Learn / How Alcohol Destroys Relationships

How Alcohol Destroys Relationships

Kayla Gill
 November 8th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Alcohol is linked to relationship dissatisfaction.
  • Problem drinking causes communication issues, neglect, financial troubles, and more.
  • It can turn into a serious issue. 60% of domestic violence cases involve alcohol.

Alcohol abuse doesn’t just affect you; it can also profoundly affect people around you—especially a romantic partner. Even if you aren’t addicted to alcohol, it can bring out behaviors that aren’t aligned with who you really are. You may not even realize that your loved ones are incurring the consequences of your drinking until it’s too late. 

While relationships don’t fail overnight, alcohol can chip away at their foundation over time. In general, alcohol is linked to relationship dissatisfaction.1

9 Signs Alcohol Is Ruining Your Relationship

Drinking rocks the stability of relationships by causing communication breakdowns, neglect, secretive behavior, and escalating conflicts. 

1. You Experience Frequent Communication Breakdowns 

Communication breakdowns are an early warning sign of damaged relationships. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone under the influence. Alcohol disrupts areas of the brain that control speech and judgment. Intoxication makes it hard to express your emotions2 or understand how others feel. And because alcohol impairs judgment, it may cause you to say or do things you regret.

It’s normal for people to disagree at times, but frequent communication issues hurt relationships. Alcohol use disorder can have long-term effects on your ability to communicate. One study suggests that people with alcohol addiction have trouble expressing emotions3 months after they’ve quit drinking. 

2. Neglected Responsibilities Pile Up

Alcohol abuse leads to neglectful behavior, harming relationships. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re drinking. Hangovers are exhausting4 and ruin motivation. Ignored responsibilities can accumulate over time. 

Acts of neglect might start out small, like missing an appointment or skipping chores one day. But with alcohol addiction, this rarely happens just once. Neglecting responsibilities usually means your partner takes on more, and unequal work in a relationship can lead to resentment. Each time you break a promise, you break your partner’s trust. Over time, this damages the integrity of your dynamic.

3. You Notice an Impact on Your Sex Drive

Another way alcohol ruins relationships is by lowering sex drive.5 Alcohol triggers the feel-good chemicals in your brain that allow you to experience pleasure. Over time, your brain learns to associate pleasure with alcohol. As that happens, you can lose interest in other things, including sex and intimacy. Heavy, long-term drinking also causes physiological changes that lower sex drive. For example, alcohol abuse reduces testosterone levels in men.6 Physical intimacy and emotional connection are important aspects of a healthy relationship.

4. You Neglect Your Personal Well-Being

When we think of how alcohol destroys relationships, we tend to look at its impact on others. But neglecting yourself can also hurt your relationship with your partner. 

Neglect can be physical, like eating unhealthily or not taking care of your hygiene. But ignoring your mental health is also a form of neglect. Many people self-soothe with alcohol when they feel bad, but in the long run, drinking to cope makes your mood less stable and your emotional state worse. When you spend so much time drinking, you also lose out on quality time with loved ones. The resulting isolation can worsen your mental health and increase your risk of addiction.  

5. Financial Problems Arise

Alcohol addiction is expensive. Heavy drinking can lead to irresponsible spending, mounting debt, and financial instability. Drinking alcohol also affects your work.7 Hangovers and bad sleep make it hard to focus. Poor performance can eventually put your job security at risk, which in turn impacts your family. 

Financial issues hurt relationships—so much so that financial arguments are a top indicator of divorce.8 One study found that financial issues increase the risk of divorce by 15%.9 

Financial tension impacts other family members too, including kids. Children in families with significant debt are more likely to face mental health disorders10 like depression.

There are ways to repair the damage. Many addiction treatment programs teach skills for life in recovery, and some include financial management. 

6. Alcohol Is More Important Than Your Relationship

As drinking takes center stage, everything else fades into the background. This doesn’t just fracture relationships; it signals a more serious issue. Prioritizing alcohol is one sign of alcohol addiction,11 along with others:

  • The inability to control how much you drink
  • Thinking about alcohol obsessively
  • Continued drinking despite negative consequences

When you’re ready to heal, you might think you can just quit cold-turkey. But depending on your drinking history, quitting on your own can be dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially life-threatening condition. To recover safely, it’s important to detox under medical supervision. Seeking professional support is often the first step toward reclaiming your life and healing your relationships. 

7. Drinking Alcohol Triggers Secretive Behavior

Many people with alcohol addiction try to hide their drinking problem. You might do this in hopes of protecting the people you love. Sometimes people keep up appearances for awhile, but that doesn’t usually last. It’s only a matter of time before other issues, like financial infidelity or problems at work, bubble to the surface. 

Secrets undermine the integrity of any relationship. When your partner realizes the truth, they’ll likely feel betrayed. And once that happens, trust can be hard to reestablish.12 

8. You Start More Arguments

Alcohol contributes to aggression13 because it affects the areas of the brain responsible for decision-making, judgment, and impulse control. People under the influence may show aggression without even feeling angry.14 When you struggle with decision-making, you can’t weigh the pros and cons of your actions. It’s easier to misread situations you can’t properly judge. And impulsive people are more likely to be aggressive.15 These factors all play a role in escalating conflicts. 

Alcohol-induced conflicts harm relationships—and they can escalate into more seriously concerning behavior.

9. Conflicts Escalate Into Physical Abuse

If you or someone in your life is experiencing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get immediate support. 

Drinking-related aggression can turn into a dangerous situation. A staggering 40% to 60% of reported domestic violence cases involve alcohol.16 Alcohol makes people likelier to act on violent tendencies. They may struggle to control their anger and impulses. These outcomes are even likelier the longer someone uses alcohol. That’s because sustained drinking causes permanent damage to parts of the brain responsible for impulse control.

It’s important to note that while there is a correlation between domestic abuse and alcohol, alcohol abuse doesn’t cause physical violence. Most people who are considered heavy drinkers don’t abuse their partners. And most physical abuse incidents don’t involve alcohol.

Some people blame their actions on alcohol, but using alcohol as a scapegoat absolves the abuser of responsibility. Ultimately, this prevents them from getting the help they need.  

If you’re experiencing abuse, the most important step is to get yourself to safety as soon as possible. When you can, seek professional support from a trauma-informed therapist and lean into your support network of family and friends.

Find an Alcohol Treatment Program

If you’re experiencing the damaging effects of alcohol on your relationships, you don’t have to live in this pattern forever. Professional support is available, designed to help people address struggles exactly like yours. Remember: getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Explore alcohol addiction treatment centers to learn about their program offerings, pricing, insurance coverage, and more.

Explore Alcohol Treatment Centers

Frequently Asked Questions About How Alcohol Ruins Relationships

What are the signs that alcohol is ruining my relationship?

Common signs that alcohol is threatening your relationship include frequent communication problems, neglected responsibilities, not taking care of your personal well-being, alcohol-related financial issues, and more.

What are the long-term effects of alcohol abuse on relationships?

Alcohol abuse can have lasting negative effects on a relationship. It can break trust—the foundation of a healthy relationship. If you prioritize drinking over quality time with your partner or family, or neglect your responsibilities, your partner may start to feel resentful.

What can I do to repair the damage caused by alcohol abuse?

If addiction is at the root of your relationship issues, treatment can help. Treatment options include inpatient rehab, therapy, support groups, and more. Most alcohol addiction treatment programs offer family therapy or couples counseling, where you learn how to work through problems and rebuild your relationships. Communication helps rebuild trust. Be honest with your partner about your drinking concerns and get the professional support you need.

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