 3 Days in jail and more fines followed up with losing license and now having an interlocking device on his vehicle for a year. He’s been sober 5 months but I am scared to death it is all going to start again. Rewind from this point (its December) exactly 13 months ago his drinking was out of control and he called me when I had our then 5 year old at her Dance class and told me he was going to commit suicide. I raced home, took our daughter to a neighbor to watch and wrestled a shotgun away from him. Yes it was terrifying! He of course was drunk. Highest blood alcohol level hospital had seen in a long time. I had him committed to the mental ward (I even had a police escort. The first time the police ever helped me and I called them many many times and they would just make him leave with a relative or friend till he got sober. They did nothing to protect me or my other children. I was devastated. He even pulled a gun on me and my children and police did nothing!). Once in hospital was there for a week then went to rehab for a month. He did great and I had a sober husband for about 100 Days then he relapsed and his drinking was worse than before. It has been a nightmare!! I want to leave but am scared to death. He also gets very violent with me. I’m scared of him. This is devastating. He has been sober now for 5 months but I honestly don’t think it is going to last. I’m just terrified and want to leave. I have no family and no support system. Can I get custody of our daughter in this situation? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  8. Rene says:

    Thank you for this blog! I felt like I was wrong for feeling this way, but now see that I am not alone. I fear for my almost 6 year old’s safety. How do you agree on time with dad when you know she is not safe with him? I left her in his care when I went on a business trip for 10 days. During this time he left her home alone in her bed while he went out to the pub. She is not old enough to stay home alone. She is absolutely traumatised by this experience. During the same time he also used marujuana while she was in his care. I know you cannot look after a child while high. The other day they went on a ‘daddy daughter date’ to the spur. He came home very drunk driving her in his car. It was not even 6pm. I really do not know how this custody battle is going to work out, but I think I have valid fears for leaving her in his care. It has also now effected my work as I cannot travel anymore. I am hanging on to my marriage only because my daughter at least get to see dad while I am around, but he is moving out today!

  9. Maruska says:

    I’ve got a hubby that drinks. At times every day or at least every weekend. It’s as if he needs to get drunk. I can’t handle that. I’m not a drinker but I’m a smoker. Smoking makes me be myself and calm down a little (although I know that smoking is not good for my or my kids health but in all honesty I don’t smoke in front of them / in the car, I go outside to smoke). When my husband drink he so often takes the my car and drives to his friend to drink once again but taking both my kids with him. Most of the time I refuse that he takes the kids. My little girl is still baby so she normally don’t mind staying with me, but my son, his dad is a hero to him whom he adores and loves despite his dad screaming, yelling, swearing, hitting etc when he gets upset with my son in his drunken state or when my husband does emotional abuse towards me.

    Hubby when he drinks at home he just passes out in the bed (we don’t share a bed for years and its mainly because my boy wants to sleep with his dad. He can’t go without his dad while the table turned with the daughter). But if he passes out then it’s me alone with the kids and yet again I don’t get to even go do something like coffee / tea / smoke / bath or do my nails, etc.
    My hubby is the good guy when he is not drinking but he has a friend that also drinks with him (the friend also suffers from a heart condition and does not have employment but always have alcohol and always drink – but they don’t have kids) and seems to be unbothered of how their drinking effects me and my family.
    My husband when drunk he often says only bad things of me, never good, I’m always wrong, never right and he never ever apologises for his wrong doing.

    My son already mentioned to his teacher at school that his father buys and drinks a lot of beer. This is not something I would want him to be used to, I don’t want him to become the same like his dad. I have no idea on what to do or how to handle it. I don’t go out to friends and I definitely don’t trust my kids alone with their father at home especially when he drinks.

    Please could you give me some advise on what to do or how to handle this scenario?

    • I’m so glad you’ve reached out.

      When a person drinks more alcohol than their liver can metabolize (meaning get rid of the chemical in alcohol), the chemical (ethyl alcohol) changes how the brain cells “talk” to one another. This change is what causes the person to exhibit drinking behaviors, like driving while impaired, saying mean, awful things, passing out. It takes specific enzymes in the liver an average of one hour to metabolize the ethyl alcohol chemicals in one standard drink. So if a person drinks 6 beers (even if they were all consumed in 1-2 hours), it will take 6 hours for the chemicals to leave the body AND the brain.

      So it’s important to understand that as long as a person drinks excessively – whether they’re a binge drinker, heavy social drinker, alcohol abuser or alcoholic – the drinking behaviors will occur. And by the way, “normal” or “low-risk” drinking for a man is defined as no more than 14 standard drinks a week, with no more than 4 of the 14 on any day and for women as no more than 7 standard drinks a week, with no more than 3 of the 7 on any day. A standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of table wine and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin). Check out NIAAA Rethinking Drinking for more on this.

