How Does Alcoholism Affect Relationships?

depressed woman next to alcoholic husband

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly known as alcoholism, can lead to significant behavioral changes in individuals, causing emotional distress, financial or legal issues, reckless or violent conduct, and severe health complications.

Perhaps the most devastating effect of alcoholism is the severe damage it can wreak on the addicted person’s closest relationships. Alcoholism can create a hostile environment in the home that triggers conflict, tension, and dysfunction. Broken promises and unreliability can negatively affect family, friends, and coworkers.

In the workplace, alcoholism can lead to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and inappropriate behavior, which can cause lost trust and respect, affecting job stability and career advancement opportunities.

Impact of Alcoholism on Relationships

For those with AUD, their addiction impacts virtually every facet of their life and the lives of those close to them. Alcoholism makes it challenging for these individuals to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships.

Alcoholism can significantly affect relationships in several ways:

1. Trust issues

The foundation of healthy relationships is trust, but alcoholism can compromise trust when individuals struggle to be truthful or refuse to take responsibility for their actions. This loss of trust can strain relationships and create resentment among family members.

How alcoholism creates trust issues:

  • Lying – alcoholics may lie to their loved ones about their drinking habits or other related behavior.
  • Broken promises – the addicted person may promise loved ones to quit drinking, attend therapy, or promise to do something but fail to follow through. Lack of follow-through can cause anger, resentment, and a reluctance to trust the addicted person’s word next time.
  • Unreliability – alcoholics often find it challenging to fulfill responsibilities or keep commitments which can cause loved ones to feel unsupported and frustrated.
  • Violating boundaries – misuse of alcohol may lead to behavior that violates the boundaries of loved ones, such as becoming emotionally or physically abusive or engaging in reckless behavior.
  • Loss of control – individuals under the influence may act out of character or engage in impulsive behavior. Unusual behaviors can create feelings of unpredictability and uncertainty, leading to fear, stress, and anxiety in loved ones.

2. Communication problems

Alcoholism can hinder a person’s ability to communicate effectively, resulting in miscommunications and disagreements. Such communication breakdowns within relationships can foster feelings of exasperation and bitterness, ultimately causing them to deteriorate.

How alcoholism impairs communication:

  • Slurred speech – alcohol can affect speech and cognitive skills, making it difficult for individuals to articulate their thoughts clearly. This lack of clarity can make it challenging for loved ones to understand what the individual is saying.
  • Stressful environment – alcoholism can create an uneasy or hostile environment where loved ones “walk on eggshells,” afraid to express their thoughts or feelings.
  • Reduced inhibitions – a person under the influence of alcohol may say things they would not normally say, leading to hurtful comments and misunderstandings that can damage relationships.
  • Memory loss – excessive alcohol use may cause memory loss, making it difficult for individuals to remember what was said during a conversation, causing misunderstandings.
  • Reduced empathy – a study recently published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry found those with alcohol dependence have lower levels of empathy, making it difficult for them to understand a loved one’s perspective and contributing to a lack of emotional connection in the relationship.

3. Emotional distance

A person struggling with alcoholism may withdraw emotionally, become less interested in spending time with their partner, and be unwilling to offer emotional support.

Why alcoholics tend to be emotionally distant:

  • Shame and guilt – it’s not uncommon for alcoholics to have feelings of shame and guilt, making them less likely to open up to their loved ones or foster feelings of closeness.
  • Isolation – Individuals struggling with alcoholism may isolate themselves from their loved ones to avoid judgment or continue drinking secretly. Isolation can lead to emotional distance and a lack of connection in the relationship.
  • Unpredictable behavior – alcoholism can trigger mood swings, irritability, or aggression, making loved ones unsure of how to interact with the individual and afraid to get too close.
  • Neglect – as with other addictions, alcoholics may focus most of their time and effort on drinking rather than on loved ones.
  • Loss of intimacy – people addicted to alcohol may prioritize alcohol over their partner, leading to a lack of physical and emotional intimacy.

4. Financial problems

Alcoholism can have severe financial consequences, creating stress within the relationship, especially if the non-alcoholic partner is financially responsible for supporting the household.

How alcoholism causes financial difficulties:

  • Cost of alcohol – alcohol is expensive, especially in large quantities or expensive brands. Money spent on alcohol can lead to a significant financial burden, particularly if the addicted individual is also struggling with employment or income issues.
  • Legal issues – DUIs, public intoxication charges, incarceration, and court judgments may involve significant fines and legal fees, which can further strain an individual’s finances.
  • Health problems – long-term alcoholism is linked to many diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, cancer, cognitive issues, mental health disorders, and more. Medical bills can be costly, particularly if the individual does not have adequate health insurance.
  • Loss of income – addicted people may have difficulty maintaining employment, making it challenging to pay bills and meet financial obligations.

5. Domestic violence

Alcoholism increases the risk of domestic violence within a relationship. The person struggling with alcoholism may have mood swings and become easily irritated, aggressive, or violent, which can lead to physical or emotional abuse toward family members.

Factors that increase the risk of domestic violence:

  • Impaired judgment – alcohol impairs judgment and decision-making abilities, which can lead to risky behavior. Poor judgment can include engaging in violent or aggressive behavior towards a partner.
  • Financial stress – money problems can create tension and conflict within a relationship, increasing the risk of domestic violence.
  • Emotional distance – alcohol suppresses activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, leading to the emotionally unavailable behavior common in alcoholics. Emotional distance can create a sense of isolation and frustration that can lead to domestic violence.
  • Low self-esteem – alcoholism can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. A poor self-image can make individuals more likely to engage in abusive behavior towards their partner to exert control and assert their power.

Seeking professional help is essential to overcome alcohol addiction and rebuilding healthy relationships.

Midwest Recovery Centers has helped thousands of people overcome alcohol and drug addiction and repair relationships as they go on to lead productive, exciting, sober lives. Contact us today to learn about our alcohol addiction treatment program.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Click or Call Today! 844-990-1578

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