Alcohol is the most commonly consumed substance in the world and while harmful, it is not only socially acceptable, but expected. Studies show that 56% of the U.S. adult population drinks regularly with some 86.4% drinking at least occasionally. Alcoholic beverages like beer, win, spirits, and liquors are so commonly accepted that you are unlikely to go to a party or social gathering without them. While commonly used as a healthy social activity, alcohol can be difficult to use responsibly, especially when suffering from stress, depression, anxiety, or another mental disorder. Some 29% of the U.S. population regularly binge drinks (drinking heavy amounts of alcohol over the weekend), and approximately 7% admit to regular heavy drinking. While alcohol is commonly accepted, it can be life changing, damaging relationships, careers, and even ending lives. According to the World Health Organization, about 5.9% of all global deaths are related to alcohol consumption. Alcoholism or alcohol abuse affects millions of people worldwide, but it affects the people you live with and love the most. Abusers knowingly and unknowingly hurt the people they are with and understanding how and why can help you to recognize when there is a problem and how you can fix it. Alcohol affects relationships in almost every way, but the extent of the effect depends on how much you or your partner drink.
Alcohol and Emotions
Many people use alcohol to escape from stress, negative emotions, and even heavy workloads. Alcohol acts as a depressant on the brain, slowing down reactions, speech, muscles, and memory – but acts as a stimulant on the reward center, stimulating neurotransmitters that result in feelings of happiness and relaxation. This overstimulation of the reward center results in deep interpersonal changes. In a normal relationship, both members of the relationship seek out stimulation from each other including emotional help and encouragement, which provides similar stimulation. Someone who is abusing alcohol is more likely to be emotionally withdrawn and unavailable, because they already get that stimulation from alcohol. This can lead to the person changing so that they become more egocentric and selfish, because they don’t need approval or outside support to get the feel-good rush of dopamine and serotonin to the brain. Someone who is addicted to alcohol is more likely to manipulate, lie to get their way, and act in an emotionally callous manner – because it affects them less when they don’t have your approval. Alcohol abuse causes people to prioritize alcohol over their relationships.
Domestic Violence and Emotional Abuse
While not every person or couple who drinks heavily will engage in domestic violence or emotional abuse, it greatly increases the risks. Alcohol does not cause violence or abusive behavior, it merely makes the abuser feel more comfortable doing so, causes them to react without thinking their actions through, and causes them to react with stronger emotions due to the overstimulation of the reward system in the brain. Therefore, someone who is frustrated with a child will become unreasonably so and possibly angry, someone can easily misinterpret a reaction and respond with anger. As a result, persons who are in relationships where heavy use of alcohol is common are more likely to experience domestic violence and frequent or recurring emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse can include frequent belittling and complaining, ignoring a partner’s emotional needs, and manipulating or controlling a partner. It can also include frequent arguing, where someone yells or gets angry over any little thing.
A Vicious Cycle
Alcohol is often used to combat stress, tiredness, or depression but it can create a vicious cycle. For example, many people choose to drink because they are frustrated with family or work – but drinking only temporarily covers problems up and often makes them worse. For example, drinking causes hangovers, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, and poor decision making, all of which can dramatically affect mood and stress levels for the next day. This in turn leads to more drinking to cover the stress, creating a vicious cycle in which alcohol engenders most of the problems it is being used to avoid.
Alcohol and Promiscuity
Alcohol directly reduces inhibitions, making it more likely that partners will flirt, cheat, engage in unprotected sex, or otherwise engage in promiscuous behavior that harms the relationship. This can result in betrayal of trust, bringing home STDs, lying, and even unplanned pregnancies. These all directly affect relationships, resulting in jealousy, physical harm, anger, and lack of trust – undermining the relationship and its ability to function.
Financial Impacts of Alcohol Abuse
Having one or two members of a relationship addicted to alcohol can put serious stress on a relationship due to financial difficulties. Alcohol users make rash decisions, and if drinking in a bar or restaurant – spend significant amounts of money on alcohol. They are also more likely to make poor financial decisions, engage in criminal activity resulting in fines, engage in reckless behavior resulting in lawsuits, and are less likely to keep a job. This can put or switch most of the burden of caring for a home or family and children to one partner, often without switching any other responsibilities. Financial difficulties cause stress, difficulties keeping a home or apartment, and are often one of the largest causes of arguments, stress, and eventual separation.
Codependence happens when one partner is addicted to alcohol and the other takes care of them. This is closely related to enabling, where one or both partners influence the other partner’s drinking by allowing or encouraging them to do it, but is different. For example, if you are the sober partner, you likely have to take care of the alcohol abusing partner, cleaning up after them, being there for them, and getting all the emotional reward of being a caregiver. This process is addicting, and many people become codependent, where they are so reliant on taking care of their partner that they enable them to continue drinking, even when it is obviously a problem. In most cases, codependency is caused by a variety of factors, but low self esteem and the need for approval from a partner is one of the highest risk factors.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
- You or your partner self-medicate. Drinking to help yourself handle emotions, pain, negativity, or stress is self-medicating and it can lead to a problem. Over prolonged use, you or your partner may come to rely on alcohol instead of coping with emotions and stress and dealing with them in a healthy way.
- People show concern. You may not realize that you have a problem simply because habits build up slowly over time. This is especially true if both you and your partner drink, because you will likely enable each other to continue – even when you shouldn’t. If you aren’t drinking and your partner is, their usage can creep up on you as well because it likely slowly increases over time.
- Your health is suffering. If you have poor health or visible signs of drinking, frequent hangovers, frequent headache, nausea, or upset stomach, alcohol may be interfering with your health. Alcohol damages the gastrointestinal lining of the stomach, which reduces nutrient absorption, can result in medical problems, and can result in nutrient deficiencies. If your health is suffering because of alcohol and you aren’t stopping because of it, you likely need help.
- If you use alcohol irresponsibly, such as at work, when driving, when in public, or cannot wait to drink until you get home – you likely have a problem.
Getting help for a substance abusing partner (or for yourself) is a big step that many people put off because it is intimidating, expensive, and requires major lifestyle changes. However, if you or a partner are addicted to alcohol, it is damaging your relationship, financial situation, health, and your ability to continue as a couple. Getting help is crucial to long-term health and relationship stability. Oceanfront Recovery can help you or your loved-one with Treatment for Alcohol Addiction. Our clinicians focus on bringing the underlying causes of addiction to the surface with a modern and effective recovery program in a closed setting. Contact us today for a confidential assessment, and begin the journey of recovery today.