By Anne Shale   |   June 5th, 2010

drug_al.jpgAlcoholism is defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary as “the habitual drinking of alcoholic liquor, or as a resulting diseased condition”. It is also defined as a chronic and progressive illness characterized by physiological and psychological dependency upon the ingestion of alcohol; a loss of control over drinking, including when, and in what form, how much, and why; and interference with normal functioning in one or all such areas such as family, work, friendship, and community activity.

Chemical Dependency can be defined as alcoholism is above…..but it is a chronic and progressive illness characterized by a physical and psychological dependency upon the ingestion of legal or illegal mood altering drugs; a loss of control over the ingestion of the drugs, including when, and in what form, how much, and why; and interference with normal functioning in one or all such areas such as family, work, friendship, and community activity.

Are families in domestic relations matters impacted by these diseases?

Absolutely. I practiced mental health/chemical dependency nursing for a number of years before entering law school, so I am very attuned to alcohol/chemical dependency issues. While I have not conducted any research over the past twenty-two (22) years of my legal career, I would estimate that at any given time I have four (4) to six (6) cases wherein alcohol and/or drugs (legal and/or illicit) are significant factors behind the legal proceedings.  Husband wants a divorce because Wife refuses to stop drinking (or using drugs or smoking “pot”, etc.) or Wife wants a divorce because Husband refuses to stop drinking (or using drugs or smoking “pot”, etc.).  It is interesting to note that Husbands are more likely to divorce and leave alcoholic and/or chemically dependent Wives than Wives are willing to divorce and leave alcoholic and/or chemically dependent Husbands.  Most believe the following is true because most women are more financially dependent upon their Husbands than vice versa.  So, the Wives of alcoholic or chemically dependent Husbands are more likely to be enablers of their Husband’s use of alcohol and/or drugs and are more likely to report to the Husband’s Employer that Husband is “under the weather” or “ill” for a given day or period of time.

Is there a “foolproof” diagnostic test for alcoholism and/or chemical dependency?

Unfortunately, there is no specific diagnostic test for either of these diseases. There is no “magic” blood test or culture or MRI or CAT Scan to lead to the conclusion that John Doe has the disease of alcoholism or that Jane Doe has the disease of chemical dependency.  But I have decided to list a few online assessment screening tools below which might be helpful. One of the problems with these types of assessments is inaccurate self-reporting. When persons are directed to have a Drug and Alcohol Assessment, the “assessment” is dependent upon what the client reports to the person conducting the assessment.  So, is the client going to report that I have had three (3) DUIs; I have to have several drinks every day to feel “normal”; or, that I have lost three jobs in two years due to my dependence on alcohol or drugs? The person being assessed is going to usually under-report the use of alcohol and/or drugs and is certainly going to under-report the negative consequences associated with the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs.  I believe that the best practice in conducting an Alcohol and Drug Assessment should include an interview of the client’s spouse, adult children, and other persons familiar with the person being assessed.

What can be done to substantiate the use or abuse of alcohol or drugs?  

If the reported “user” is using marijuana or other psychotropic drugs, the other party can request that a hair follicle test be conducted.  This test is believed to be more reliable than a urine drug study as the components of offensive and illicit drugs remain in the hair follicles for a lengthy period of time. If a parent is an abuser of alcohol, that drug is quickly removed from the body and would not show-up in a diagnostic drug test unless the test was conducted close to the ingestion of the alcohol.  For example, a person being stopped and charged with Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) or Driving While Intoxicated (“DWI”) would certainly show an elevated blood alcohol level; but if permitted to return home to sleep through the night, would not show the elevated blood alcohol level hours later as the body would have had time to metabolize the alcohol in the blood system.

Persons who habitually abuse alcohol and/or drugs are likely to show or display characteristic behaviors:

  1. They may repeatedly lose or change jobs due to absenteeism and/or poor performance.
  2. They may associate with persons who are also abusers of alcohol and/or drugs.
  3. They may have repeated brushes with the law such as DUI’s, Disorderly Conduct, Public Drunkenness, Assault and Battery, etc.
  4. They may reflect an altered appearance such as not taking care of personal hygiene, not taking care of shaving or care of hair, of having a disheveled or rumpled appearance.
  5. They may exhibit reddened eyes, flushed face, slurred speech, an unsteady gait, and alcohol on the breath while under the influence of alcohol.

Wife/Mother reports that Husband/Father may have a “problem” with alcohol abuse and may be an alcoholic.  What can be done about transportation and or visitation?  How can we protect the welfare of minor children?  

These are difficult questions and issues to be sure.  The women in the foregoing scenarios can ask the Court for Fathers not to be permitted to provide transportation for visitation and not to ingest alcohol before or during visitation periods.  This too can be problematic, especially when the children are too young to notice drinking behaviors and/or too young to report their observations.  In those instances, Mother may file a motion with the Court requesting that parenting time be “supervised” by another adult friend or relative to be certain that the children are not placed in a dangerous situation.  Supervision may also be provided by Visitation Centers such as Erma’s House in Dayton, Ohio.

I encourage my clients (male and female) to learn more about alcoholism and chemical dependency and to seek counseling, if necessary, to assist them in deciding whether or not to pursue the termination of their marriages and in deciding whether or not to pursue the intervention of the Court in seeking to protect their minor child or children. There are some online assessment tools, which while not definitive, might be helpful:

  • Alcoholism Assessment Tool, click here.
  • Marijuana Addiction Tool, click here.
  • Drug Abuse Screening Tool, click here.

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Anne ShaleAbout The Author: Anne Shale
Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.

AlcohoIism And Chemical Dependency: Special Dilemmas In Family Law Cases
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