14 Ways Alcohol Abuse Harms Marriage

Last Updated on March 3, 2021

Alcohol can be a poisonous substance, especially in large amounts. When used to excess, alcohol is toxic to the body and mind. And it’s well known that alcohol abuse or addiction can also poison a marriage. Overuse of alcohol disrupts life on many levels, and takes a particularly devastating toll on intimate relationships.

A 2014 study entitled the “National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions1” published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, compared the divorce rates of couples in which one or both were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), to couples without this condition. Results showed that divorce rates were significantly higher among respondents with AUD: 48.3% vs. 30.1%. These marital dissolutions occurred between the first wave of data collection and the second one, three years later.

Does Alcohol Addiction Affect Our Partner?

Not only does alcohol affect marriage, but it may affect who and when we marry.

One 2018 study2 found that children of parents with alcohol problems are more likely to get married under age 25. However, a 2011 study3 suggested that alcohol dependence may delay marriage for women during their 20s. Similarly, dependence delayed marriage for men starting around age 30. Even though these individuals married later, they were also separated or divorced sooner.

Struggling with your own alcohol addiction may also make you more likely to marry someone similar. A 2003 study4 found that alcoholics tend to marry other alcoholics.

How Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Can Affect Marriage

In the early courtship phase, a couple may center many of their dates and social interactions around events that include indulging in alcoholic beverages.

In our culture, alcohol is so deeply ingrained in most social activities and holiday celebrations, that during these early dating years, alcohol use by a couple is typically not an issue. Later, however, after marriage, work, and family life begin to be more demanding and stressful, one or both partners may increase their alcohol intake as a way to manage their daily stress.

Alcohol becomes destructive to a marriage when one or both parties acquires AUD as a result of chronic, increasing use of spirits. As tolerance ramps up, the quantity consumed follows the same trajectory, resulting in overuse or addiction.

14 Negative Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Marriage

There are many negative manifestations of alcohol addiction that can wreak havoc on a marriage.

  1. Sex Life

It’s well-documented5 that alcohol can lower testosterone, a hormone critical for libido and sexual arousal in men. This can lead to disinterest in one’s partner. Moreover, a 2016 study6 found that alcohol negatively affected the quality of sex for both men and women.

  1. Detachment and Emotional Unavailability

Alcohol may be thought of as a social lubricant; however, heavy use can cause detachment from relationships. Both partners may begin to emotionally withdraw as the disorder becomes unmanageable. One small study7 found that men with AUD had difficulty recognizing emotions in verbal language. They also had a decreased ability to show empathy.

  1. Increasing Irresponsibility and Unreliability

As a person goes deeper into their addiction, they can become increasingly irresponsible and unreliable. They may fail to follow through with family obligations or complete tasks sporadically, diminishing their partner’s confidence in them and their ability to depend on them.

  1. Problems at Work

Continuing on the last point, if alcohol starts to make a person unreliable, that could bleed into their work. They may frequently call in sick because of hangovers, show up late, or not at all. If they are impaired on the job, they may not be able to function properly, which may contribute to workplace accidents and hazardous environments. These changes could lead to termination and put the family finances in jeopardy.

  1. Physical Health Problems

It probably comes as no surprise that heavy alcohol use can impact health. Alcohol abuse can affect the brain, digestion, weight, and increase your risk of several types of cancer. This can affect the quality of life for both partners and the family unit as a whole. Read 12 Surprising Ways Alcohol Impacts Your Health.

  1. Loss of Interest in Personal Maintenance

Drinking can diminish people’s cares about many aspects of life—including appearance and hygiene. This could lead to changes such as a disheveled appearance, or health consequences like weight gain.

  1. Change in Attitude

Since alcohol is a depressant, it may trigger depression or make symptoms worse. A partner may notice their spouse becoming more negative and difficult to be around. Even if they aren’t abusive, an “angry drunk” can make frequent off-putting comments.

  1. Increasing Other Partner’s Alcohol Use

Research shows that partners can influence each other’s drinking behaviors. According to one study8, if a wife started drinking heavily, her husband was three times more likely to increase his intake too. Similarly, women were twice as likely to drink more if their husbands did. The upside is that making changes to your relationship with alcohol may help you both.

  1. Infidelity

Although cheating shouldn’t be blamed on alcohol, research9 shows that problem drinking predicted higher rates of sex outside of the relationship. This is likely because impairment can lead to poor decision-making and erosion of intimacy.

  1. Fertility Issues

For couples wanting to have children, overdrinking can lower the chances of conceiving. A 2016 study10 found that women who had 14 or more drinks per week were 18% less likely to conceive. Alcohol is also known to affect sperm quality11. Even if a couple does get pregnant, prior drinking can impact outcomes. One study12 found that miscarriage was 2-3 times more likely if the woman drank the week she conceived and 2-4 times more likely if the man drank.