      To help family members and friends in the situation you’ve described understand what this is about and what they can do, I’ve written the Quick Guide to Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions and the Quick Guide to Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn’t.

      I hope you find them helpful and feel free to reach out to me, anytime.

  10. Mel says:

    I just read your article after having another bad night with the father of my kids. It’s SO difficult thinking about leaving the father of your children.I have 3 kids: a 9 month old; a 2 year old and a 12 year old. When my bf is sober he’s a really caring, hard working guy. Sometimes even when he’s drunk he can be a fun loving guy, but there’s lots of times he’s not fun and very stressful and scary even. We live in a condo and he’s yelled, he’s broken a tv, punched a hole in the wall, among other things. I’ve called the police once on him and my sister 9nce on him. Now when he gets out of hand he just tells me to call the police on him. The younger kids don’t quite know what’s going on but my 12- year old is very much affected by his drinking. I feel like I need to tell him to move out because he’s stressing everyone out and like I said we live in a condo and I don’t want him to irritate the neighbors. I worry about him as well, if I tell him to leave is he going to fall apart? He always apologizes profusely (when he’s sober), he cries, says he needs me…I feel like my body is split. I need to stay strong to take care of my kids and I feel like he’s grinding me to the ground. And meanwhile I have friends who tell me they’d never let their kids live with an alcoholic and seem to judge me cause I do. They seem to think it’s an easy decision to leave. I know it would be the right thing to do because he doesn’t want to even consider getting help. But I worry about him becoming worst if I kick him out. Is it true alcoholics tend to decide to seek treatment when they have “lost” a lot?

  11. Chiara Johnson says:

    Thanks for addressing these concerns I came across your site as I am terrified to let my kids go for a chunk of time with their father who is a recovering alcoholic and vulnerable to start drinking again when triggered.

    I’m hoping to find someplace I can deal with myself in the days to come.

  12. Jen says:

    Thank you for all of your information. I have separated from my husband and moved me and our 5 year old twin boys in with my parents. He did a medical detox before we left and things were going ok for a week or two. Then I began finding bottles around the house and his behavior started getting bizarre again. We finally left after an angry violent outburst which scared the boys and me to death. We had been walking on egg shells for years because of his anger and rages and I felt I had no choice but to get the kids and I out of there. He now barley works and says he’s so depressed he can’t get out of bed. He never calls or sees the boys and they miss him like crazy. He is blaming me for abandoning him and refuses to get help for his drinking or desperation unless we move back home. The boys don’t understand why he doesn’t want to see them or why we can’t all live together again. Although they do say they think he is mean at times. I know it’s best that we are out of that house but it is so hard watching him slowly kill himself. How do you convince someone they need help when they will take no responsibility? We also live in a smaller town and I have been seeing a counselor that is not a specialist in addiction. It seems hard to find addiction help in our area.
    Thank you for sharing your advice!

    • Hi Jen – I’m so sorry to hear all of what you and your sons (and your husband) are going through. I’m more than happy to talk with you and provide suggestions – give me a call at my office (no charge) 650-362-3026. Take care, Lisa

  13. alcoholicEx says:

    My ex and I are separated and in the process of divorcing. We had a couple of issues regarding the safety of our children when she was drinking. She stopped drinking for the 4 years prior to our separation. I feel like if I confront her with this it will sour her goodwill in terms of agreeing to joint custody and other issues with dividing assets. I’ll have created an enemy in the divorce process basically.

    We more or less share physical custody of our kids. They’re teenagers. Once recently when going over to her house to pick something up, she was very clearly drunk (staggering, slurring). A couple other times she’s been hungover. She also smokes pot on a daily basis, which is a little annoying to the kids but not normally a huge issue – except once when she was high and a passenger in the car while my daughter was driving (learning permit). My daughter was very upset that mom was not coherent enough to help her with driving directions.

    The kids would have said something to me if she was drinking in front of them or while she went out with them. I’m confident that they wouldn’t get in the car with her if they knew she was drunk or high. I do think though that she is sneaking alcohol while they are home, since she was clearly drunk when I went over there one evening that she had the kids.

    I think my children probably know what’s going on, but I know if I talk to them about it, they’ll confront mom and I’m back to the issue of creating a hostile situation for the divorce.

    I want their kids to have a mom who is sober and present for them. They love their mom and I know they want to spend half of their time with her.

    My thought right now is to wait until the divorce is final to confront her with this, hoping that she’ll get help and at least making the kids more fully aware of what she’s doing.

