When people marry, they form an unbreakable bond and vow to be there for each other for better or for worse.
But what happens when those bonds are tested by alcohol abuse and addiction?
There always are consequences when excessive drinking is in the mix. But when alcohol use disorder has invaded the lives of people who have created what is supposed to be a lasting union, it no longer affects just one person. No part of the relationship goes untouched, whether it is only one person drinking or both. Alcohol use disorder (AUD), a chronic health issue, can cause many problems. Among them are:
Alcoholism can even bring violence into the home, making it an even more unpredictable and unsafe environment to live in. Spouses of people who abuse alcohol as well as their children and others are affected by what is known as a family disease. What happens in that environment can leave scars that linger for a lifetime. Not only can drinking destroy marriages, but it can destroy families for generations down the line.
One key thing to remember is that people with alcohol use disorder do not live on an island. They are part of a family unit, so everything they go through most likely will be felt by the people in their lives, whether directly or indirectly. In families where children are exposed to problematic alcohol use, statistics show they are at higher risk of developing AUD.
People who have a spouse with a substance abuse issue will find themselves competing with addiction to gain their partner’s attention. Over time, they may blame themselves for their partner’s addiction or “normalize” troubling and hurtful behaviors for the sake of keeping up appearances to the outside world. People coping with a spouse in active addiction also may inadvertently become enablers and do more harm than good while trying to keep the marriage together. The spouse that’s trying to manage and move forward risks experiencing psychological distress and coping in ways that are not mentally or emotionally healthy. Meanwhile, their spouse will stay on a destructive path as the marriage possibly falls apart.
Here are five key areas in that drinking can affect and even ruin a marriage and break up a union that is supposed to last forever.
Lying is common in marriages in which one or both spouses drink alcohol heavily. Being dishonest includes everything from flat-out lying to lies of omission to hiding things with cover-ups. One problem with lying is that it doesn’t stop at one lie. When one lie is told, another one must be told to cover up the first one. Then another lie is told and then another and yet another. Soon, untruths are woven into the fabric of the marriage, which leads to its unraveling and ultimate end if steps aren’t taken to correct the damage and heal from it. Nothing erodes trust faster than lies and deceit.
Alcohol abuse can destroy communication in marriages and be a major factor in why those marriages do not recover from it. Rifts result when either person—whether it’s the one doing the drinking or the one who isn’t—checks out emotionally and stops talking and listening to the other person.
When spouses no longer hear each other, conflicts and misunderstandings tend to build and spill over into all areas of the marriage. In many situations, the manner of communicating is hostile, tense, or possibly nonexistent.
Emotional, Sexual Intimacy
Emotional and sexual intimacy can suffer from a failure to communicate. A healthy sexual relationship also keeps the marriage bond strong. Heavy drinkers may find themselves struggling in this area as they either might be unable to perform or find they don’t desire to because of their alcohol habits.
Alcohol is a depressant, so prolonged drinking can decrease sexual activity as it slows down the body as well as the brain’s ability to sense when sexual stimulation is occurring, according to a Medical Daily article.
“Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not an aphrodisiac and can actually inhibit your ability to attain an erection and orgasm. While it enables people to overcome their sexual inhibitions or anxieties, excessive alcohol also has a negative physiological effect on the penis,” the Medical Daily article says.
The spouse of a person using alcohol excessively might find the person unattractive and undesirable because of the drinking, and the person might avoid their spouse altogether. This, too, leads to a breakdown in the relationship.
Another way drinking can ruin a marriage is when it upsets financial stability. Money woes may come about when a person with a drinking problem can’t hold a job or handle money responsibly. Someone with alcohol use disorder may spend a lot on alcohol and other substances, and that adds up over time.
High-risk financial situations can strain a marriage and bring it to a halt, especially if the financial situation brings about losing the couple’s home or having one or more of their vehicles repossessed. Drinking troubles can also put one in some legal situations that may require paying an attorney, which is expensive and further drains a couple’s financial resources.
Shared Family Responsibilities
People in active addiction often neglect key responsibilities, including keeping a daily routine that involves caring for oneself and others. A lot of time goes into drinking alcohol and doing drugs, including time recovering from excessive substance use. This means household chores go neglected. Slacking off in taking care of shared duties at home can shift the responsibility to a person’s spouse. The person who picks up the slack can grow resentful and angry about having to do so because of someone else’s irresponsible behavior.
Drinking Can Ruin a Marriage and Bring Divorce
Married people who are dealing with alcohol use disorder and its enduring threat to their union have a few choices to make. Either they resolve to address their spouse’s alcohol addiction together and get the help that’s needed, or they commit to keeping things as they are. The latter choice is a sure path to Splitsville for many couples.
In one 2014 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers compared the divorce rates of people with AUD to those of people who do not struggle with AUD. They found that about half of the study’s participants with either past alcohol troubles or current alcohol use disorder were divorced at some point in their lives.
What Happens When Both Spouses Abuse Alcohol?
A 2013 study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that marriage is likely to end in divorce if only one spouse drinks heavily, according to a Medical Daily article. However, what happens to the marriage if both people are heavy drinkers?
According to the study’s findings, those couples are just as likely to stay married as married couples who don’t indulge in alcohol.
“Our results indicate that it is the difference between the couple’s drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, that leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation, and divorce,” said Kenneth Leonard, Ph.D., RIA director and lead author of the study, in a news release about the study.
“Heavily drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits,” Leonard said in the news www. But he cautioned that this does not mean that the couples’ drinking habits do not affect other areas of family life. “While two heavy drinkers may not divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children.”