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How Alcohol Destroys Relationships

How Alcohol Destroys Relationships

Relationships are the foundation of our lives. They define who we are and how we interact with those around us.

Maintaining healthy relationships requires open communication, trust, respect and care between parties. However, alcohol abuse can seriously damage these crucial aspects of any relationship.

In this post, we will explore the various ways alcohol negatively impacts relationships and provide insight to help recognize and address issues before it’s too late.

Let’s dive in.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder? Defining Problem Drinking

Before delving into how alcohol affects relationships, it’s important to understand what constitutes problem drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol use disorder is characterized by problematic patterns of alcohol use that result in significant impairment or distress over a 12-month period. Some signs of AUD include:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended.
  • Expressing a desire to cut down on drinking but failing to.
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking.
  • Continuing to drink even though it causes problems socially or physically.

Those who engage in binge drinking or heavy periodic drinking are also at risk of developing alcohol use disorder over time if drinking habits are not modified.

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 4 or more alcoholic drinks during a single occasion for women and 5 or more drinks during a single occasion for men. Consistent binge drinking or heavy drinking can qualify as problem drinking even without meeting the clinical criteria for AUD.

Alcohol Abuse Damages Communication and Trust

One of the most apparent ways alcohol negatively impacts relationships is by damaging communication and trust between partners.

When one or both individuals in a relationship are abusing alcohol, it inhibits open discussion and erodes the foundation of honesty needed for a healthy bond. Some signs alcohol is taking its toll include:

Dishonesty About Alcohol Consumption

Problem drinkers often minimize how much they’re actually drinking or hide drinking episodes from their partner. This destroys trust as lying chips away at the reliability of the relationship. Partners may feel constantly unsure if what they’re being told is truthful.

Emotional Unavailability

Excessive drinking makes it difficult to be emotionally present and engaged with one’s partner. Alcohol impairs judgment and self-control, which can lead to inappropriate outbursts, mood swings, or withdrawing emotionally when drinking. This leaves the non-drinking partner feeling lonely, confused or unimportant in the relationship.

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Irrational and Angry Behavior

Alcohol frequently disinhibits aggression and causes irritability. Problem drinkers may lash out irrationally or become verbally or physically abusive when intoxicated. Over time, this erodes feelings of safety, care, and respect between partners. The non-drinking individual is often walking on eggshells to avoid triggering anger while drinking is occurring.

When communication breaks down and trust is lost due to alcohol abuse, relationships become strained, cynical and love can turn to resentment or fear. Both partners withdraw emotionally as honesty and reliability disappear. This damages the core foundation critical for a caring bond.

Alcohol Leads to Infidelity and Relationship Instability

Sadly, problem drinking often increases the likelihood of infidelity, which can singlehandedly destroy relationships and family lives.

There are a few key reasons why:

Lowered Inhibitions: Under the influence, normal judgment and self-control are compromised. Cheating may seem like less of a big deal in the moment.

Emotional Distance: Frequent drinking removes the problem drinker emotionally and physically from their partner. This creates a disconnect and longing for intimacy that could be met outside the relationship.

Risky Behavior: The milieu of bars and parties Normal judgment and self-control are compromised. Cheating may seem like less of a big deal in the moment where much heavy social drinking occurs can create opportunities for infidelity that may not exist without substances involved.

Marital Problems: Drinking often exacerbates existing marital issues like communication barriers, emotional distance or conflicts. This further destabilizes the relationship and makes straying more enticing.

Addiction Rationalization: Problem drinkers may rationalize poor choices like cheating as normal behavior given their struggle with addiction and loss of control over decisions. However, this is no excuse for damaging a partner’s trust and emotional well-being.

When infidelity arises from alcohol abuse issues, partners understandably feel deeply betrayed, insecure and hurt. Repairing the relationship becomes exponentially harder and some bonds can never fully heal from such a traumatic violation of trust.

Alcohol Drains Financial Resources

Chronic heavy drinking takes both an emotional and financial toll on relationships. While the costs of alcoholism vary, problem drinking habitually consumes disposable income that could otherwise support a household or family’s needs. Some common financial burdens include:

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Expensive Bar/Club Tabs: The accumulation of nightly bar tabs or frequent drinking events like concerts or sports games adds up quickly over time and provides no long-term value.

