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How to Tell When Alcohol Is Affecting Your Relationships

Ian Landau

A couple staring straight ahead, surrounded by red flowers.

Aug 05, 2022

3 min read

In This Article

The negative effects of heavy alcohol use typically aren’t limited to just the person drinking. 

Alcohol misuse can affect relationships with partners, family members, co-workers, and others. 

If you think you may misuse alcohol, you’re not alone. Nearly a third of U.S. adults have a period of problem drinking at some point during their lives (1). It’s quite common for alcohol to become a flash point in relationships.

Relationship Problems and Alcohol Problems

Problem drinking and relationship troubles can have a reciprocal effect on each other. How much you drink, and your overall drinking habits, may be a source of conflict with some people in your life. 

On the other hand, you may use alcohol to try to manage the stress and challenging emotions that arise as a result of relationship troubles. You may even feel that drinking makes you better at relationships.

The interconnectedness of relationships, emotions, and alcohol use can be complicated, but it’s important to understand these connections to maintain healthy relationships with the people in your life, and maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol as well.

How Alcohol Can Negatively Affect Relationships

People who drink heavily, or otherwise misuse alcohol, can feel and act certain ways that may cause or exacerbate frictions in relationships. 

Any of the following may affect not only you, but your relationships with others as well:

- Feeling bad about yourself because of your drinking

- Feeling unhappy because of your drinking

- Feeling guilty or ashamed because of your drinking

- Negative changes to your personality when you’re drinking, which may cause you to say or do things that hurt or embarrass others

- Missing days of work or school because of drinking

- A decline in the quality of your work because of drinking

- Failing to meet obligations because of your drinking (e.g., as a parent, friend, family member, co-worker or if you're pregnant and still drinking)

- Getting into trouble with the law because of drinking

- Experiencing money problems because of your drinking

Why Alcohol Causes Problems in Relationships

The reason drinking can become a problem is because of how alcohol affects the brain

Alcohol changes your mood and distorts your reasoning. It clouds your judgment and lowers your self-control. Alcohol can make your emotions more volatile, too (2). 

All of these factors make it much more likely you’ll engage in activities that cause conflict within relationships.

Relationship Problems That May Occur as a Result of Alcohol Misuse

Violence

Links between alcohol and aggressive behavior are well established. Alcohol is often a contributing factor in intimate partner violence, child abuse, and child neglect (3).

Conflict

Whether one partner drinks too much or both partners do, alcohol problems can lead to increased arguments, hurt feelings, and emotional distance in a relationship.

Sexual problems

Men who drink too much may have trouble getting and maintaining an erection. Women may find it harder to orgasm and have less intense orgasms. Over an extended period of time, drinking too much can lead to impotence in men and impaired fertility in women. 

Infidelity

Alcohol’s ability to lower inhibitions and impair judgment are known to contribute to the possibility of a person cheating on their partner (4).

Jealousy

Because alcohol heightens emotions and makes it harder to read emotional cues from others, it’s more likely that drinking will magnify feelings of jealousy.

Economic insecurity

Drinking may affect a person’s ability to earn a living, or they may make impulsive, economically unsound decisions while drinking that leave them and those they care for in a vulnerable position.

Divorce and breakups

Marriages and long-term committed partnerships are at higher risk of breaking up when alcohol is a problem in the relationship—especially when one partner has an alcohol misuse problem and the other doesn’t.

What You Can Do If Alcohol Is Affecting Your Relationships

Get screened for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and get treatment

If you experience the above warning signs, or people in your life express concern about your drinking and its effects on your relationships, it’s time to seek help. 

You may have alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is a common health condition, and effective treatment is available. Treatment may include medication like naltrexone to help curb your cravings for alcohol and help you drink less or stop drinking entirely.

Quitting Alcohol

Find out if medication can help you stop drinking. Oar is a science-based platform that helps people drink less or stop drinking. Complete an online assessment and get connected with a medical provider who can determine if Naltrexone is right for you.

Learn More

Counseling

Professional counseling can help you repair your relationships. Depending on your personal situation, you may benefit from individual counseling, family counseling, or seeing a counselor with your partner.

Read more articles about Consequences Of Alcohol Use

About The Author

Ian Landau is a journalist who's written extensively about health and wellness since 2010. He is also the author of The Hypochondriac's Handbook (Skyhorse, 2010).

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