Alcohol and relationships

Many of us associate alcohol with social events, and drinking in moderaton can be a healthy ‘social lubricant’. It can help us to interact with others and even form new friendships and connections. But alcohol can also have a negative impact on our relationships.

A new survey, commissioned by Alcohol Change UK, shows around one in five drinkers (22%) have drunk to try to cope with relationship problems in the past six months, or because of an argument with a family member (20%). A similar proportion of drinkers (19%) have struggled to socialise without alcohol.

An estimated 5.5 million people in the UK are currently coping with a loved one’s drinking, drug taking or gambling. Read the latest report from Adfam on this overlooked group

Overlooked, a report by Adfam and YouGov

Research consistently shows that the coronavirus pandemic has created conditions for more people to drink more heavily and more often than usual. While occasional and low level alcohol only brings low risks, when we drink too much and too often, it can cause or exacerbate all sorts of problems with our physical and mental health, as well as negatively affecting our relationships.

It can heighten family tensions, get in the way of clear communication, and mean we are less present for each other, including our children. And if a loved one is drinking heavily, it can cause huge worry. There is also a real risk of someone’s drinking causing conflict, with alcohol being a factor in many cases of child neglect and domestic abuse.

Over half of respondents (51%) to the survey reported having, or having had, a friend, family member, or partner with a drink problem. But the harm is felt more heavily among people from certain ethnic groups – with a quarter of those from mixed, multiple ethnic groups (25%) and Asian, Asian British backgrounds (23%) identifying as having a drink problem over the past six months, compared to 14% of people from white British backgrounds and 8% from Black, African, Caribbean and Black British backgrounds.

If alcohol is having a negative impact on your personal or professional relationships, there are some steps you can take.

  • Check how much you are drinking using the self-assessment tool at Drinkaware.
  • Keep track. Use a free app like Try Dry to keep track of your drinking and set goals to help you cut down.
  • Take a break. Going alcohol-free for a period of time could be an effective way to disrupt a pattern of habitual drinking. Find out more about sober challenges.
  • Get relationship support. You can get counselling individually or as a couple from Relate.

If you would like to talk to someone about your drinking, support is available. Following current Government advice, a number of organisations have set up support online or by phone.

  • The Alcoholics Anonymous helpline is open 24/7 on 0800 9177 650. If you would prefer, you can also email them at help@aamail.org or live chat via their website at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk.
  • Drinkline, a free, confidential helpline for people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else’s. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm).
  • Join a SMART Recovery meeting online.
  • We Are With You offers a free confidential online chat service. Available: weekdays – between 9am-9pm; and on weekends: 10am-4pm.

Alcohol withdrawal warning

Stopping drinking suddenly can be very dangerous, and can even kill you, if you are dependent on alcohol. If, after a period of drinking, you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be dependent on alcohol and you should NOT suddenly stop drinking completely:

  • seizures (fits)
  • hand tremors (‘the shakes’)
  • sweating
  • seeing things that are not real (visual hallucinations)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia).

But you can still take control of your drinking. Speak to a GP who will be able to get help for you to reduce your drinking safely.

The survey for Alcohol Change UK was carried out online by Opinium between 15 to 19 October 2021. Total sample size was 2,000 UK adults, of whom 1,544 said they were drinkers. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).