Knowing the answer to “When is drinking a problem in a relationship?” can help you determine when it’s time to seek treatment for alcohol addiction.
Alcohol misuse and addiction come with numerous consequences; one is damaged relationships. After all, one of the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term1 for alcohol addiction, is continuing to drink when it causes problems in relationships. So, when exactly is drinking a problem in a relationship?
Alcohol and Relationships
Researchers have studied the effect of alcohol on relationships, and the results were as expected: alcohol abuse is harmful to marriages and other intimate relationships. One study2 found that the divorce rate was significantly higher among people with a history of alcohol use disorder, 48.3% of those with a history of addiction had been divorced, compared to 30.1% of those without a history of alcohol use disorder.
Earlier research3 linked heavy drinking to reduced marital satisfaction, and more specifically, the stress related to alcohol misuse created problems within marriages. What can be concluded from the available statistics on alcohol and relationships is that alcohol addiction takes its toll on intimate relationships, increasing the risk of breakup and divorce.
How Drinking Affects Relationships
It’s clear that drinking hurts relationships, and there are numerous ways it can damage marriages and other intimate partnerships. Alcohol abuse can lead to personality changes and negative behaviors, and studies3 have linked that alcohol addiction to aggression and violence within marriages.
Furthermore, when a person develops2 an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, changes in the brain make it difficult for them to stop drinking. Alcohol use becomes compulsive, and a person will seek alcohol, even when it leads to serious consequences, like dangerous behavior and inability to function in daily life.
Neuroscience research4 provides additional insights into just how damaging alcohol abuse can be. One study analyzing nearly 50 years of research with individuals with a history of alcohol abuse found that alcohol interfered with areas of the brain responsible for planning, problem-solving and impulse control. This can lead to reckless and unpredictable behavior, which is harmful to relationships.
Signs Drinking is Ruining Your Relationship
If you have suspicions that alcohol misuse may be destroying your relationship, consider these signs and if you have general symptoms of alcoholism.
Alcohol Has Become More Important Than Your Relationship
Alcohol addiction leads to compulsive alcohol use, so alcohol can quickly become the most important thing in your life. If you develop1 an alcohol use disorder, your desire to drink will likely become stronger than your desire to prioritize your relationship because alcohol cravings and the inability to cut back on drinking will take center stage. If you’d rather go out drinking than spend time with your partner, alcohol is probably ruining your relationship.
Drinking Sparks Conflict
If your alcohol consumption becomes excessive and leads to negative consequences, your partner may argue with you about your drinking. You might have fights about the amount you drink, or your partner may be upset that you never spend quality time with them because you’re always drinking.
Hiding Drinking Habits
If you have to hide your drinking from your partner, whether it’s the amount or how often you’re drinking, it’s a clear sign that alcohol is destroying your relationship. Having an occasional drink or night out isn’t likely to ruin a relationship, but you’re probably in trouble when you’re drinking so often you have to hide it.
Alcohol addiction can cause financial issues, which can ultimately destroy a relationship. If you’re spending significant time drinking or recovering from being under the influence, you might start missing work. In severe cases of alcohol addiction, a person may be unable to hold down a job.
If you’re lying about your alcohol consumption or been caught lying about where you’re going when you’re headed to the bar, your partner will lose trust in you. This can lead to constant questions about where you’re going or what you’ve been doing, which is not a sign of a healthy relationship.
Aggression or Violence
Keep in mind alcohol abuse is linked to brain changes4, making impulse control difficult. Given this fact, it is no surprise that alcohol abuse is linked to violence and aggression within relationships3. If you’ve become aggressive toward your partner or are acting out violently while under the influence, this is an obvious sign that alcohol is ruining your relationship.
What To Do If Alcohol Is Affecting Your Relationship
If alcohol has started taking a toll on your relationship, you may have an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, especially if you cannot stop drinking when alcohol is destroying your relationship. It is probably time to reach out for some sort of treatment in this case.
Consider Seeing A Couples Therapist
A couple’s therapist can help you and your partner rebuild trust after alcohol abuse has damaged the relationship. Couples therapy sessions can also help you develop coping skills and find ways to manage stress without turning to alcohol. In fact, numerous studies5 have found that couple’s therapy effectively treats addiction on its own and as part of a treatment plan that includes other services, like individual counseling.
Join A Support Group
There are numerous support groups available to help people affected by alcohol addiction. For example, Al-Anon provides support group meetings, where loved ones of people with alcohol addiction can share their experiences and learn from others facing the same challenges. Find a meeting near you at the Al-Anon website. If you are the one having a hard time giving up alcohol, you may benefit from attending an AA meeting to gain support and help you stop drinking.
Find Treatment for You or Your Partner
An alcohol rehab program can help you or your partner if you are living with an alcohol addiction. There are numerous treatment options available to meet your needs, but many people begin with a medical detox program to help them manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which can be serious. A detox program can provide medical support and medications to keep you as safe and comfortable as possible as your body withdraws from alcohol.
If you or your spouse or partner lives with an alcohol addiction, help is available. The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper provides comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment led by licensed medical professionals to those in the South Jersey and Philadelphia areas. Contact us today to begin the admissions process.
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- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed June 5, 2022.
- Cranford, James A. “DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence and Marital Di[…]d Related Conditions.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, May 2014. Accessed June 5, 2022.
- Marshal, Michael P. “For better or for worse? “The effects of alcohol use on marital functioning.” Clinical Psychology Review, December 2003. Accessed June 5, 2022.
- Stephan, Rick A., et al. “Meta-analyses of clinical neuropsycholog[…]lcohol use disorder.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 2017. Accessed June 5, 2022.
- Hogue, Aaron; Schumm, Jeremiah; MacLean, Alexandra; Bobek, Molly. “Couple and family therapy for substance […]d update 2010–2019.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, January 2022. Accessed June 5, 2022.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.