How to Divorce a High Functioning Alcoholic

Man in business attire covering his face in dismay while holding a glass of liquid.

How to Divorce a High Functioning Alcoholic

Saint Patrick's Day may be a lot of fun for some people, but for those who struggle with addicted partners, it can be a painful and challenging day. If you are in a relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic, March 17th may be the tip of the iceberg regarding your partner’s struggle with alcoholism. As much as you try to support them through the arduous journey to sobriety, there is only so much you can do as their partner. Today, we're tackling the issue of divorcing a high-functioning alcoholic in all its complexity.

Divorcing a high-functioning alcoholic can mean many things for your separation. While each marriage has its unique challenges, alcoholism takes a toll on everyone involved in that person's life. In fact, heavy drinking has even been shown to be correlated with a higher risk for divorce (Rognmo et al.).

Those in this position may feel conflicted about leaving because they still want to support their soon-to-be-ex partner but can no longer carry the weight of such expectations- and that's completely understandable. As adults, we are not responsible for spending all our energy on keeping other people from destroying themselves... You need to save energy for yourself, too.

A relationship with any form of addict, including a high-functioning alcoholic, can be extremely emotionally taxing. The divorce process may also come with related challenges, like whether you should reach out to ensure that your soon-to-be-ex is doing alright. It's essential to have a plan that addresses your legal concerns but equally as vital to support your emotional concerns.

A divorce coach like Stacey Beal can help you prepare for and navigate the emotional turbulence of divorcing somebody battling substance addiction and can guide you in carefully documenting incidents or issues as they arise.

Documentation strategies like these can help you be better prepared for court and pair wonderfully with a lawyer who will advocate for you in the courtroom. Stacey is also available for in-court support, so you can have someone wholly focused on ensuring your well-being.  

Divorcing an addicted partner affects more than your marriage. It's vital that you take the time to understand the impact this may have had on your life by seeking proper emotional support. 

What to Know Before Divorcing a High-Functioning Alcoholic

If you are married to a high-functioning alcoholic, worrying about how your divorce will affect you, your soon-to-be-ex partner, and your network of friends and family is understandable. Splitting up can be complex, particularly when one's sobriety (or lack thereof) is considered. Especially if life changes have caused relapses or more intensely addictive behaviors for your ex-partner in the past, it is normal and logical to wonder whether your separation may hurt your soon-to-be-ex. 

You may hope to persuade them to seek professional help for their problem. This can be a great step in the right direction, but it is also important to note that many high-functioning alcoholics deny their drinking habits. This can make it difficult to persuade them to seek the help they need. They may remain reluctant to do so even after your separation, which is okay. Chances are, you have already discussed entering therapy with them, and they have likely declined the suggestion. Furthermore, high-functioning alcoholics often feel ashamed and guilty about their drinking. They may believe they are not good enough or don't deserve help. Your divorce coach or therapist can help you work through these complex emotions as you go through the divorce process.

Read: How Will a History of Alcohol Abuse Affect Custody Agreements?

Your soon-to-be ex might hide their habits by disappearing for long periods without explaining what they were doing or lying about how they’ve been spending money or time. High-functioning alcoholics, especially, may not seem problematic to those outside. Still, intimate partners often see the signs before others because of their proximity to their spouse. This can make it difficult for them to accept help from others, including spouses or partners trying to help them quit drinking. If you decide to divorce a high-functioning alcoholic, you may need to be prepared for them to push away your attempts to help and resist getting help from professionals.

Third, divorcing a high-functioning alcoholic can be complicated and messy. There may be financial issues involved, as well as custody issues if there are children involved. It is essential to consult with an attorney before making any decisions about divorce so that you know what changes to prepare for and can work to make the transition from married to single as smooth as possible.

The Process of Getting a Divorce

Divorcing a high-functioning alcoholic may have some differences in the minutia of the process but will likely still follow the path that most other divorces take. This process can become complicated if there are assets or children involved. You will want to consult with a knowledgeable divorce attorney about how to proceed. Divorce laws differ in every state, so if you’re in Massachusetts, you will want to look for an experienced Worcester County divorce attorney or Plymouth County family law firm.

Once you have filed for divorce, your lawyer will walk you through the steps that you should take next concerning custody arrangements, assets, and rebuilding various aspects of your life. A certified high-conflict relationship coach like Stacey Beale can help you through the emotional difficulties that you encounter. At the same time, one of our many experienced family law attorneys will expertly navigate the legal process with you.

The Effects of Alcoholism on the Family

When someone in the family is struggling with alcoholism, it can have a ripple effect on everyone else in the household. Here are some of the ways that alcoholism can impact the family:

1. Relationship problems. If you’ve come to this article, you already know how devastating addiction can be on your partner’s relationships. Alcoholism can cause arguments and conflict within relationships. This is because alcohol can make people act in ways that they normally wouldn't, such as being more aggressive or emotional. Over time, this can breakdown the bond within the relationship and form trust issues and distance between partners.

2. Financial problems. Alcoholism can also put a strain on finances, as money is often spent on alcohol instead of other essentials. This can cause financial hardship for the family and lead to arguments about money.

3. Parenting difficulties. Alcoholism can make it difficult for parents to fulfill their role in the family. This is because alcohol can impair judgement and make it hard to think clearly or make decisions. As a result, parents may struggle to provide care and support for their children.

4. Health problems. Alcoholism can cause physical and mental health problems for both the person struggling with alcoholism and other members of the family. For example, someone with alcoholism may suffer from liver damage or mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Additionally, living with someone with alcoholism can be stressful, which can also impact mental health.

How to Help Someone With Alcoholism

If you are worried about someone you love who may be struggling with alcoholism, there are some things you can do to help. Firstly, and only if it is safe to do so, try to have a conversation with the person about your concerns. It is important to be respectful and non-judgmental in this conversation. If the person is open to talking about their drinking, then you can offer your support and encouragement of having an open dialogue. Listen to why they feel so drawn to alcohol and offer paths for moving forward through therapy or rehabilitation programs. If the person is unwilling to talk about their drinking, then you can still offer your support by staying in touch and being available if they ever want to talk. You can also look for support groups or counseling services that can help both you and the person struggling with alcoholism.


Having a high functioning alcoholic spouse can be challenging, and divorcing them often requires special care. With patience, diligence, and the right resources, you can divorce your spouse with minimal emotional or financial damage to yourself. By understanding the risks involved in dealing with an alcoholic partner, seeking out legal help from experienced professionals, and getting support from friends and family members throughout this process you are making sure that it is as painless for both parties as possible. Divorce does not have to be an agonizing experience; rather it can be part of a healing journey for both you and your soon-to-be-ex partner when handled properly.

For more resources, check out the national helpline linked below:


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