Alcohol can have a huge impact on the way you interact with others and the quality of your closest relationships.

Drinking is often an enjoyable part of many different social activities. But for many people, it can also be a source of conflict in their relationships.

Alcohol has the potential to change a person’s personality in huge ways. When paired with problems that can also arise from excessive alcohol use, drinking can sometimes negatively affect our relationships with the people closest to us.

But there are ways you can recognize when alcohol might be negatively affecting your relationships — and when it may be time to get help.

Being in a relationship with someone with alcohol use disorder can be challenging. Your husband may pick fights with you when he drinks or you’re no longer as intimate as you were before. You may feel like alcohol has ruined your relationship or is the cause of your divorce.

Alcohol can affect relationships in various ways, and this can look different for each person.

Alcohol and romantic relationships

Alcohol use, especially when it’s excessive, can put a strain on your relationship with your intimate partner or spouse.

A 2018 study found that alcohol had negative effects on both partners in a relationship for different reasons.

According to the study, women who had partners that drank more experienced more intimacy but more conflict in their relationships, while men who drank at higher levels had more distrust of their partners. But this study was limited to couples in sub-Saharan Africa, and more research is needed.

Alcohol and intimacy

Alcohol can affect not only your ability to be intimate with your partner but also the way you interact with your partner sexually, according to a 2020 study.

A 2018 study surveyed over 200 men on their alcohol use during sexual situations, beliefs about communication during sex, and other factors.

The survey results showed that people in committed relationships who use alcohol during intimacy were more likely to be sexually aggressive toward their intimate partners.

Alcohol and domestic violence

Alcohol can greatly increase the chance of aggressive behavior in some people and often plays a role in intimate partner violence.

Research from 2019 explored the relationship between alcohol and violence. A review of the literature found a significant relationship between alcohol and domestic violence — with one 2020 study in Australia citing alcohol as a factor in roughly 24% to 54% of family and domestic violence police reports.

Alcohol and divorce

Alcohol can negatively impact a relationship to the point of breakup or divorce.

A 2013 study found that of the 52 people who participated, over 34 of them (that’s more than 60%) noted that substance use was a factor for separation. This was especially true in cases where the partner refused to acknowledge an issue or get help.

Participants also cited high levels of conflict and arguing, another significant contributor to divorce, according to research from 2017. This was in addition to financial problems and domestic violence.

Given that alcohol can contribute to all these issues, it’s likely that alcohol use has the potential to lead to separation issues in some couples.

Alcohol and children

Drinking alcohol doesn’t just affect your relationship with your partner — it can also have an impact on your children’s mental health, too.

A 2018 study found that in children with a strong family history of alcohol use disorder, the chance of developing substance use issues was higher.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell what exactly is causing problems in a relationship. So, how can you tell when the problems may be stemming from your alcohol use?

Some common signs can include:

  • your partner often describes you as “a different person” when you drink
  • you’re having trouble avoiding conflicts with your partner
  • alcohol is at the center of most of what you do

If you think alcohol may be affecting your relationships, it might be a good idea to consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional. They can help determine whether what you’re experiencing is alcohol use disorder and recommend further evaluation or treatment if necessary.

There are also small steps you can take to help.

Try to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume a day

If you’re not sure how much alcohol is too much, consider following the recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 1 drink or less in a day for women and 2 drinks or less in a day for men.

If you find that following these guidelines is challenging, consider these tips:

  • Set a budget: Try to set aside a fixed amount that you’ll spend on alcohol each day or month and try to stick to it.
  • Make a plan: Before sitting down to enjoy that glass of wine or pint of beer, try to set a limit on how much you’ll consume.
  • Tell someone: If you’re going out for after-work drinks or hanging with family, let them know the limit you’ve set for your alcohol consumption. They can offer support and act as your accountability partners.

Explore more activities as a couple that don’t involve alcohol

If you’ve noticed that you’re only doing activities with your partner that involve alcohol, try to find other ways to spend time together without drinking.

Consider couple and family activities that can keep your mind engaged, such as going on a scenic hike or visiting an art museum. Other activities you can try include:

  • a family game night
  • taking an art or pottery class
  • going camping or stargazing
  • enjoying a movie in the park
  • going to the gym or having a family workout session
  • try to beat an escape room
  • volunteer at a community event or food kitchen

Discuss issues when you’re sober, not when you’ve been drinking

Relationships thrive when you can effectively communicate with each other, but it can be hard to do that when you’ve been drinking.

Instead of trying to solve issues while under the influence, it’s OK to take a step back and address it at a later time, when you’re sober.

Schedule time with a couple’s counselor to help build better communication

If you’ve reached the point where it’s hard to communicate with your partner, consider reaching out to a therapist who specializes in couples and family counseling for help getting back on track.

In fact, research from 2019 has shown that alcohol behavioral couple therapy can help participants drink less, decrease conflict, and increase communication between partners.

Can alcohol change a person?

Alcohol is considered both a stimulant and a depressant, meaning that it can alter the way the brain communicates with the body. When we drink alcohol, we can experience changes in our concentration, coordination, and responsiveness.

But it isn’t just our physical and mental awareness that changes when we drink — our personality can also change.

Changes in your personality can cause you to interact differently with the people around you — and not always for the better.

When is it time to seek help?

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), roughly 14.5 million people ages 12 and older in the United States have alcohol use disorder, which can cause symptoms such as:

  • significant difficulties at work or school, or in your relationships at home, because of your alcohol use
  • a significant amount of time spent drinking, and often times more — or for longer — than you intended
  • being unable to stop drinking even when you try to, and possible even withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of the symptoms of alcohol use disorder, one of the biggest indicators is that alcohol is having a significantly negative impact on your life and your relationships with others.

Where can I find help?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of alcohol use disorder, you’re not alone — and there is help available. Consider checking out the following resources to get started:

  • the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator can help you find alcohol use disorder treatment near you
  • the NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking website offers education and tips on how to cut down on drinking
  • the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Alcohol Portal has alcohol education and other resources
  • the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) help page has education on the misuse of alcohol and other substances
  • the SAMHSA’s website can help you find treatment for alcohol use disorder in your area

Alcohol can change the way that people interact with each other, sometimes in negative ways.

Research has shown that excessive alcohol use can lead to serious family consequences, including intimate partner violence and even divorce.

If you feel like alcohol has been affecting your relationships, consider reaching out for help so that you can be your best self for the people around you.