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The Effects of Alcohol Use on Relationships

August 25, 2022

In American society, drinking alcohol frequently is very natural, typical, and expected. So when a family member or friend's frequency of drinking and subsequent behavior changes, it can be confusing. As alcohol becomes an important and central role in someone's life, their ability to handle stress, changes, and conflict drastically decreases. In the substance use disorder treatment field, they can develop what we call "low frustration tolerance."

Low frustration tolerance can cause all sorts of relationship problems. Suppose alcohol gives a convenient and seemingly effective calming or "numbing" effect to stress, emotions, and discomfort. In that case, the lack of intoxication causes "low frustration tolerance," leading to feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, sad, or even angry. The more numb the alcohol makes us, the more intense emotions are when they do arise.

We often hear from spouses and partners, mothers, fathers, and friends, "He acts like he doesn't even care that we are having financial problems because of his drinking. He doesn't talk to me." Or, "Her personality is different. She isn't even aware of what is happening with me, her husband!"

Often, the pendulum will swing from numbing emotions to exaggerating emotions when there is a problem with alcohol. This can be very confusing to friends, employers, co-workers, and family. One side of the spectrum is the numbing – feeling nothing, including positive emotions – joy, gratitude, security, and excitement. The other side is the exaggeration – anger, rage, sometimes crying, sobbing, or even extreme fear.

When someone with an alcohol problem is on the exaggeration side of low frustration tolerance, then all the expression occurs – and this is different from that flat, calm, expressing little way of acting. Not being able to handle what one formerly did, having that "low frustration tolerance" type of day, can mean a lot of emotion is coming out. And family, friends, etc., are confused and affected by this.

Getting help for problematic drinking means slowing down or stopping that pendulum swinging between feeling nothing/numb and explosive, overwhelming emotion. Talking with a counselor and being in a group or treatment program helps the drinker see that other people are just like them. Perhaps losing some control with alcohol causes physical, emotional, and thinking changes that we did not choose when we drank a little more. And this helps us make better choices with alcohol - that is called recovery.  Call today! 470-327-8336