In a spate of articles and talk show banter over the past few years, actor Brad Pitt has blamed his alcohol use for the demise of his marriage to Angelina Jolie. It seems there was a defining incident on a private plane when Brad was inappropriately rough with one of his children. I can relate to what I imagine took place. A drink too many; the inexplicable surge of annoyance and anger; the sloppy, domestic squabble; and the lack of parental finesse. We can only speculate about what actually happened, but it seems to have led (coincidentally) to the “final straw” in his marriage. The saga continues in 2022.
Relationships and Addiction
A little rain must fall, even on the most charmed of lives. The decision to dissolve a marriage is always painful. But, when the whole world is watching and it comes on the heels of a big confession like, “My drinking is the reason for the divorce,” it takes grit.
I can’t say my drinking was the reason for my divorce, but it was a significant factor. In the same way the game of golf and the fact my husband would ask me to do something inconvenient and then say, “Do you mind?” in his veddy English accent were factors. Well, maybe my drinking was worse than his thirty-six holes of golf on a beautiful Saturday… Maybe my drinking was why he spent so much time banging around that stupid little ball…
Drinking is Ruining my Marriage
Brad Pitt and I are not the only ones who believe alcoholism causes divorce. In fact, the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) conducted a study that determined a marriage is more likely to end in divorce if one of the parties is a heavy drinker. “Heavy drinker” is defined as six or more drinks consumed at one time or drinking until intoxicated. The study established that marriages end in divorce 50 percent of the time, when one of the spouses drinks heavily. The director and lead author of the study, Kenneth Leonard, PhD says, “This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that heavy drinking by one partner can lead to divorce.”
Interestingly, marriages with both spouses drinking heavily result in divorce about 30 percent of the time – the same as non-drinking couples. However, two heavy drinkers do not foster the perfect family life – anything but. Dr. Leonard says, “While two heavy drinkers may not cause divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children.” Not to mention all the other negative issues, financial, emotional, psychological, that can arise in a household with a alcoholic stronghold.
The Relationship Between Alcoholism and Divorce:
How do you determine whether your spouse is drinking alcoholically (and increasing your chances for divorce)? Other than counting vodka bottles in the weekly recycling bin? Alcohol dependency is defined as, an inability to control alcohol consumption. Even when there is significant damage to interpersonal relationships, physical and mental health, and other important life roles. If your wife, husband or partner’s drinking is impacting your marriage in any way, there is a problem.
Here are some “fun” facts about heavy drinking and relationships:
- Alcohol is consumed by about half of all married couples.
- Alcohol is a contributing factor in domestic violence.
- Verbal aggression is twice as likely to occur if alcohol has been consumed in the previous 4 hours by the perpetrator. Physical aggression is 3 to 4 times more likely. And twice again as likely if the victim is drinking.
- Heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are associated with lower marital satisfaction.
- One of the most common reasons for relationship counseling and divorce is the negative combination of alcohol and marriage.
- There is little research on the effects of alcohol on same-sex marriage or cohabiting relationships. Research has shown that cohabiting couples tend to drink more alcohol than married couples.
- A marriage is more likely to dissolve if one spouse, not both, are heavy drinkers. This seems to follow the old adage “misery loves company.” Dr. Leonard says, “Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits.”
- Couples in which both spouses drink heavily are more likely to consider drinking a “recreational activity” or excuse their alcoholism for “social drinking“.
- There is a higher rate of divorce in marriages with a heavily drinking wife than a heavily drinking husband.
- Heavy drinking, hidden during the marriage, “comes out of the closet” during a divorce – often in court to protect minor children or gain child custody.
- Guilt is a factor for spouses of alcoholics. The non-drinking spouse during divorce experiences internal debate rages: Should I stay with him/her or should I leave? Did I enable the over-drinking?
- Children experience worse outcomes when both parents are heavy drinkers than when one partner drinks heavily.
Oh Brad, I DO Empathize…
I am always grateful when someone in the public eye comes clean about their substance use disorder. It helps to mitigate the stigma that still clings to folks who experience addiction. And to those of us with divorces under our belts because of them. I can certainly relate to drinking ruining the relationships in my life. And recovery repairing the relationships that mattered.
When an A-List celebrity has the guts to talk about his alcohol misuse and how much better he feels now that he’s sober, it hits home for many of us. And it makes our recovery from alcohol and drug addiction seem just a little bit more glamorous than it did before he spoke up.
For More Information on Alcohol and Relationships: