If you have not already read my first instalment/blog on addictions, I encourage you to do so.
In this blog, I talk more about the legal problems you will likely encounter if you are separating from your spouse, you have children, and you are in the throes of an addiction.
Let’s be honest: if are struggling with a serious addiction, can you be certain you can be entirely trusted if the children are left solely in your care? If you answered “yes, I can be trusted", you might be in 'denial' mode –a very common defense mechanism used by addicts to hide their addiction from themselves and others. If your estranged spouse were asked the same question, the response would most likely be, "No way!" And If a court was asked this question, the judge would also likely say ‘No’, particularly since Courts like to err on the side of caution when dealing with children.
When faced with a parent who is abusing a substance--whether it be alcohol or another drug--a Court will probably order 'supervised access' until your spouse or the Court (or both) are reassured that you have acknowledged your problem and have sought treatment.
Had I become a criminal lawyer, I would have expected to come across the issue of addiction regularly. The majority of crimes committed in our society are fueled by drugs, alcohol and/or mental health issues (addiction, for that matter, is a type of mental health issue). It never ceases to amaze me, however, how often as a family lawyer I encounter family constellations torn apart and lives ruined by addictions—primarily alcohol.
Booze is such an integral part of our society. One is continually bombarded by advertisements brainwashing us into believing alcohol is the panacea to all life’s woes. Self-actualization can only be achieved if you drink a certain type of scotch, wine, vodka, etc. Beer drinkers, rejoice: pick up a Budweiser, and your bacchanalian revelries will be further enhanced by a multitude of attractive scantily clad women vying for your affections.
For most of the population, a beer or two at the pub or on a hot day is great; a nice glass of wine or two at dinner (red for beef, white for fish, of course) complements a fine meal. But for many, alcohol can be destructive. For example, did you know that the number one cause of visits to emergency wards are alcohol related or that the second biggest cause of death (after tobacco) is related, directly or indirectly, to alcohol.
Since alcohol is so socially accepted, one tends to forget that it is a powerful drug. For those who are genetically predisposed to becoming addicted, it can become a deadly drug. And it creeps up on you insidiously. Keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant; it also causes anxiety in the long term. One of life’s big ironies is that so many people attempt to self-medicate their depression or anxiety with alcohol which only exacerbates the problems, which leads people to drink or use more—a vicious downward spiral.
Denial is huge when it comes to addictions. People will not accept that they no longer control the substance, but that the substance controls them. Most people feel that through sheer will power, they can get on top of the problem. More often than not they are sadly mistaken. Addiction is a progressive disease and denial has led many people to the grave.
In my experience as a family lawyer, I would say that one out of ten relationships have fallen due to substance abuse. A very sad statistic.
If you feel that you might have or might be developing a substance abuse problem, ask yourself these questions:
There are also new prescription drugs on the market now that help curve cravings.
On another good note, for those that do find themselves in the throes of this terrible disease, there is reason for hope. Recovery is a slow and at times difficult process, but it is possible with help. The rewards of a clean sober life far outweigh the high cost of low living. You will be a much happier person: self-loathing will dissipate; you will be more connected to your family and friends; you will find yourself leading a more constructive, fulfilling and meaningful life.
Blake R. Lyngseth, Ottawa lawyer & mediator. Blogs primarily on issues of Ontario & Canadian family law & estate law.