Alcohol Effects on Relationships

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Alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be a detriment to every aspect of a person’s life, including physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. The effects of addiction extend far beyond an individual, influencing everyone they come into contact with. Those closest to the person, such as family and friends, often feel these adverse effects the most, but even acquaintances and colleagues can be drastically affected.1

How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect a Person’s Relationship?

Alcohol misuse negatively impacts every aspect of a person’s relationships, whether they be romantic, parental, professional, or platonic. If we take a look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) criteria for diagnosing a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and, by extension, AUD, we can immediately find 5 out of 11 that can have a direct impact on interpersonal relationships:2,3,4,5,6

  • Not engaging in (social) activities they used to enjoy. Socializing is extremely important for a person’s mental well-being, while hobbies and similar activities provide a welcome stress release, also imperative for mental health. 
  • Unsuccessfully trying to stop or decrease drinking. Repeated failures can lead to frustration and excessive amounts of stress, which can cause a variety of physical,  psychological, and emotional issues, such as low self-esteem, guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression;
  • Taking unnecessary risks/exhibiting reckless behavior while under the influence of alcohol. Drunk driving, unprotected sex, starting fights, and similar excesses can create a host of problems, including physical and mental harm to oneself and others, some of which can result in legal action against the perpetrator;
  • Spending most of their time and resources drinking, trying to procure alcohol, or recovering from its effects means a person won’t be able or have the means to fulfill their duties as a parent, employee, or marital partner;
  • Neglecting duties regarding personal, professional, and/or academic endeavors in favor of drinking can lead to a breach of trust, expectations, commitment, and loss of respect, all of which can lead to financial and emotional distress;

The consequences of a person’s alcohol misuse do not impact only them or those closest to them. Rather, their actions or inaction can affect their wider social circles, including friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or employers, echoing throughout every sphere of life.1,6,7

How Does Alcoholism Affect Relationships With Family Financially?

The negative impact of alcohol on a person’s financial well-being is a well-established and researched fact. However, contrary to popular belief, money spent on alcohol is not the only detrimental factor in this equation. While individuals suffering from AUD are known to spend excessive amounts to maintain their addiction, they tend to spend even more on activities that follow in the wake of alcohol consumption (e.g. gambling, impulsive purchases, etc.).

These activities are often a result of lowered inhibitions while under the influence. Even so, although a significant expense, they are a short-term consequence of alcohol consumption and not necessarily reserved for those suffering from AUD. However, for those that do suffer from AUD, these and similar situations happen more frequently, making it possible to spend excessive amounts of money in a short time span.1,6,7,8

Long-Term Financial Implications Of AUD

The long-term implications of AUD-influenced behavior can carry even more repercussions. Due to the way alcohol addiction works, a person may find themselves inhibited in performing their work duties. Alcohol can make a person drowsy, disinterested, absent, and unable to focus (especially on complex tasks). Being in this state of mind can severely impact work productivity which, in turn, can lead to a whole host of financial issues:1,2,6,8

  • Generally lowering salary potential;
  • Missing opportunities to advance;
  • Negligent and/or reckless behavior that can lead to legal action and substantial fines to a person under the influence;
  • Reduction in salary or loss of job, either due to poor performance, showing up at work inebriated or drinking at work.

Following the loss of income, a person may try to find alternative ways to bridge the gap, often increasing credit card charges, which can lead to the inability to pay bills, leading to late fees and other penalties.1,2,7,8,10

Next, we cannot fail to mention the financial repercussions that directly result from the altered state of mind. Some well-known symptoms of alcohol abuse include lowered inhibitions, reckless behavior, impaired judgment, and cognitive impairment. In combination, these side effects can result in excesses such as public misconduct, DUI, or aggravated assault. Legal issues resulting from these actions can lead to hefty fines and, in the most extreme cases, incarceration, which can severely impede an individual’s ability to earn, as well as find employment in the long run.1,7,8,10

Lastly, alcohol is the cause of many chronic medical conditions, such as cirrhosis, pancreatitis, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer. All of these issues may drive a person to cease their work relationship much earlier than intended, leading to reduced social security contributions (either in the form of employer-provided or independent retirement accounts). In addition, the loss of a job can lead to more out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance plans.1,8,9,11

How Does Alcoholism-Caused Financial Instability Affect The Family?

