Jealousy in a Romantic Relationship: Can It Lead to Problems With Alcohol?

When you’re in a romantic relationship, it’s easy to get swept up in powerful emotions. The feeling of being in love is heady, even a bit intoxicating.

But what happens when jealousy enters the picture and you begin to question everything your love interest is doing — when, where, and with whom? A study published in the October 2015 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors examines the effects of jealousy in a romantic relationship among people with low self-esteem. The findings? Romantic jealousy might very well lead to problems with alcohol.

Examining the Connection

Researchers at the University of Houston conducted the study, called “The green eyed monster in the bottle: Relationship contingent self-esteem, romantic jealousy, and alcohol-related problems.” Although prior studies have found that relationship-contingent self-esteem and romantic jealousy tend to increase alcohol-related problems, there hasn’t been research looking at both factors together with respect to reasons to use alcohol and subsequent alcohol-related problems.

The takeaway from the study is that there’s a link between jealousy and an increased risk of becoming an alcoholic. But there’s an important caveat: The jealousy needs to stem from the person being in a bad relationship in which their self-esteem is dependent on their partner. When that happens, the three factors the researchers examined — jealousy, low self-esteem, and alcohol use — can be used to help diagnose alcoholism.

Many Use Alcohol to Cope

In the study, which consisted of 277 people (87% women and 13% men), participants filled out questionnaires that addressed the amount of satisfaction they felt (or didn’t feel) in their relationship, their level of commitment, closeness, jealousy, and alcohol-related outcomes (such as drinking to cope with relationship issues).

Many in the study reported turning to booze to help them cope with feelings of jealousy about their partners, but the tendency was much more pronounced for those who also had low self-esteem and felt dependent on their partners for their self-esteem. When these people feel the negative emotions connected to jealousy, they see alcohol as a way to cope with the unpleasantness, often drinking to the point where they can forget about their problems.

Alcoholism is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The University of Houston study helps advance understanding of the association between drinking, jealousy in relationships, self-esteem and the risk of a person becoming an alcoholic. The findings, researchers said, suggest there’s a functional relationship between the more negative relationship feelings “with each being associated with jealousy, more coping motives for drinking, and increased alcohol-related problems.”

Working on the Root Causes

Relationships require a lot of work, especially when learning how to weather the tough times. If you find yourself dependent on your romantic partner for your self-esteem, you need to work on the root causes for your low self-esteem — instead of automatically reaching for the bottle. Drinking to cope won’t solve anything, and it creates a litany of new problems related to alcohol consumption.

Counseling can help, as can participation in certain self-help groups. Finding out that there are others going through the same relationship issues is tremendously galvanizing. You learn that you’re not alone and that you have support from others who understand exactly what you’re experiencing. Furthermore, with individual and group therapy and learning healthier coping mechanisms, you’ll be able to build up your self-esteem, even as you work on improving your existing relationship or deciding to make a change.

By Suzanne Kane

Posted on March 11th, 2016
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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