  1. Violence

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls alcohol consumption a major contributor to intimate partner violence—defined as physical, psychological or sexual abuse. This is especially true when consumed at harmful levels. According to one U.S. study, 55% of victims believed their partners were drinking before a physical assault. Unfortunately, this may cause the victim to drink too. According to a U.K. study13 victims were twice as likely to consume alcohol as their abusive partners.

  1. Legal Problems

Alcohol abuse can cause a partner to make poor decisions, including destruction of property, violence, driving while impaired, and other illegal behaviors. If a person is struggling to afford their addiction, they may also engage in criminal activities to pay for alcohol. These can all have legal consequences.

  1. Loss of Interest in Activities

Excess alcohol can deplete energy and vitality. It may also contribute to depression. This can make a couple less inclined to do activities they once enjoyed together.

  1. Marital Dissatisfaction

Over time, untreated alcohol addiction can take a toll on the relationship. A 2013 study14 found that substance abuse was a problem for at least half of divorced couples. Researchers say that the dependence seemed to have developed slowly, but became the “final straw” once the other partner felt the issue couldn’t be fixed.

4 Impacts of Parent’s Alcohol Addiction on Children

Studies suggest that about 1 in 5 children15 grow up with parents who drink excessively. Although it may be more common than you think, parental alcohol problems can adversely affect kids.

#1 Emotional Impacts

Studies16 show that depression and anxiety are more common among those who grew up with a parent who had a drinking problem. Other research17 shows a connection between anger in children and parental problem drinking. One explanation for these outcomes could be that most children of alcoholics have experienced abuse or neglect.

#2 Children More Likely to Develop AUD

According to research18, children of alcoholics are 4 times more likely than other kids to become alcoholics themselves. Another study19 showed that, compared to females, male adult children of alcoholics are more likely to develop the disorder.

#3 Children More Likely to Marry Someone with AUD

Parents with alcohol dependence may hope that their children grow up to find healthier partners. However, according to research, this may not be the case.

A 2018 study20 found that children of parents with AUD are more likely to marry a person who also has AUD. Multiple studies suggest21 this is especially true for women, even if they aren’t affected22 by their own drinking problems.

#4 Parental AUD & Divorce’s Impact

If one or both parents don’t seek help for their alcohol misuse, it could eventually lead to separation or divorce. It’s well-documented23 how divorce adversely affects children—but it may also impact their future drinking habits.

A 2016 study24 examined which factors determined when a child would start drinking. Researchers found the strongest predictor was divorce or separation. This was even truer for children of parents who drank at higher levels. Unfortunately, research25 has shown that heavy drinking during adolescent years is also linked to antisocial behavior.

Read our full post on Resources for Children of Alcoholics

How Curbing or Eliminating Alcohol Consumption Can Save a Marriage

If AUD has seriously disrupted a marriage to the point of a spouse potentially filing for divorce, there are options to get things back on track and repair the relationship. Not all alcohol use results in dependency—which makes it crucial to seek ways to control alcohol intake before dependency takes root. Learning how to moderate a drinking habit is a process that requires commitment—not only to making the necessary behavioral changes, but to preserving the marriage itself.

When one spouse has been consistently engaged in reckless drinking—causing marital and family strife, plus serious financial and/or legal consequences—moderation can redeem the drinker and save the marriage. How is this accomplished? One can learn to control drinking by setting personal goals and benchmarks, followed by ongoing counseling, medically-assisted treatment, regular breathalyzing, and peer support.

Whether one or both partners are struggling to cut back or stop drinking, you can seek help together. Treatment for AUD can also be combined with marital counseling.

Ria Health Can Help You Reduce or Stop Your Drinking

For the sake of a marriage, as well as overall mental and physical well-being, reducing or eliminating alcohol intake is imperative. Ria Health stands apart in the field of AUD treatment by providing a revolutionary mobile app, partnered with expert medical advice and recovery coaching—sidestepping the need to go to a facility for treatment.

The app provides a behavioral modification element that helps members set personal goals—either reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption—and then tracks progress with data provided by scheduled breathalyzer use. Online forums lend peer support and additional coaching.

Summary of Marriage and Alcohol Abuse:

Untreated, alcohol use disorder can negatively impact a marriage. Partners may experience problems from emotional detachment and attitude changes to domestic abuse and legal problems. Overdrinking can also affect children and make them more likely to experience similar issues. To prevent divorce and further consequences, partners can combine alcohol treatment with marital counseling.

Fix Your Relationship with Your Spouse and Alcohol. Join Our At-Home Program Today


Medically reviewed by:
Director of Coaching
Designed over 6 evidence-based interventions; Clinical expert in addiction
Riannon Westall
Written By:
Toronto-based health writer. Background in newsroom journalism, content marketing, and research.
Edited by:

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