Alcohol and Divorce – Is Drinking Ruining the Marriage?

alcohol and divorce

Relationship problems can be a sign that alcohol consumption is out of control.


In an old song recorded in the 50s, Frank Sinatra sings, “Love and marriage, love and marriage. Go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell you brother; you can’t have one without the other.” True indeed. But a less lyrical hypothesis is also true; alcohol and divorce go together like a horse and carriage.


Alcohol and Divorce

Studies show that alcohol is often cited as the reason for a marriage break-up. Likewise, lack of commitment, infidelity, conflict, money worries, and domestic violence are common reasons for divorce. One could argue that alcohol misuse impacts all of these factors, causing breakdowns in communication and accountability.


Overall, the results indicate that the most often cited reasons for divorce at the individual level were lack of commitment (75.0%), infidelity (59.6%), and too much conflict and arguing (57.7%), followed by marrying too young (45.1%), financial problems (36.7%), substance abuse (34.6%), and domestic violence (23.5%).

National Institute on Health (NIH) – Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention: Implications for Improving Relationship Education



The relationship between marital instability and alcohol consumption is impacted by many factors. For example, a study by The University of Buffalo established that marriages end in divorce almost 50% of the time if one of the parties is a heavy drinker. The researchers also found a slightly higher divorce rate when the heavy drinker was the wife. However, the divorce rate for two heavy drinkers was no worse than for two non-heavy drinkers (30%). This is not to say heavy drinkers create a healthy home. Misery might love company, but the impact on children, finances, and mental and physical health is profound.


Divorce also causes both men and women who do not have a drinking problem to be at a higher risk for first onset of alcohol use disorder. In other words, alcohol has a bidirectional influence. Drinking alcohol causes divorce and divorce causes an increase in alcohol consumption. In fact, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that a consumption increase of 1 liter of alcohol per capita brings about an increase in the divorce rate of about 20%.


alcohol and divorce

The relationship between marital instability and alcohol consumption is impacted by many factors…


So, when is your spouse’s drinking cause for concern?

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 an inability to control alcohol consumption. Even when there is significant damage to interpersonal relationships and other important life roles. If one partner’s drinking is impacting the marriage, there is a problem. At Sanford Behavioral Health we include family counseling in our treatment plan, and our signature Family Program is a free virtual resource to the loved ones of our patients.


The warning signs:

  • Relationship problems
  • Neglecting primary responsibilities such as work, childcare, school
  • Legal troubles
  • Unsuccessful attempts at moderating or stopping drinking
  • Illness shaking, vomiting, depression, etc.
  • Also drinking as a “remedy” for illness – or unable to have fun without alcohol
  • Denial and minimization
  • “Incidences” in which others express concern
  • For more warning signs, click HERE


And the Positive News about Alcohol and Divorce?

Any way you report, study, survey or slice it, problematic alcohol use impacts both parties in a marriage. The good news is that there is professional help available. And since the pandemic, treatment, support groups, and community advocacy is available using telehealth. 


Treatment may work to rebuild relationships, but you are not in treatment to fix the marriage. If a person is in recovery for themselves first, it trickles down to all aspects of their life. Forgiving oneself is important and also, living amends. Trust has to be gained again. When the family sees their loved one working on their behavioral change (I call them ‘bricks of trust’) it creates a new foundation to build upon. 

Lynnel Brewster, RN, LPC, LLMFT, CCTP, Clinical Director Sanford


Change is hard. And we’ve all been through the mill in the past 18 months. It might be tempting to put off getting help for yourself or your spouse, to see what happens in the COVID-19 aftermath. Or to make excuses, minimize problems, and think about what to do to change things for the better. But thinking about change is not making change. Love and marriage –  if you value your relationships and yourself, the time for change is now.


after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world (she also holds a BA in English). Nine years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, Excursions. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board, JACK Mental Health Advocacy.