How Alcoholism Affects Relationships

In many ways, substance use disorder is a private issue. People who struggle with alcohol addiction are often dealing with an intense internal environment. Their emotions and thoughts are highly personal, and they may have trouble connecting with others about how they feel. They may try to hide their drinking problem or deal with it alone. But alcoholism is not an individual issue; it influences all of your relationships.

You can recognize symptoms of substance use disorder by being informed of how alcoholism impacts relationships. It also lets loved ones support you adequately during your treatment program and in recovery. Perhaps most importantly, learning about the link between alcohol and relationships allows you to avoid making the mistakes that damage healthy relationships as you move forward.


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Alcoholism Breeds Mistrust

We are always learning and growing, and certain aspects of our personalities may change over time. But alcohol use disorder can create dramatic changes in someone’s personality in a short period. When this happens, the person who you thought you knew seems to disappear.

This can wreak havoc on your body, mind and emotions because you feel as though you’re dealing with a stranger. Your sense of security and safety are compromised. Your central nervous system is activated in the same way it is when it warns you of danger. Suddenly, a person who was reliable and trustworthy threatens your need for predictability and continuity.

Furthermore, someone with an alcohol addiction may actively hide things from the people they love. Secrets and lies diminish the trust in these relationships.

In many cases, the lies and secrets come from a place of wanting to protect loved ones. Hiding behaviors related to alcohol use can prevent people in relationships from knowing just how badly someone is hurting. Running away from one’s own emotions can also lead to dishonesty within relationships.

Even if the secrets and lies aren’t malicious or manipulative, they damage the connections and trust that have been established within a relationship. It can be hard to believe someone who acts erratically or bends the truth too often.

Pushing People Away

Alcohol creates significant chemical changes in the brain. It hijacks the reward pathways, reinforcing the behavior that created such an enjoyable reaction.

But that behavior is the drinking itself. Someone who struggles with alcohol addiction often starts replacing activities that they used to enjoy with drinking. They might find it difficult to experience positive feelings when alcohol isn’t involved. Moreover, the alcohol stops producing euphoria after a while too.

The chemical shifts in the brain can lead individuals to stop nurturing their relationships. If few things elicit joy besides using alcohol, drinking may become a preferred activity over socializing or connecting with others.

People who struggle with alcohol addiction may also push people away to protect them from witnessing their self-destruction. They may feel guilty for their behaviors and want to avoid hurting others. Instead of communicating their emotions and needs, they put up walls.

Alcohol Use Impedes Intimacy

Intimacy is created when you can feel vulnerable expressing yourself safely around someone else. It can exist in romantic and platonic relationships. When someone hides aspects of their life or personality, intimacy becomes difficult to achieve.

From a platonic perspective, lies, isolation and unhealthy conflict damage the bond and trust between people in relationships. Someone with alcohol use disorder may find it difficult to find friends they relate to or can confide in. Broken promises, ruptured boundaries and inappropriate expectations can drive a wedge into relationships.

From a romantic perspective, alcohol addiction can impair emotional and sexual intimacy. As alcohol takes over someone’s life, other elements that are essential for these types of relationships are put on the back burner. Alcohol use puts a strain on relationships between couples. It gets in the way of affection, respect and communication, which are necessary features for a healthy romantic bond.

It’s also important to note that heavy or frequent alcohol use has a negative impact on libido. It creates hormonal imbalances that activate the sympathetic nervous system, which makes it harder to experience pleasure and arousal. Drinking heavily can also numb sensation, making intimacy less enjoyable.

Addiction Fosters Codependency

Codependency can occur in any relationship even if alcohol isn’t involved. However, addiction tends to exacerbate codependent dysfunction in relationships.

The person who struggles with an alcohol addiction may rely on others to provide for them, cover for them or meet their routine obligations. Individuals in the relationship who have codependent tendencies may also put aside their own needs to help the person with the addiction.

Some signs of codependency include:

  • Taking on another person’s unhealthy behaviors or personality traits
  • Adopting a role that helps the other person but neglects your needs
  • Trying to control the other person
  • Spending more time focusing on the other person than yourself

If the person with the alcohol use disorder is the codependent person, they may arrange their life around others’ needs instead of their own. By doing this, they avoid facing their problems.

When the codependent individual is the one who doesn’t struggle with addiction, they may unwittingly encourage toxic behaviors in the person with the alcohol use disorder. It’s important for people in codependent relationships to understand how to support the person with the alcohol addiction in productive ways.

Can You Repair Relationships That Are Damaged by Alcohol Use?

Substance use disorder may damage some relationships beyond repair. However, there are several ways to rebuild relationships while you’re in recovery.

Creating healthy relationships takes time. This is especially true when the connection has been damaged. Therefore, it’s essential to manage your expectations and be patient.

In a comprehensive Alcohol Rehab Program, you’ll learn how to establish strong, honest relationships with people. At Burning Tree Programs, we work on constructive communication and ways to make amends with people. Our programs also help clients learn coping skills to manage powerful emotions so that they don’t take out their negative feelings on others.


Find an Inpatient Rehab Program Now

We are here to help you through every aspect of recovery. Call our admissions team to find the best for long-term recovery.

(866) 287-2877


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