We live in a culture where alcohol is normalized as a common part of romance and relationships. Whether that means wine during date night, or happy hours with friends, many people associate drinking alcohol with celebration and intimacy. What we don’t talk about nearly enough is how alcohol can negatively impact our most important relationships. Alcohol can affect our mood, behavior, finances, employment, mental health, and so much more. It’s no wonder it can also significantly impact relationships. Wondering if alcohol is getting in the way of your relationship?
Below we discuss how alcohol can disrupt your most important relationships. We also draw attention to some red flags that your drinking may have become unhealthy, and provide next steps for making a change.
How Does Alcohol Affect Relationships?
Many people drink alcohol in an effort to unwind and relax. This is because drinking alcohol can provide a short-term boost in dopamine, known as the “happiness hormone.” However, this dopamine-induced euphoria is fleeting. Once the initial effects of alcohol wear off, it’s common to experience heightened depression, anxiety, and even anger and volatility. This “emotional come down” can take a toll on any relationship. Many people drink more to avoid these feelings, leading to an unhealthy cycle that affects both partners. This cycle is also described as a “chemical romance” between an individual and alcohol.
Over time, unhealthy alcohol use can develop into alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical condition characterized by drinking more than you want to for longer than you want to. Because of how alcohol impacts the brain and relationships, AUD can be hard to navigate both for the individual, and their partner. This is because if someone has developed excessive drinking habits, their loved one may develop a sense of uncertainty about how to act around them, feel disconnected from them when they are intoxicated, or become privately concerned or frustrated about the situation.
Relationships should bring a sense of comfort and security, and provide more happiness than distress. When an individual develops unhealthy drinking habits, their partner may feel their relationship becoming chaotic and even unsafe. Drinking habits can also impact jobs and finances, causing further stress and insecurity. It’s important to remember that alcohol use disorder is a medical condition, not a moral failing. The good news is, once you acknowledge that your drinking has become unhealthy, you can take steps to repair and heal from the role alcohol played in a relationship.
When Is Drinking a Problem in a Relationship? The Signs.
While drinking can lead to significant relationship challenges, it often doesn’t happen overnight. For this reason, it can be difficult to understand if and when your drinking has become unhealthy, especially if alcohol has played a role in your relationship for a long time. This uncertainty is sometimes described as a phenomenon known as “gray area drinking“.
Below, we offer seven signs that may indicate you and/or your partner’s drinking has become unhealthy. However, it’s important to remember that warning signs will not look the same in each relationship. Sometimes you will simply have to trust your intuition that something feels wrong. It’s never too early to reflect on your relationship with alcohol or seek outside guidance.
#1 You’re Lying About Your Drinking
Hiding your drinking from a loved one is a common sign that your habits have become unhealthy. One example of this is if you claim to be partaking in certain activities, like working overtime or meeting friends, instead of sharing that you stopped at the bar on the way home. It can also look like downplaying how many drinks you had. Being dishonest with your partner can fuel a sense of distrust, and lead to other unhealthy habits in your relationship.
#2 Drinking is Causing Financial Difficulties
Finances are often one of the biggest stressors in a relationship, and if you add alcohol into the mix, finances can become even more volatile. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including overspending at the bar or grocery store, spending money on hangover cures and cab fares, and making irresponsible financial decisions when under the influence. Drinking can lead to even more serious financial consequences if an individual loses their job, or gets into legal trouble due to their drinking.
#3 Alcohol Causes Conflict in Your Relationship
Have you noticed that you’re suddenly fighting more with your partner? Are there reasons for your fight, or are the fights non-specific? Often people will notice that they are fighting more with their partner when either or both of the individuals have developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Also, if you’re fighting when you are drinking, you may say or do things that you will regret or that you would not do if you were sober.
#4 Drinking is More Important Than Your Relationship
It can be a major point of pain and conflict when drinking starts to feel like a bigger priority than the relationship itself. Maybe it is time to ask yourself a challenging question: If your partner gave you an ultimatum of ‘me or alcohol?’, which one would you choose? If it’s hard to come up with a quick and easy answer to this question, it’s likely time to seek additional support to help you find a healthier relationship with alcohol, such as specialized alcohol therapy. If you find yourself worried about your partner’s priorities, it could be a good time to talk to your loved one about their drinking.
#5. Drinking Affects Your Sex Life
Healthy relationships often involve healthy sex lives, and in the most stable relationships, people are usually on the same page about how often they want to be having sex. Unfortunately, when people drink more, they find that their sex drive drops dramatically. One or two drinks may actually lead to an uptick in libido, but after that, the drop-off can be dramatic. This can be challenging for the partner who is still craving sex and intimacy. Some partners may even wonder if they are no longer attractive to the other person. Also, if it’s a male partner who is struggling with alcohol use disorder, he may also have difficulties getting and maintaining an erection.
Addressing co-dependency while managing your drinking
#6. Drinking Affects your Children and Family life
We often think about how drinking can affect our romantic relationships, but may not consider how it affects our friends and family. More specifically, a parent’s drinking can significantly impact their child. Children crave stability and routines. However, if a parent struggles with alcohol use disorder, it can cause instability in the household, and harm parent-children bonds. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study shows that children of parents with a substance use disorder are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems throughout their life.
#7. You Drink to Feel Happy
When you use alcohol to relax or reward yourself, it creates a strong association in your brain between alcohol and pleasure. Eventually, your brain can adapt to crave alcohol in order to feel good, even despite negative consequences. When someone starts drinking in order to feel happy, their partner may see this change as a reflection on themselves, and internalize that their partner is unhappy in their relationship. If there are underlying issues in the relationship, drinking to feel happy can also prevent these issues from coming to the surface and getting resolved.
How to Get Help When Drinking Is Affecting Your Relationship?
If you notice some of the warning signs mentioned above, it may be time to take a closer look at the role alcohol is playing in your relationship and seek support.
There’s no shame in needing outside support to help you change your drinking habits. In fact, experts advise that the more resources you engage with, the more likely you are to achieve long-term success. At Monument, we offer evidence-based treatment options like medication to stop drinking and virtual alcohol therapy. You also join free therapist-moderated alcohol support groups and our anonymous community forum. Our highly qualified professionals are prepared to help you address your drinking and get you on the road to a happier and healthier life with strong personal relationships.
If you’re concerned about your partner’s drinking, there are many resources that can help you take a meaningful step towards change. That could include learning more about how to help someone stop drinking and starting an honest, compassionate conversation with your partner. Remember that you also deserve support, whether through support groups or engaging in therapy yourself.
Learning more about how alcohol can affect your relationship is already an incredible step to be proud of. While alcohol can negatively impact your relationship, it’s important to remember that we are not our drinking habits. With time and support, relationships can heal and grow authentically without alcohol.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heavy Drinking Among U.S. Adults, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db374.htm.” Accessed April. 22, 2022.
- Psychology Today. “The Pros and Cons of Mixing Sex and Alcohol, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/201907/the-pros-and-cons-mixing-sex-and-alcohol.” Accessed April. 22, 2022.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. “Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs, https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/atod.” Accessed April. 22, 2022.