When Is Drinking a Problem in a Relationship?
Last Updated: August 29, 2023
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 term for alcohol addiction, is continuing to drink when it causes relationship problems. 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 harms marriages and other intimate relationships. One study 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 research 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
Excessive drinking and alcohol abuse negatively impact relationships. Drinking can lead to personality changes, financial problems, risky behavior and even aggression and violence toward loved ones. If you or your loved one struggles with alcohol misuse, you may want to consider finding help before the strain on your relationship becomes too much to bear.
When a person develops 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 research 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 harms relationships.
Is Alcoholism Always a Red Flag in a Relationship?
A person with a history of alcohol use disorder may not always be a “red flag” in a relationship. For example, a person in recovery, actively attending meetings and engaging in treatment, is not as likely to experience relationship problems from alcohol misuse. On the other hand, someone who misuses alcohol, and continues to do so, despite conflict within the relationship, likely presents a red flag. Untreated alcohol use disorder can cause serious dysfunction within one’s personal life, including in their relationship with a spouse or significant other.
Signs Drinking Is Ruining Your Relationship
If you suspect that alcohol misuse may be destroying your relationship, consider these signs.
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 develop 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.
As alcohol becomes a person’s focus, communication issues can arise. It can be difficult to have a productive conversation when under the influence of alcohol or recovering from the effects of being intoxicated.
Drinking Sparks Conflict
If your alcohol consumption becomes excessive and has 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.
Inability To Resolve Conflicts
When you’re addicted to alcohol, you will likely find that conflicts with your spouse or significant other go unresolved. Because alcohol interferes with your judgment and problem-solving abilities, it is difficult to negotiate or resolve relationship problems when under the influence.
If you’re lying about your alcohol consumption or are caught lying about where you’re going when you’re headed to the bar, your partner will lose your trust. 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.
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 that you have to hide it.
Loss of Faith in Ability To Change
If your alcohol misuse is ongoing or long-lasting, your partner will eventually lose faith that you’ll ever stop drinking. You may promise to change, but when this promise is broken, your partner isn’t going to trust that you’re actually committed to recovering.
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 keep a job. When you’re not contributing financially to the relationship, more stress falls on your partner to keep up with living expenses and household bills, which is likely to lead to resentment and conflict in the relationship.
Individuals with alcohol use disorders tend to spend significant time drinking and are likely to drink more than intended. After all, these are both symptoms of an alcohol use disorder. Excessive spending on alcohol can quickly eat up household financial resources, leading to arguments related to money.
Job Loss or Reduced Productivity
Continuing to drink, even when it interferes with work performance, is one of the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder. If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you may lose your job because of showing up late, missing work or demonstrating poor performance. If you cannot keep your job, you may lose pay because of missed work time. If your income is dependent on productivity (i.e., if you run a business or earn commissions or tips), alcohol misuse can also result in decreased wages.
Violence and Aggression
Keep in mind alcohol abuse is linked to brain changes, making impulse control difficult. Given this fact, it is no surprise that alcohol abuse is associated with violence and aggression within relationships. If you’ve become aggressive toward your partner or act violently while under the influence, this is an obvious sign that alcohol is ruining your relationship.
Research has demonstrated a strong link between alcohol abuse and aggressive outbursts. Researchers believe that the relationship between alcohol and aggression is because of the pharmacological effects of alcohol, which lead to reduced inhibitions. Someone under the influence is less likely to inhibit angry or aggressive behavior.
Emotional, Verbal or Physical Abuse
Studies have shown that alcohol is involved in over half of male-to-female episodes of violence perpetration, which can include physical violence. Because of reduced inhibitions, alcohol misuse can also increase the risk of emotional and verbal abuse.
Isolation from Friends and Family
Physical violence from a partner who struggles with alcohol addiction can also lead a person to isolate from loved ones, as they may be fearful that someone will notice bruises or other signs of abuse. Finally, a person who becomes emotionally abusive from alcohol misuse may forbid their partner from spending time with friends and family, negatively affecting the relationship.
If there is a lack of intimacy between you and your partner, this is a clear indicator that alcohol is harming your relationship. When you’re addicted to alcohol, relationships take a backseat to drinking, which means it is difficult to connect with your partner, both physically and emotionally.
Decreased Sexual Interest and Performance
People who notice that alcohol is causing problems in their relationship are likely to report a lack of sexual intimacy with their partner. This is because alcohol abuse can cause a decrease in sexual functioning for both men and women. People of both sexes may struggle with a lack of sexual desire when addicted to alcohol. Men may also experience erectile dysfunction, which can interfere with sexual intimacy.
It can be difficult to connect with a partner addicted to alcohol emotionally. If they spend most of their time drinking or under the influence, there is no time to engage in hobbies or enjoyable activities together. Conflict from alcohol abuse and physical aggression can also cause an emotional disconnection between partners, leading to relationship problems from alcohol.
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 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 studies 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. Family and couples therapy can also help you recover from the damage done to family relationships.
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 have difficulty 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 struggle with alcohol addiction. Numerous treatment options are 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 medical 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 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 a Recovery Advocate today to begin the admissions process.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Cranford, James A. “DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence and Marital Di[…]d Related Conditions.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, May 2014. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Marshal, Michael P. “For better or for worse? The effects of alcohol use on marital functioning.” Clinical Psychology Review, December 2003. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Stephan, Rick A., et al. “Meta-analyses of clinical neuropsycholog[…]lcohol use disorder.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 2017. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- 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 29, 2023.
- Crane, Cory; Godleski, Stephanie; Przybyla, Sarahmona; Schlauch, Robert; Testa, Maria. “The Proximal Effects of Acute Alcohol Consumption on Male-to-Female Aggression: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Experimental Literature.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Price, Joy; Price, James. “Alcohol and Sexual Functioning: A Review.” Psychosocial Constructs of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. Accessed June 29, 2023.
Medical Disclaimer: 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.