Alcoholism Facts: The Impact on Marriage and Relationships
By Elizabeth Davies-Ulirsch, Primary Therapist at Promises Young Adult Program
Alcohol abuse can slowly destroy relationships. It can erode even the most committed love, scar children and impact families for generations. If you suspect a problem with your spouse, it is important to know these alcoholism facts.
Why People Drink
There’s always a reason why people abuse alcohol and the alcoholic may even be aware of the driving factors. Here are some common themes.
Attachment disorder. When people are born into unstable environments or have one or more primary caregivers who are unable to fulfill their needs, they experience a disruption in development. It can contribute to low self-esteem and problems forming healthy relationships.
Unresolved childhood trauma. Early trauma of any kind ― emotional, physical and sexual abuse or neglect ― can lead people to drink in an effort to self-soothe and bury pain.
It runs in families. Addiction has a genetic predisposition. The impulsivity can come through genes. When someone grows up with an alcoholic or addicted parent, it does not guarantee they too will succumb to the disease, but alcoholism facts tell us that genetics, along with situation and environment, make a person more susceptible.
Mental illness. People often use alcohol or other drugs to mask the symptoms of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety, so it is important to assess emotional health. Alcohol abuse can also cause depression and other issues.
How It Impacts Your Relationship
Here are common patterns and telltale signs that a relationship is being harmed by alcohol abuse:
- Increase in arguments about one’s drinking, and things related to drinking.
- Missing family events, neglecting childcare responsibilities, staying out late and avoiding responsibilities.
- Shutting down emotionally, lack of communication and detaching from the relationship.
- Personality changes that make an alcoholic seem like “a different person.”
- If both partners drink, it becomes the only thing that bonds them.
Steps Toward Healing for the Non-Drinking Partner
One of the hardest tasks is to stop enabling the alcoholic’s behavior. That means letting go of denial and all that comes with it ― like making excuses to family, friends and employers about the alcoholic’s behavior or absence. For example, if your partner stays out drinking, comes home sick and cannot get out of bed and you cover for them by calling the boss to say he or she has the flu, that is enabling.
Making up lies to cover for an alcoholic is codependent behavior that will keep you trapped and allow the addict to fall deeper into the disease. Here are the first steps toward healing.
- Acknowledge a problem exists in your relationship.
- Admit behaviors are out of control. Drama and chaos in the relationship are a sign that things are veering into an unhealthy direction.
- Ask for assistance. If an addicted partner has hit bottom and wants help, you can help guide them toward recovery but you cannot treat them. Reach out for professional help. The problem requires supervised detox.
- Create a support network and do emotional and therapeutic work on your own life.
- Encourage the alcoholic partner to develop healthy relationships outside their relationship with you and your family. Twelve steps and being in sober community support is important to help with sobriety and attachment disorder. They have to learn to reconnect with others in healthy ways and find new ways to become emotionally regulated.
Candidate Genes for Alcohol Dependence: A Review of Genetic Evidence From Human Studies
Addiction as an Attachment Disorder: Implications for Group Therapy