Heavy Drinking and Its Effect on Relationships

It’s not about demonizing our alcoholic loved ones, it’s about creating more understanding

I am a former nurse and alcoholic in recovery. My mission is to talk about alcohol and its effect on our health, lives, and relationships. Undoubtedly, most people are aware that alcohol can cause stress and conflict in relationships. However, the general public may not understand the extent. Often, being close to alcoholics can change the relationship dynamic, and it’s essential to know how that works so families can help themselves better.

This article is not about demonizing our alcoholic loved ones, it’s about creating more understanding. I was an alcoholic loved one once, and I understand the dark trap of alcoholism. Our friends and families can’t fix us as much as they wish they could. The best thing to do is to understand the relationship dynamic and help yourself sort through the feelings that come up. This often leads to better decisions to help cope with our alcoholic loved ones.

The following are ways that heavy drinking, or alcoholic drinking, affects relationships. If you relate to these relational dynamics, I encourage you to find a therapist or a support system to help you cope. And know that you are not alone.

Silence/ Denial

Most people have heard about the denial that happens in alcoholism. Still, they rarely do family members reflect on how they are also in denial. Often we don’t want to believe what’s happening, so we block it out. Or, the denial inherent in the alcoholic can make us feel we need to cover things up for ourselves and others too.

The biggest issue that denial brings is silence. Many people feel silenced in their relationship with an alcoholic, bringing a feeling of emptiness and frustration. The relationship can often become inauthentic or tense because important things are not being said. This dynamic often leads to relationship breakdown or serious distance.

Frequent arguments or violence

The effect of alcohol on our nervous system is profound, and it can change our behavior and how we perceive things. At the least, heavy drinking causes a lot of conflicts in relationships leading to arguments. At worst, these arguments can lead to violence.

Most people who drink heavily notice some irritability in the later hours of drinking. However, irritability is most pronounced after the person stops drinking for a while. Frequent heavy drinking causes our nervous system to become very unstable, manifesting as violent behavior in some people. Since alcohol can overwhelm a person’s nervous system, it can be challenging to have a reasonable or calm conversation about complex issues.


Unfortunately, silence and frequent arguments can cause resentment to build between the alcoholic and the person they’re in a relationship with. This often fuels more resentment and discord. In some relationships, alcohol may be clearly identified as the problem, but sometimes denial makes it difficult to see that.

It’s important to realize that things can become more challenging once resentment sets in. In this case, therapy, healthy distance, and managing your stress levels may help. Unfortunately, the only thing loved ones can do is support the alcoholic from the side, but they rarely can help them change.

Worsening mental health issues in loved ones

Alcohol is known to cause mental health issues in alcoholics. Still, most people don’t realize that the relational effects of alcoholism can affect the mental health of loved ones as well. Alcoholism can leave family and friends very drained, sad, and overwhelmed, fueling mental health problems. Since mental health issues cause a lot of emotional pain, it can further erode the relationship between the alcoholic and the loved one.

Eventually, it becomes a vicious cycle of alcoholism and mental health problems within the relationship. Once things hit this point, it’s imperative to seek help for oneself. Remember, focus on yourself as you are the only one you can help.

These are issues often seen in relationships between loved ones and their alcoholic family member or friend. Unfortunately, heavy drinking has a strong and negative effect on relationships. We ought to be talking about this more to reduce the silence and increase communication.

Again, this is not about blaming our alcoholic loved ones. Instead, it’s about taking responsibility for our own choices, feelings, reactions, and ability to ask for help. The more that family and friends of alcoholics reach out for support, the better off they will be.

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Gillian May

Former nurse turned writer. Mental health-addictions-trauma-wellness. Book coming soon! Sign up to my newsletter — https://upbeat-trader-4181.ck.page/839d0ab3f9