Alcohol and relationships
With this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week (15-21 November) exploring the theme of relationships, we look at how drinking can impact us and the ones closest to us.
15th November 2021
Enjoying a drink with your partner every now and then is all well and good. But what if it becomes much more than that? Whether it’s when, where, or how much you drink, our drinking habits can have a direct impact on our relationships and the ones closest to us. If you think you might be drinking too much, it could be time to make some changes as a couple – for the sake of your health as well as your relationship.
Drinking as a couple
Have you ever planned a night without alcohol, only for your partner to crack open a bottle of wine or suggest a ‘nightcap’? Before you know it, you’ve abandoned all your good intentions of having a drink-free day. It’s a common scenario and one many of us are guilty of. In fact, in our most recent Drinkaware Monitor, 24% of drinkers reported finding it difficult to resist a drink if their spouse or partner was drinking. This proportion was even higher among people who drank more during the first Covid lockdown report, with 45% influenced by their partner in this way.1
It’s easy to end up adopting the habits of those that we’re closest to. If a partner drinks less than you, it can soon become a mutual habit. But it can work both ways too. If you encourage each other to drink more, or instigate drinking at different times, you may both be more likely to end up drinking at harmful levels.
Alcohol and behaviour
Drinking too much can also have a negative impact on our relationships. Alcohol can affect our mood for instance, making us more likely to get angry or even aggressive at our partner. It can also make you feel more tired and irritable, and you may find you’re more likely to argue with your partner when you’ve had a drink. Drinking alcohol to excess can have an impact on your sex life too.
Deciding to cut down as a couple can benefit you both from a health point of view, but it may well give your relationship a positive boost too. More energy, better sleep and improved mood are just some of the known benefits of cutting down.
Tips to reduce your drinking together
There are lots of ways to help prevent unhealthy drinking patterns forming in your relationship. You may find it helpful to do the Drinkaware Drinking Check. This is a self-assessment that is a quick and easy way to see if you or your partner might be drinking too much.
If for whatever reason your partner doesn’t feel ready, or willing, to review their drinking, there’s nothing to stop you taking the lead yourself. But you’re likely to be more successful if you make a plan together to reduce your drinking. It’s always a good idea to approach the subject when you can talk about it calmly, without blame, rather than when one or both of you have already had a drink. If you feel your relationship might have encouraged negative drinking patterns, try not to be too hard on yourselves as there’s plenty of ways you can support each other to cut down and keep on track of things.
To reduce you or your partner’s risk of long-term harm, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines recommends drinking no more than 14 units a week. To help put that in perspective, that’s about six 175ml glasses of average strength wine or six pints of average strength beer a week. It’s also a good idea to include several drink-free days, spread evenly throughout the week.
Most of us find it hard to know how much we’re drinking but there are plenty of free tools that can help. The MyDrinkaware app can help you and your partner to keep track of your units as well as all your achievements. As a couple, you may find it helpful to identify your drinking triggers and plan in advance how to avoid them. This might involve deciding to have some non-alcoholic drinks with dinner a couple of night’s a week. Or, going to bed earlier before you both feel the need for an evening drink. You might even want to pick out some drink-free days together or try out an alcohol-free bar.
As much as relationships can impact our drinking habits, not having a close relationship can also have an impact on us. Feelings of loneliness and boredom can encourage many of us to drink more. This has become more apparent now, with more people drinking on their own, at home, than in previous years.1
Drinking can seem like a comforting way to combat loneliness but it may surprise you to know that alcohol is a depressant, and can actually make those feelings worse and harder to deal with. You may find it helpful to increase your social interaction, whether it’s a phone call, virtual or meeting a friend face-to-face. Taking up a new hobby or joining a new online community can also help manage drinking triggers.
Regardless of your relationship status and the impact it might be having on your drinking, it’s important to know that there is support available.
Find out more
1. Pearson A., & Slater, E. (October 2021). Drinking through the pandemic. Drinkaware Monitor 2021. PS Research and Drinkaware.