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How Alcohol Affects Relationships

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Signs Your Loved One is an Alcoholic

For most people, occasional alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, people who consume alcohol regularly can develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is the inability to control one's drinking despite negative consequences.

In the United States, over 14 million adults have AUD.

The signs that someone may have alcoholism include:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • An inability to reduce or stop drinking 
  • Spending an excessive amount of time drinking or getting over the effects of drinking
  • Experiencing cravings or a strong need or urge to drink
  • Drinking that interferes with taking care of the home or family
  • Drinking despite it causing a problem with family or friends
  • Giving up or cutting back on activities that were important or enjoyable to drink
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking 
  • Continuing to drink even despite it causing depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems
  • Experiencing memory lapses or ‘blackouts’ while drinking
  • An increased alcohol tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

If you identify any one of these signs in your loved one, their drinking may be a cause for concern. The more signs they have, the more urgent the need for change.

A licensed healthcare professional can conduct a formal assessment and provide medical advice.

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How to Deal with an Alcoholic Family Member

Dealing with an alcoholic family member can be challenging. This is because people with alcoholism can often become defensive when confronted.

You should approach your loved one with compassion rather than judgment. Be prepared to speak honestly with them about how their drinking habits affect others. Try to understand why they drink alcohol to address the underlying source of the drinking problem.

You should urge them to seek treatment and offer support. Loved ones play a large part in helping an alcoholic through each step of recovery. If they're resistant to getting help, you can have a professional help you during an intervention.

When dealing with an alcoholic family member, avoid enabling their drinking. 'Enabling' an alcoholic is any action that encourages their drinking habits or allows the problematic drinking to continue.

Examples of enabling include:

  • Making excuses for their behavior
  • Providing money that can be used to purchase substances
  • Bailing them out of legal or financial troubles caused by their substance abuse

Instead of enabling them, set boundaries with them and don’t do anything they can do themselves.

Dealing with an alcoholic family member can be a prolonged and exhausting process. You should practice self-care to support your well-being.

You may want to seek therapy or attend a support group for family members of alcoholics such as Al-Anon or Alateen.

Effects of Alcohol on Relationships 

AUD is often called a “family disease” because it impacts more people than just those with alcoholism. The emotional side effects of alcohol addiction are felt by spouses, children, and other loved ones. 

Read below to learn how alcoholism impacts relationships with family members and others.

How Alcoholism Affects The Family 

Alcoholism affects both the family as a whole and each individual member. It affects every member’s life, attitude, and way of thinking and can lead to significant relationship dysfunction.

Living with someone with AUD means being in an unsafe environment filled with disruptions strained relationships, and dishonesty.

Alcoholics are more likely to develop codependency in their relationships. This is when a person's self-esteem and emotional needs become dependent upon another person.

Alcohol and Divorce

Increased drinking is associated with divorce. In many cases, alcohol abuse has been cited as a cause of divorce. Marriages in which one or both partners have a habit of heavy alcohol consumption are 20% more likely to get divorced.

Alcohol and Romantic Relationships 

Frequent heavy drinking can have harmful outcomes on intimate relationships. This includes decreased intimacy and increased relationship problems. Relationships in which one or more of the partners are involved in excessive drinking are more likely to fall apart.

AUD alters the personality and has a significant impact on relationships. People with AUD become more and more secretive and likely to hide things from their partners, which destroys trust.

Trust is essential for a healthy relationship and is challenging to repair once damaged.

Alcohol and Domestic Violence

Alcoholism causes an increased risk for domestic abuse within the family. Alcohol use increases both the occurrence and severity of domestic violence. It's been implicated in over half of all domestic violence cases in the U.S.

Alcohol and Children

Children of alcoholics are more likely to experience cognitive and emotional problems compared to children who grow up in sober homes. Former children of alcoholics are more likely to misuse alcohol themselves.

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Support Groups for Families of Alcoholics

Family members of alcoholics can benefit from educational programs and mutual-help groups, including Al-Anon and Alateen. These groups provide emotional support and the opportunity to learn from those who have faced similar challenges.

In addition to attending support groups, loved ones of alcoholics may consider 1-on-1 or group therapy. A trained health professional can help family members assist their loved one's recovery.

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Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs 

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring.

The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer. Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) 

Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Compared to inpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs provide similar services.

These include medical services, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program. PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs 

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs. These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule.

The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment. They're best for those who are highly motivated to recover and can't leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school.

Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) 

Sometimes, medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.

Common medications for AUD include:

When combined with other evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups 

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

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Updated on May 17, 2022
7 sources cited
  1. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Dec. 2020,
  2. Alcohol Use Disorder.
  3. Caces, M F et al. “Alcohol consumption and divorce rates in the United States.Journal of studies on alcohol vol. 60,5 : 647-52. doi:10.15288/jsa.1999.60.647 .
  4. Cranford, James A. “DSM-IV alcohol dependence and marital dissolution: evidence from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 75,3 : 520-9. doi:10.15288/jsad.2014.75.520.
  5. Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol.” WHO Facts on Alcohol Violence, World Health Organization.
  6. Salvatore, Jessica E et al. “Romantic relationship status and alcohol use and problems across the first year of college.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 75,4 : 580-9. doi:10.15288/jsad.2014.75.580.
  7. Weaver, Kathleen. “Alcohol and Romantic Relationships: A Good or Bad Mix?” Buffalo.edu, University at Buffalo, 7 Dec. 2010.

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