Beyond the gossip of Demi Moore's hospitalization, just two months after announcing her split from husband Ashton Kutcher, is the glaring reminder: divorce can make you sick. "Because of the stresses in her life right now,
Demi has chosen to seek professional assistance to treat her exhaustion and improve her overall health," said Moore's rep in a statement earlier this week.
A flurry of unconfirmed reports suggest her "exhaustion" is code for substance abuse and malnourishment. An eating disorder, a late-night 911 call, a seizure, a nitrous oxide binge, are the whispers around the web.
There's less talk about how the very public breakup of her marriage could be at the heart of her health problems. Not surprisingly, the effects of a broken heart take a physical toll. A review released this month by University of Arizona researchers found that divorced adults are at a higher risk of an early death than married adults. The effects of a split can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being overweight or drinking heavily, according to the report.
One 2006 study found that middle-aged women, in particular, are at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than married women of the same age. Cancer and mobility issues have also been linked to the after-effects of a long-term romantic separation. But in the initial days and months after a divorce, the mental health risks are most threatening.
"When you are processing the ending of a marriage you are overcome with a variety of complex emotions--sorrow, anger, shame, fear," explains Rachel Sussman, a licensed psychotherapist and author of The Breakup Bible. "Sleep and one's ability to eat may be impacted by the sorrow and stress, [which in turn] may affect your overall health and cause you to get very run down."
A painful split is also grounds for a relapse of bad habits. Eating disorders, long-under control, may resurface in times of stress. Most notable, substance abuse is found in higher rates for women during a divorce than men, according to a WHO World Mental Health study.
Moore has touted her clean living lifestyle in the years after her early '80s rehab stint but anyone who has suffered from drug addiction knows the threat of relapse hovers in times of transition.
"Demi Moore is a recovering addict so for someone like her a divorce may indeed produce a relapse," Sussman tells Shine. "Addicts turn to substances for a variety of reasons including the need to mollify pain. It's a poor coping mechanism and will often produce the opposite effect than the one you are looking for."
While the WHO study found more women using substances as band-aids during divorce, men were more likely to become isolated and depressed. Kutcher might not be the shining example of that statistic. While Moore battles her demons, Kutcher's been parading around Brazil's fashion week and sucking on coconuts for his twitter followers.
To be clear, just because there are risk factors to divorce, staying in a troubled marriage isn't the healthy choice either. One University of Iowa study found that couples who weren't happy together had lower immune systems and took longer to heal than happily married spouses.
Sometimes, divorce is the only option. But setting a self-preservation game-plan doesn't end with finding an attorney. In searching online for the terms "divorce" and "health risks," you have to plow through alarmist warnings about the health risks for children of divorce before you can find anything about surviving as a parent.
Here's the short list of priorities to protect your mind and body during divorce: Exercise to prevent depression and keep your appetite and sleep patterns in check. Then commandeer your support system: family, friends, even therapists, and sponsors depending on your needs. "Deal with your grief head on," advises Sussman. "It hurts but better now than later."