The Effects of Alcohol on a Marriage

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Excessive alcohol use, which is more than two drinks per day for men and one drink for women, can have damaging effects on a marriage. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half of adults in the United States drink alcohol and 5 percent of the total population drink heavily. Excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle cause of death each year. If you or your spouse has a drinking problem, seek professional help.


Increased tension from alcohol abuse can lead to divorce. Marital distress or dissatisfaction occurs when a drinking spouse does not participate in everyday household tasks and family activities. Feelings of neglect can arise if the drinker is chronically absent from home. Excessive alcohol use causes increased negative and hostile communication, more expressions of anger and less warmth, which is likely to contribute to marital dissatisfaction. Infidelity can destroy a marriage if the alcoholic spouse engages in risky sexual behaviors.


Alcohol changes behavior by causing fear, mistrust, anger and increased aggression. As a result, the nondrinking spouse may face intimate partner violence. Among battered women, 40 percent to 60 percent report that their husbands are heavy drinkers, and the CDC suggests that 35 percent of domestic violence is at the hands of a person under the influence of alcohol. Abuse from an alcoholic can be physical or verbal. Children also are at risk in homes where one or both parents drink excessively. Research indicates that alcohol is a leading factor in child maltreatment and neglect.


Alcoholism can cause financial strain for families because it's expensive and money may be spent in ways that do not support the household. There also is an increased risk of alcoholics losing their jobs due to poor performance and productivity or absenteeism. Alcohol impairs judgment, and drinkers may create expensive gambling and legal problems for the family. Drinking and driving can cause legal, emotional and financial burdens, especially if it results in death or servere injury.


The nondrinking spouse may experience increased stress due to worrying about the health effects of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning is particularly stressful because it is a medical emergency that can suppress the central nervous system and cause loss of consciousness, low blood pressure and body temperature, coma, respiratory depression or death. Frustration or fighting may occur if the drinker is in denial about their addiction or refuses help. Alcoholics may lie, make excuses or blame others for their drinking.