Due to the aforementioned reasons, we can conclude that regular misuse of alcohol can severely damage the financial stability of a family as a whole. However, we must note that the costs of rehab treatment for AUD should not be considered an additional financial burden on the person or family. Although these costs aren’t negligible, the resulting sobriety can and (in most cases) will result in physical, mental, emotional, and, by extension, financial recovery.8,9

How Does Alcohol Affect Marriage Relationships?

Alcohol misuse and addiction can also impact marital relationships in a variety of ways. One of them is the aforementioned financial instability, as the US law sees spouses (married couples) as a single unit, rather than two independent entities. As such, financial issues resulting from AUD-affected spouses can directly affect their partners, whether or not they had enabled their addiction in some way.1,2,6,8,10

Aside from financial issues, AUD can leave a mark on a married couple’s relationship in psychological and physical terms. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the most common marital issues that result from one or both partners’ alcohol abuse are:12,13,14,15

  • Marital conflict: stress, jealousy, and instability can often spark arguments, that can leave psychological and emotional scars on both spouses and, eventually, lead to divorce;
  • Infidelity: A person who drinks heavily is more likely to cheat in a relationship (20%-40% of men and 10% to 25% of women will cheat), which carries additional risks, specifically a higher chance of contracting STDs; 
  • Unplanned pregnancy: Lowered inhibitions and impaired judgment can drive a person to disregard precautions when it comes to sex;
  • Domestic violence: Agitation, mood swings and aggressive and reckless behavior are all symptoms of AUD which can culminate in a physical assault that can leave a spouse severely injured and, in extreme cases, have a lethal outcome.

A spouse’s alcohol abuse, combined with financial instability, legal issues, and neglect, can trigger a host of complex emotions in their partner. Feeling lost, abandoned, guilty, unworthy, and blaming oneself for their spouse’s addiction can leave a scar on a person’s emotional health. In the most severe cases, they may develop a mental disorder known as “codependency”.14,15

Codependency is characterized by an unhealthy (and illogical) psychological and emotional reliance on a person suffering from AUD. Due to the factors mentioned above, a spouse can suffer a drop in self-esteem and self-confidence, driving them to seek approval from their (AUD-affected) partner. However, in doing so, they often ignore their own needs. Instead, they focus solely on their partners, which causes them to start enabling their unhealthy behavior.14,15

In most cases, codependent partners hardly ever seek professional help, as the guilt and shame may lead them to believe this unhealthy view of their relationship is deserved and, therefore, normal. Do note that this disorder isn’t limited to spouses of AUD-affected individuals. Rather, it can occur in a romantic, platonic (friendship), or parent-child relationship. Fortunately, there are evidence-based treatments for co-dependency disorder.14,15

Lastly, we cannot fail to mention the impact AUD can have on a couple’s intimacy. Sexual relations are an integral part of marital life. Since side effects of alcohol abuse include inhibited sex drive, temporary or permanent erectile dysfunction (impotence), and infertility, it is not difficult to see how alcohol can be a major detriment to a healthy sex life.11,12

How Does Alcohol Addiction Affect Relationships with Children?

Children are among the most threatened demographics when it comes to the influence of AUD.  The younger they are, the more likely they are to experience its negative effects, some of which can leave lasting consequences on their psychological and emotional well-being. The reason behind this is that children, all the way up to adolescence, do not possess the life experience, or the mental and emotional capacity to comprehend what is happening.16,17,18,19,20

In the vast majority of cases, a person with any form of SUD (AUD included) will prioritize satisfying their addiction. In this instance, that means that an individual will neglect and sometimes completely forget or ignore parental duties, including meeting their child’s most basic needs, including:2,16,17,18,19,20

  • Nutrition;
  • Safety;
  • Stability (emotional and financial);
  • Health care;
  • Education.

