The Hidden Dangers of Early Divorce

Molly couldn’t sleep when her husband of 34 years told her one day, out of the blue, that he wanted to divorce her. She did what most people in her situation would do: she went to her doctor.

He prescribed her some Ativan to help her sleep and calm her nerves. It was a life-saver in getting her through those early nightmarish days and nights and she was grateful for her “better living through chemistry.”


Jeremy was sad and lonely when he and his wife split up. Since his new apartment was down the street from a popular local bar, he decided he would forget about his troubles (and maybe even get lucky while he was at it). He was able to create a new community of friends fairly quickly and he actually did find a new lady friend (who also happened to be in the middle of a divorce) to spend nights and weekends with.


Gabriella took her mind off the horrors of divorce with retail therapy. Her newfound love of shoes gave her something to look forward to when she went downtown to the mall. The only time it hurt was when the bill came in but, since her good-for-nothing, cheating husband was paying the bills, it was an added way to “make him pay.” She could withstand a few lectures knowing he was in pain too.


Brian’s propensity for porn had been in place before his wife kicked him out, but it really took off once she wasn’t there to monitor him. After work (and eventually sometimes even at work), he would indulge in some fantasy. After all, it wasn’t impacting anyone else.


When your heart is broken, your brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin. Wanting to feel better when you’re in this kind of pain is understandable. Turning to substances or new behaviors post-divorce is not uncommon. Lots of people do it. Drinking, in particular, is a socially acceptable way to take your mind off your pain and “drown your sorrows.” In fact, well-meaning friends and neighbors will ask to take their divorcing friend out for a drink. It’s almost encouraged.

What you need to keep in mind, however, is that if you lean too heavily on certain substances or behaviors, you are vulnerable to becoming hooked on them—even if you don’t have a predisposition for addiction. Your brain becomes hijacked and, while you did have the choice early on to use or not, once the hijacking takes place, all reasoning and self-discipline goes out the window. The road to stopping can be quite steep.

How Can I Be Addicted to Watching Porn, Shopping or Getting Into Relationships

When most people think of addictions, they think of drugs or alcohol: cocaine, nicotine, heroin, etc. These substances are addictive chemicals that are being introduced into the body and brain. Anyone using enough additive substances for long enough can and will become addicted. It’s pretty simple.

But there’s another kind of addiction that happens due to what’s happening within the brain. These are called process or behavioral addictions and they can be much more insidious than their counterparts, drugs or alcohol.

When a person feels bad and they reach out for an experience that makes them feel better, the brain releases dopamine and other “feel good” hormones. Our brains remember this. It is this process that then sets the brain up to crave more good feelings.

One of the most formidable aspects of any addiction is the denial that accompanies it. Not seeing how much your health and well-being have declined; not seeing the wake of wreckage you are leaving behind you and not seeing how small your world has become can be the addict’s greatest downfall. Numbing out their feelings, it seems, also numbs out their perceptions.

How Can I Identify Addiction in Myself or Someone Else?

According to an article in American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, there are specific signs and symptoms of behavioral addictions. They are:

  •  Preoccupation with the behavior.
  • Diminished ability to control the behavior.
  • Building up a tolerance to the behavior so the behavior is needed more often or in greater intensity to get the desired gratification.
  • Experiencing withdrawal if the behavior is avoided or resisted.
  • Experiencing adverse psychological consequences, such as depression or anxiety symptoms, when the behavior is avoided or resisted.

Here’s how addiction played out with the four people you met at the beginning of this article:

Two years after Molly’s divorce was over and done with, she was still taking Ativan. She didn’t need it any longer and she very much wanted to quit but getting off this medication was literally making her feel sick. Every time she’d start to stop, she would hit a wall—no matter how slowly she tapered. She was finally able to add some other medication to soften the side effects of detoxing but Molly was extremely humbled by that experience and swore she would never take anything addictive again.


Eighteen months after starting his new “bar” habit and relationship, Jeremy was in trouble.  His divorce had been put on hold so at least he didn’t have to contend with the legalities. He no longer wanted to be in partnership with the woman he’d gotten entangled with but she wouldn’t leave. She created terrible drama for him and this even spilled over to his (ex) wife and kids. He drank more to “cope” with the mess he had made and finally ended up in an $80,000 treatment center.


Gabriella’s shopping addiction came back to haunt her when the judge overseeing the divorce ordered her to pay her ex back every dime of what she had spent on her shoescapades. This was the wake up call she needed to stop her destructive behavior but it took her months to pay the debt off.


Brian’s porn addiction ended up getting him fired. He began losing time at work which prompted his boss to look at his browsing history. Not only did she see all the inappropriate sites that Brian had visited, she saw that Brian had paid for some of his acting out with company funds. 


Each of these addictions created much more pain for each of these folks than they had experienced with their marriages dissolving. What served as an immediate comfort, added layers of problems and loss they couldn’t have anticipated.

Where Can I Get Help?

12-step programs are everywhere. While AA, NA, SLAA, OA, etc., are not the right treatment modality for everyone, I like to recommend them because they are free and they are fairly readily available (there are even phone and on-line meetings for some recovery programs).

A local mental health center or your general physician may also be able to help you find resources (perhaps not the same MD who prescribed the addictive anti-anxiety meds!).

Most therapists have had to deal with addiction of one kind or another and they may be helpful in finding the right treatment modality. Look online for a local therapist and contact him or her.

There are hotline numbers to call as well such as the National Drug & Alcohol Treatment Hotline: 800-662-HELP.

Although addictions can be heartbreaking (and deadly in the extremes), the good news is that they can also be treated and many people go on to live productive lives.


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