How Alcoholism Affects Relationships

By August 6, 2021 September 8th, 2021 No Comments

Alcohol use disorder is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. When left untreated, it causes a person to accelerate usage, which leads to physical and mental health problems. Late-stage alcohol use disorder is often associated with other diseases such as cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes as well as a myriad of other health issues.

However, one aspect of people’s lives also suffers immensely: Relationships. Alcoholism and substance abuse can drastically affect relationships between family members and friends. Here’s a brief overview of how heavy drinking can cause strains on relationships.

How A Substance Use Disorder Can Develop Between Relationships

The first step in developing an addiction is when the individual begins using substances or engaging in behaviors that are harmful to their own body. The initial reasons for using substances are different for each person; this may be due to peer pressure, curiosity, boredom, depression, anxiety, stress, or coping with underlying mental illness.1

The next stage involves continued use despite negative consequences. If this continues for long periods of time, then the user will develop a dependence on these substances or activities. Once they have developed a dependency, they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking them. These include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, muscle aches, tremors, sweating, shakiness, chills, fever, cold sweats, mood swings, increased appetite, decreased energy levels, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and more. For those in close relation with addicted people during this stage (particularly spouses), they may notice these physical signs. However, from a behavioral perspective, the substance use disorder has not yet developed to cause more noticeable impairments in that capacity. 

The third phase occurs once the individual has become dependent upon the substance or activity. They continue to take the substance even though they know its effects. Their tolerance increases over time until they need larger amounts than before to achieve the same effect. Eventually, they reach what’s known as “the point of no return” where they cannot function without the substance anymore. At this point, the development of addiction is most apparent to most people that maintain a relationship. This is the point where most loved are put in the positions of either holding an intervention or continue patterns of enabling.

How Does an Alcohol Use Disorder Propagate an Unhealthy Relationship?

When someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are many ways that it can impact their relationship with others. For example, some individuals who drink heavily may become physically abusive towards those around them. Others could start acting out sexually because they feel like they don’t care about anyone else but themselves. Some users might get into arguments with loved ones simply because they’ve been drinking too much. And finally, some drinkers might lose interest in relationships completely. All of these things make up unhealthy relationships.

In addition, individuals with an alcohol addiction tend to isolate themselves from everyone, even close relatives. When you add in the fact that many people with alcohol use disorder are not aware of their problem. In summary, when left to its own devices, alcoholism will systematically destroy every relationship in the addicted individual’s life.

What to Do If Your Loved One is Addicted to Alcohol

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem that affects many people in the United States, including their families and friends. If you suspect someone close to you might be abusing alcohol, here are a few things that you can do:2

1) Be honest with them about how they’re feeling. You don’t want to make things worse by keeping secrets from them.

2) Don’t judge them if they admit to drinking too much. It takes courage to tell another person something like this. They probably feel ashamed because they know they have an addiction.

3) Ask questions so you understand more fully why they drink as often as they do. This will help you better support them when they need it most.

4) Remember that alcoholism isn’t just one issue but rather a whole range of problems. So even though there are times when you think you’ve got everything under control, keep checking back with your loved ones to see if anything else needs attention.

5) Keep talking! Talking helps everyone involved work through issues such as these. And remember, no matter who starts out being angry at each other, eventually both parties will realize that they love each other very much.

6) Finally, make sure they get professional treatment before making any definitive decisions regarding whether or not you can still maintain a relationship with them.

At Schick Shadel Hospital, our team is fully dedicated to making sure that your loved ones get the care they need. Our 10-day treatment program offers an option that is 4-5 times more effective than conventional treatment methods.3 If you or a loved one need help with alcohol use disorder, contact us or call us at 1(800)CRAVING today.


  1. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1999. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 34.) Available from:
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2018. Retrieved from
  3. Elkins RL, Richards TL, Nielsen R, Repass R, Stahlbrandt H and Hoffman HG (2017) The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI Study. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 11:182. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00182
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