    My question is this: if she goes off the deep end and the kids are concerned with her behavior or their safety, am I likely to be able to go back to the court to change the custody arrangement or at least have the court order treatment as a condition for shared joint physical custody?

    Thank you

    • Hello alcoholicEx,
      I’m sorry to hear what you and your ex and children are going through. You’ve raised so many interrelated questions, the answers for which are dependent on your state’s family laws, that it’s difficult to answer without speaking to you. Please contact me at my office, 650-362-3026, or send me an email as lisaf@BreakingTheCycles.com, and we can take it from there. ~Lisa

  14. Jane says:

    My son’s wife is an alcoholic. They have two young boys under the age of 7. His wife has a breathalyzer on her car for about 8 more months. So she can’t drive with them but drinks at home. She lost her job due to her drinking. My son wants to divorce her but doesn’t want her to have any custody. She had been to rehab at the strong suggestion of her lawyer over a dui incident. She went but resented going and drinks now more than ever. She is trying to ruin my son’s name all over town telling people he struggles with physical violence. He feels trapped in a loveless marriage but must stay to protect kids. She told him she has nothing to lose but he has everything to lose as he is a business executive in the company that fired her for drinking on job. What can he do?

  15. Alexandra says:

    I hope you can offer some advice. My husband is an alcoholic, also active duty military. He is very successful in his career and a very highly functioning alcoholic. We have two children. Aiden is 10 and Evan is 8. Aiden recently said to me after driving home with his Dad that Dad was ok to drive home on two or three beers. We have been married 11 years and he has not been sober for more than a month of those 11 years. He doesn’t think he has a problem. I love him and want to support but he wants a divorce so that he can “stop being ashamed of himself”. How do I make him see I want him healthy and love him.

    • Hi Alexandra – I’m so sorry. I have several suggestions, so please give me a call at 650-362-3026. There is no charge, but know I’m on PST, so if I don’t answer, I will call you back. Thank you for reaching out. ~Lisa

  16. LJ says:

    This is exactly my dilemma. My husband is an alcoholic. He must drink 60 or more beers in 1 week. He also drives drunk all the time. By that I don’t mean driving after 6 beers, he does that almost every day, he will be slurring his words and can’t walk without bumping into walls and falling over – he will drive in that condition maybe 3 times a month. This has been going on for years. Yet somehow he’s never been pulled over for a dui. As you can imagine, life with him is miserable for me and my children. We are always on eggshells not knowing what mood he will be in. And the mood swings are intolerable. But for the sake of my kids lives, I cannot leave. I can’t trust him not to drink and drive with them or not to be totally drunk at home with them. They are young. Their ages are 8, 6, 3, and 15 months. Plus he can be very spiteful, I can just see him not answering his phone when I call to check on them. He always talks about wanting to the them to a baseball game. But he can’t not drink there. Being married still, I can say no you aren’t taking them because you will get drunk and say you’re fine to drive and drive them home. If I was divorced, he would pick them up for his weekend and id have no say where he can take them. I’ve talked to a lawyer about these concerns and unfortunately there’s nothing that can stop him until he’s caught driving drunk with them. He’s also miraculously never got a dui so in court I’d just look like a bitter ex exaggerating things out of spite, which couldnt be further from the truth. If he had a record of dui then I’d have proof to back me up. I may need to anonymously report him when I know he’s doing it. Not just for my proof to back up my claims, but to save his life or someone else’s, or my own kids lives. So I guess until he gets a few duis I can’t leave my abusive alcoholic husband. It really is hopeless. But I love my kids more than I love myself so i will stay. Even though the emotional abuse he puts us all through, especially my two oldest boys, 8 and 6, is enough to require therapy the rest of their lives. He’s damaging them so badly, but I’d rather them have emotional problems and be alive than leave him and they die in his care. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. If this was the 1940s I could leave him and we wouldn’t have to be around his abuse. But the way the court system is, they want the fathers 50% involved no matter what. Just because they are the biological father, doesn’t mean they are a good dad or loving or caring. But I live in Maryland, which is very pro-father in custody cases. I want my kids to have a relationship with their dad, but it’s so dysfunctional. He needs help and refuses to get it. He thinks he can stop drinking any time but “he just doesn’t want to”. He will go a few days or even a week sometimes after a really bad bender where he’ll say he’s not drinking ever again but as soon as we go out to eat, or dinner at someone’s house, or any kind of event where alcohol is available he can’t say no. And he can’t just have 1. If he has 1 drink, he’s having 12. Then he’s right back to drinking every day or at least 5 days a week. If he gets a bad hangover, since some days he drinks more than others, he won’t drink that next day but only because he was so sick. If someone actually read my whole post to this point, please pray for me.

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