DUI/Legal Fees: DUIs, criminal charges related to public intoxication or disorderly conduct incidents come with hefty penalties like fines, legal fees, probation costs and increased insurance rates.

Medical Bills: Long-term health problems caused or exacerbated by drinking like liver disease, ulcers or pancreatitis lead to outstanding medical costs not fully covered by insurance.

Lost Income: Excessive absences, poor job performance due to hangovers or addiction treatment can jeopardize employment and steady income streams for the household.

Enabling Spending: Partners may spend unwisely enabling the problem drinker’s addiction like bailing them out of trouble or providing money indirectly enabling continued drinking.

The financial stress of constantly struggling to make ends meet strains relationships and families. It forces hard decisions around budgeting that breed resentment if one partner’s drinking is viewed as squandering household resources.

Alcohol Worsens Physical and Mental Health

Over time, heavy alcohol consumption literally poisons the body and mind, often plaguing both problem drinkers and their families with a myriad of health issues:

1. Liver Disease: Alcoholic liver disease like fatty liver, hepatitis or cirrhosis frequently develops due to years of excess drinking. This can lead to liver failure or cancer without lifestyle changes.

2. Ulcers & Stomach Bleeding: Stomach ulcers are a common side effect of regular heavy drinking that causes pain, nausea or bleeding.

3. Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas is a painful condition sometimes requiring hospitalization often brought on by chronic alcohol abuse.

4. Heart Disease: High blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms and congestive heart failure are associated with long-term heavy drinking.

5. Cancer Risk: Excessive alcohol intake is linked to several types of cancer including mouth, liver, colon, breast and esophageal cancers.

6. Mental Health Issues: Alcohol withdrawal, depression, anxiety and increased suicide risk are all correlated with problem drinking left untreated long-term.

Watching a loved one’s physical and mental decline from alcohol-related illnesses places immense stress on relationships. Caregiver fatigue and feelings of helplessness can strain even the closest of family bonds.

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Identifying the Issue and Seeking Help

The multitude of ways alcohol damages relationships should clearly demonstrate why confronting problem drinking is so important for individual and family well-being. However, acknowledging a substance abuse issue and making positive changes often proves quite difficult. Here are some suggestions:

1. Be Honest with Yourself: Evaluate drinking patterns objectively using medical screening tools to gauge severity and if dependence might be present. Denial prevents resolution.

2. Talk with Your Partner: Have a caring, non-accusatory discussion expressing concerns over how drinking negatively impacts your relationship and requesting changes or outside help.

3. Seek Counseling: Relationship counseling can help problematic drinkers understand partners’ perspectives and provide support for healthier coping strategies besides substances.

4. Consider Treatment: Options include outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient programs, medical detox and inpatient rehab depending on level of addiction. Treatment works but the alcoholic must be ready to change habits.

5. Participate in Support Groups: Al-Anon is very helpful for families and loved ones of alcoholics to connect with others, process emotions, learn healthier behaviors and better cope while the alcoholic is in treatment.

6. Make Safety a Priority: If escalating conflict or harmful behavior occurs when drinking, temporarily separate for protection until concrete changes are demonstrated and relapse prevention strategies solidified.

With open communication, understanding, professional guidance and a collaborative willingness to prioritize relationship health over addiction, many problem drinkers and their partners can learn to rebalance bonds and find fulfillment together through sobriety. But seeking help is the first critical step toward healing and preventing further harm.


In closing, while enjoyable in moderation, alcohol abuse takes an immense toll on relationships by corroding trust, communication, emotional and financial well-being, physical health and overall stability.

But with awareness of risks, honest identification of issues, support and treatment, couples and families impacted by problem drinking stand a strong chance of overcoming obstacles to foster healthy, fulfilling relationships based on care, respect and dependability rather than substances.

Prioritizing care for self and others is key to transforming lives and relationships damaged by addiction. With determination and community, long-lasting recovery is certainly an achievable goal.


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