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Alcohol & Health
Treatment
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on September 14, 2023
5 min read

How Alcohol Affects Relationships

People who consume alcohol regularly can develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is the inability to control one's drinking despite negative consequences.

AUD is often called a “family disease” because it impacts more people than those with alcoholism. In the United States, over 15 million adults have AUD.3

The emotional side effects of alcohol addiction are felt by:

  • Spouses 
  • Partners
  • Children
  • Friends
  • Family members 

How Alcoholism Affects The Family 

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

Living with someone with AUD can be disruptive and lead to:9

  • An unsafe environment
  • Strained relationships
  • Dishonesty and trust issues
  • Financial problems
  • Legal troubles
  • Poor decision making

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.4,5

Alcohol and Children

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

Families who separate due to alcoholism can be traumatic for a child. Studies show that children who experience parental divorce can increase the likelihood of substance abuse in the future.10

Alcohol and Romantic Relationships 

Relationships in which one or more partners are involved in excessive drinking are more likely to fall apart. AUD changes a person’s mood and alters their entire personality. 

This sudden shift can cause significant damage to your relationship and lead to:7,8

  • Decreased intimacy
  • Increased relationship problems
  • Emotional manipulation
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Sexual assault

People with AUD become more and more secretive and likely to hide things from their partners, which destroys trust. Trust is an essential part of your relationship.

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.6

Signs Your Loved One is an Alcoholic

The signs that someone may have alcoholism include:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • An inability to reduce or stop drinking 
  • Spending most of their time drunk or hungover
  • Experiencing cravings or a strong need or urge to drink
  • Neglecting family to go drinking
  • Drinking despite problems with family or friends
  • Disregarding favorite hobbies or activities to drink
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking 
  • Drinking to ‘deal with’ depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems
  • Experiencing memory lapses or ‘blackouts’ while drinking
  • An increased alcohol tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

If you see 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.

Here are a few tips to help you deal with an alcoholic family member.

Things You Should Do

When you confront your loved one about their addiction, you should:

  • Approach them with compassion
  • Make them feel comfortable
  • Speak to them honestly and sincerely
  • Be sympathetic
  • Encourage treatment
  • Support their recovery
  • Get professional help

Also, consider setting boundaries to ensure your own physical and mental health. Try not to enable their behavior by bailing them out or making excuses for them.

If they're resistant to getting help, seek professional help. Some specialists can help you stage an intervention and find the right treatment for your loved one. Alcoholism is a disease, and you should treat it like one. 

Things You Should Avoid

Here are a few things you should avoid when confronting a loved one about their addiction: 

  • Avoid being judgmental
  • Avoid attacking them or using accusatory language
  • Avoid talking to them when they’re inebriated
  • Avoid making an ultimatum
  • Avoid stressing them out

When dealing with an alcoholic family member, avoid enabling their drinking. 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

The most important thing you should avoid doing is blaming yourself and taking negative reactions personally. You aren’t guilty or responsible for their behavior. 

Support Groups for Families of Alcoholics

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. 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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Summary

Alcoholism is a family disease and can drastically affect the lives of everyone around you. It can significantly impact your relationships with others and ruin them beyond repair.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with an alcoholic family member or loved one. Make sure you:

  • Encourage treatment
  • Sympathize with them
  • Avoid enabling them
  • Avoid blaming them

Guiding your loved one through their recovery is the best thing you can do for them. Also, consider going to a support group like Al-Anon to better cope with your alcoholism.

Updated on September 14, 2023
10 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  2. Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction (NIAAA), 2020.
  3. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction (NIAAA), 2022.
  4. Salvatore et al. “Alcohol use disorder and divorce: evidence for a genetic correlation in a population-based Swedish sample.” Addiction (Abingdon, England), 2017.
  5. 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, 2014.
  6. Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol.” WHO Facts on Alcohol Violence, World Health Organization.
  7. Salvatore et al. “Romantic relationship status and alcohol use and problems across the first year of college.” Journal of studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2014.
  8. Weaver, K. “Alcohol and Romantic Relationships: A Good or Bad Mix?” Buffalo.edu, University at Buffalo, 2010.
  9. McCrady et al. “The Role of the Family in Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery for Adults.” Alcohol research: current reviews, 2021.
  10. Jackson et al. “Parental divorce and initiation of alcohol use in early adolescence.” Psychology of addictive behaviors: journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 2016.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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