• Alcohol Abuse in Relationships: A Cocktail for Conflict

    Many couples commemorate birthdays, celebrate the completion of a big home project or admire a beautiful sunset on vacation with a beer or merlot in hand. Alcohol can be part of shared recreational activities, too, such as visiting a craft brewery or sampling wines. Almost every recreational venue serves alcohol, and it’s often a rite of passage in social functions. And for many couples, alcohol poses no problems at all.

    However …

    The darker side of this coin is that alcohol abuse or misuse can undermine or even destroy relational bonds. Alcohol has a significant effect on the cerebral cortex of the brain, making it harder to moderate emotions and behavior. The more we drink, the more impulsive we can become, and this can translate into an escalated conflict pattern where one or both partners struggle with their anger, language and actions.

    For those who deal with alcohol-fueled trauma, either in a present or past relationship, the smell, the slurring of words or even the mere sight of a bottle in a partner’s hand can trigger immediate, visceral responses that set off a conflict pattern.

    For couples experiencing longer-term disconnection or detachment, alcohol can become a crutch in an attempt to numb the pain or calm the anxiety related to conflict and the loneliness that often follows. Instead of turning to our partners, we gradually lean more and more on alcohol for comfort. Unfortunately, this can create a self-destructive cycle of even greater conflict and disconnection.

    If this sounds familiar, or could describe your situation, consider seeking outside help. Problematic alcohol use can infiltrate and compromise a relationship slowly over time. But avoiding the issue only leads to more problems.

    You or your partner may drift into substance abuse for a number of reasons. A genetic predisposition, or family history of alcoholism, may be one factor. Or you also simply may have learned from your family experiences to use alcohol to cope with physical pain, trauma, anxiety or psychological distress. Fortunately, when our attachment systems are working — and we’re emotionally connected with the people we love — that becomes our most powerful coping mechanism. It works even better than alcohol.

    Here are some warning signs that your relationship is suffering due to abuse or misuse of alcohol or other substances:

    • Recognizing a cycle of conflict that escalates when drinking.
    • Becoming angry when seeing a partner drink.
    • Drinking after an argument.
    • Saying or doing things that you otherwise wouldn’t, such as using strong language, name calling or breaking things.
    • Consuming alcohol more frequently or in larger amounts.
    • Needing alcohol to express your feelings or be intimate.
    • Using alcohol to cope with daily stressors.
    • Lying or arguing about drinking.

    If alcohol is affecting your relationship, try to discuss the issue with your partner. Turn to each other instead of turning to a bottle.

    Couples therapists can help their clients learn not only how to talk about substance abuse, but ultimately how to give and receive support from each other. If you feel that your relationship is suffering because of alcohol or substance use, reach out to CouplesTherapyOrlando.com. I’m a state-certified substance counselor, and I’m here to help.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.