Alongside general neglect, a child will also have to contend with living in a chaotic environment, filled with uncertainty and, often, riddled with hostility. As a result, they may start feeling confused, isolated, abandoned, and unloved. Feelings of hopelessness and abandonment, along with general confusion, can lead a child to start thinking that they are the cause of the problem. They may start blaming themselves for their parent’s behavior and thinking they did something wrong. This can further lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and unworthiness, which can transition into frustration and anger.16,17,18,19,20

Children who are subject to AUD influence often exhibit a host of behavioral problems. However, these signs can be difficult to spot, due to their contradictory nature, as they may manifest as:16,17,18,19,20

  • Underperforming or over-performing at school;
  • Acting overly responsible (parental) or irresponsible (becoming truant);
  • Engaging in risky behaviors (including substance misuse);
  • Becoming violent and/or aggressive;
  • Showing signs of physical or mental illness (e.g. depression or suicidal thoughts).

The consequences of growing up in an AUD-affected home can transition well into adulthood. Several pieces of research showed that children of AUD-affected parents often exhibit signs of PTSD, including emotional instability and low self-esteem. They are also 4 times more likely to start abusing substances themselves, which puts them at greater risk of developing a SUD. Lastly, they are more likely to underperform academically and professionally, leading to them having a lower socioeconomic status overall.16,17,18,19,20

Signs that Show Alcohol is Affecting Your Relationships

Signs that AUD is affecting your relationships are subtle at first. As the AUD progresses, however, they become more and more evident and obvious. Some indicators of relationship deterioration may include (but are not limited to):21,22

  • Alcohol is your primary focus, with building and maintaining relationships of any form being a distant second;
  • Drinking is causing financial distress, either through the inability to pay bills or provide basic necessities for family members (e.g. groceries, health care);
  • You are actively trying to hide your drinking, whether through secretive behavior or dishonesty;
  • Your oldest and closest friends start avoiding you or looking for excuses to leave your company;
  • Your partner describes you as “a different person” when you’re inebriated;
  • Conflicts with your partner become more frequent and grow in intensity;
  • You’re reacting harshly or, even, aggressively when a loved one is criticizing your drinking;
  • Your sex life is unfulfilling or non-existent as a direct result of alcohol misuse side effects;
  • You’re verbally or physically abusive to your partner, child, relative, friend, or loved one while under the influence;
  • You start noticing that friends or relatives in your immediate vicinity become cautious, vigilant, or afraid whenever you reach for a drink;
  • You’re feeling unhappy, regardless of where you are and who you’re with unless there is alcohol involved in social interaction.

If you start noticing these symptoms, it is a sign that you and your closest loved ones should seek professional help. Today, there are many proven methods of addressing AUD and its influence on relationships, including individual, couple’s, or family counseling, psychotherapy, and support groups.21,22,26

How To Deal with the Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Your Relationship?

While alcohol may cause a host of issues, it is possible to make reparations. However, prior to fixing personal relationships, one should focus on building a healthy relationship with alcohol, which is possible through self-discipline, self-control, and organizational skills. Your effort to reduce drinking and bring it to a moderate level should include:23,24

  • Keeping track of how much you drink, so as to remain within the limits described in US Drinking Guidelines;
  • Making a plan to systematically cut down on the amount of alcohol you consume per day, week, and month;
  • Setting specific goals and making plans to reach them, whether they’re directly related to cutting down or achieving an unrelated goal that alcohol prevented you from reaching;
  • Learning what your triggers are, as it will help you avoid them;
  • Finding alternatives to drinking, as it is much easier to replace a habit than to remove it.

Reducing your drinking habits to a manageable level is the first step toward mending broken or damaged relationships. However, while the self-initiated detoxification process and drinking control may prove effective, it is highly advisable to seek professional help. Especially so if you start experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms or find yourself returning to old habits.23,24

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs for Family Members in Nevada

AUD is a complex disease that impacts every facet of a person’s physical, mental, and social well-being. For this reason, it is essential to treat its consequences along with the underlying factors that led to addiction forming in the first place. To achieve this goal, most rehab centers employ a combination of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and Evidence-Based Psychotherapeutic Methods, which can include (but aren’t limited to):25,26,27,28

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT);
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT);
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI);
  • Group therapy.

The last form of therapy is of particular interest to those seeking to repair a relationship with their partner, family, or friends. When assessing a situation that resulted from AUD, reputable treatment centers will recognize the disease’s impact on social relationships. As such, most of them offer some form of couples, family, or larger-scope counseling, aimed at bringing estranged loved ones together while simultaneously repairing the damage AUD inflicted on mutual relationships.25,26,27,28