Alcohol abuse doesn’t just affect the person with a substance use disorder.
The effects of addiction also influence relationships with loved ones, especially spouses or romantic partners. Taking the time to better understand what relationship issues are linked to alcohol abuse can help you create healthier bonds as you move forward with your recovery.
How Alcohol Affects Communication
For people with substance use disorders, there’s nothing more important than obtaining more of the abused substance. This leads them to neglect relationships and makes it impossible to see things from a partner’s perspective.
When alcohol abuse becomes a daily occurrence, it’s common for partners to feel as though the person they fell in love with no longer exists. Being intoxicated impairs judgment, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills while reducing inhibitions and increasing risk taking behavior. This leads to frustration, stress, anger, and sadness for the sober partner.
Communication can also suffer when partners fall into a pattern of codependent behavior. Codependency allows alcohol abuse to continue by protecting people with substance use disorders from the consequences of their actions. For example, your spouse might call in sick to work on your behalf, take on extra chores around the house, or work longer hours to raise money for your addiction-related legal expenses.
Alcohol’s Effect on Sexual Experiences
The effect of alcohol on sexual experiences varies dramatically according to gender.
For men, alcohol is notoriously associated with diminished sexual performance. Drinking decreases testosterone production, which makes it difficult to get and maintain an erection. Decreased pleasurability and intensity of orgasm are also commonly reported.
For women, it’s common to report that alcohol leads to increased sexual desire. However, this effect is mostly psychological. Since alcohol reduces inhibitions, women often report feeling freer to express their sexual preferences. Nevertheless, the physiological signs of arousal may decrease with high levels of alcohol consumption.
Additional Problems Caused by Alcohol Abuse
Additional problems that can be caused by one partner’s alcohol abuse can include:
- Financial trouble due to problems getting and maintaining employment or overspending to buy more alcohol
- Legal trouble due to DUI arrests or other drinking-related problems
- Physically or emotionally abusive behavior while under the influence
- Social isolation due to shame regarding the alcohol abuse
All of these issues can create stress and tension in a romantic relationship, regardless of how long you and your partner have been together.
Breaking the Cycle
Although alcohol abuse can create a multitude of relationship problems, these issues are only temporary. When you seek treatment, detox and intensive therapy can help you break the cycle. No matter what obstacles you’ve faced in the past, there’s always hope for a brighter future.
If you’re currently married or in a long-term relationship, healing the wounds caused by alcohol abuse will take some time. Even though your significant other may logically know that your actions while you were under the influence don’t reflect your true feelings, they may still be reluctant to move forward for fear of being hurt again.
Rebuilding trust in your relationship begins with sincere apology for the pain you’ve caused, but actions speak louder than words. Show you’re committed to recovery by sharing your treatment progress with your partner. Cook a meal, clean the house, or handle errands without being asked or expecting anything in return. Strive to behave in a consistent, predictable manner that makes your partner feel safe, respected, and appreciated.
The decision to save the relationship ultimately belongs with your partner. However, these sincere attempts at making meaningful changes can help increase your chances of being able to move forward together.
If you are not currently in a long-term relationship, keep in mind that it’s best to avoid dating until you have a solid foundation for your recovery. Most experts recommend waiting until you have a full year of sobriety under your belt. This gives you time to establish a new identity and think about what you want your sober life to look like.
Pop culture often gives the impression that alcohol is a necessary part of the dating experience, but it’s quite possible to enjoy dating while sober. Popular sober date ideas include:
- Going on a nature hike
- Planning a picnic in the park
- Star gazing
- Visiting a local art or history museum
- Going to a poetry reading
- Taking a class together to learn a new skill, such as painting, cooking, or dancing
- Volunteering together for a cause you both care about
As you’re getting to know your new partner, consider what you wish to reveal about your recovery. You don’t necessarily need to share all the details on a first date, but this journey is a vital part of your life story. For your relationship to progress, your partner needs to understand the importance of your sobriety and how they can best support your recovery.
You Are Worthy of Love
Nurturing healthy and happy relationships is never an easy task, but don’t give up. People with substance use disorders often suffer from depression or low self-esteem, but it’s important to remember that you are worthy of love no matter what mistakes you’ve made previously. Your past does not define your future.