Over 50% of adults in this country have a close relative who has or had an alcohol abuse problem. If this person is the wife or husband, it can significantly damage a relationship. First of all, the drinker’s physical and mental well being is at risk, but the relationship and the family unit as a whole is, too. Each family member can experience long term traumatic psychological and physical effects from this.
A lot of research has been done on spousal alcohol abuse. It has been determine that, once one partner moves from having the occasional drink to needing alcohol in order to function, the other partner regularly shifts from being caring, to being addicted to providing care. Compulsive care-taking, as it is known, grows, while the compulsive drinker’s self-care deteriorates at the same time. As a result, the entire family can find itself in emotional, financial, and physical distress.
Alcoholics have an addiction, and addicted people are compelled by their substance of choice. As a result, they lie, make excuses, blame others, and essentially stop caring about the consequences of their behavior, so long as they can access alcohol. Perhaps most worrying is that children who are present in these households model the behavior of their parents, learning to either become alcoholics or compulsive carers later in life.
A comprehensive piece of research was completed by the NHMRC (National Healthy Marriage Resource Center), a nonprofit organization, in an attempt to build a greater understanding of the effects of alcohol on family and marital life. Some of their most important results are listed below.
Alcohol Abuse and Marital Quality and Satisfaction
In couples where at least one party abuses alcohol:
- There are increased martial distress and marriage difficulties.
- There is dysfunctional communication, with much of it being hostile and negative. Without proper communication, there is also very little marital satisfaction. As a result, tension starts to increase in alcoholic marriages.
- There is less opportunity and ability to meet regular family responsibilities. The drinking partner is usually incapable of completing household responsibilities, thereby increasing marital stress and decreasing overall satisfaction with the relationship.
- The non-drinking spouse is often under tremendous psychological stress. This also affects the academic, behavioral, emotional, and social functioning of the children, in turn leading to further stress on the family as a whole, and a greater reduction on marriage satisfaction.
Alcohol Abuse and Divorce
There is significant evidence that has demonstrated that men and women who are divorced or separated are three times more likely to have an alcohol abuse problem than men or women who are married. Further research has shown that:
- There are higher rates of domestic violence, marital distress, and poor communication. These are all precursors for divorce.
- Marital quality is decreased, thereby increasing the chance of divorce.
- Time spent together by partners is decreased, particularly when the alcoholic drinks out of the home. As more time is spent apart, the potential for divorce increases as well.
Alcohol Abuse and Marital Communication
In families where at least one party has an alcohol abuse problem, it is known that:
- Communication is severely damaged. Communication is often more damaging and negative, including contempt, blaming, and criticizing. Both parties are also more likely to be angry at each other, and to stop to show warmth, particularly when resolving problems. When communication becomes negative, encouragement and open discussion stops, leading to difficulties in solving problems.
- Problem solving skills are lost. In fact, couples often cease to try to solve problems altogether. The desire to engage with the other partner is lost, not in the least because the non-drinking partner anticipates that the conversation will turn into an argument. This is a pattern that becomes increasingly strong and leads to important issues, including child-rearing decisions, sexual intimacy, and family finances, staying unresolved as both parties avoid the negative emotions and stress associated with communication.
- Communication is affected by personality characteristics. Once people become an alcoholic, they usually become less agreeable, less conscientious, more hypersensitive, and more anxious than non-drinkers. As a result, effective communication is lost, and problem solving becomes all but impossible.
- The way alcohol affects the brain leads to negative communication. Research has shown that alcohol makes it impossible for someone to properly understand and interpret what the other party is saying. People who are alcoholic are more likely to interpret things negatively, leading them to answer with anger and negativity.
Alcohol Abuse and Marital Violence
There are significant statistics that show a clear link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence:
- 40% to 60% of battered women have reported that their husband is a heavy drinker. 50% to 70% of men entering alcohol rehab have admitted to committing domestic violence against their partner. 20% to 30% admit that the violence towards their spouse was severe.
- Men become more likely to be physically and verbally abusive the more often they become intoxicated. There are clear links between alcohol abuse, marital violence, and increase aggression and, as time progresses, this often becomes more severe, leading to injury or even death.
- When people are under the influence of alcohol, they are more likely to show aggressive behavior. This may be due to a reduction in rational thinking abilities. They are often more impulsive, which means they become less able to curb their aggression. This is particularly true in relationships where partners are more aggressive, even if they don’t drink.
Alcohol Abuse and Sexual Intimacy
It is a known fact that alcohol abuse is closely linked to sexual issues. This includes erectile dysfunction in men, and lower sexual satisfaction in men and women. Women may also find it more difficult to climax when under the influence of alcohol.
Therapy for Couples with Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse is not a problem that someone faces alone. Both the cause of alcoholism and the cure for alcoholism are closely related to familial support networks. Research has demonstrated that, when therapy involves the immediate family of the alcoholic, the chance of overcoming the addiction is greatly increased.