6 Ways Drugs & Alcohol Can Affect Relationships

Substance abuse and substance use disorders harm more than just the person who is struggling with them. It also impacts those surrounding them, particularly personal relationships. This can be due to the effects substance abuse has on mental health, finances, and more.  

Here are just 6 ways drugs and alcohol affect relationships and the signs to look out for if you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse.

1. Impact on Marriage, Family, and Children

How Drugs & Alcohol Can Affect the Entire Family

Substance use disorders, or SUDs, are the recurrent use of alcohol or illicit substances (or both), resulting in devastating effects such as being unable to control the use of the substance; failing to meet obligations and responsibilities, and spending an inordinate amount of time getting, using or recovering from the effects of using the substance. 

Because of the all-consuming nature of substance use disorders, these consequences can have a tremendous effect on personal relationships by damaging social health. Personal relationships, especially those closest to you such as relationships with family members can be put under enormous strain when someone is struggling with substance abuse.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence notes several ways drinking and drug use affect family members.

These include:

  • Neglecting important duties
  • Taking time away from commitments to manage hangovers 
  • Encountering legal problems as a result of choices made under the influence
  • Inability to stop substance misuse at will

Substance abuse is often discussed from a physical health and psychological perspective. However, the reality is that drug and alcohol abuse can affect not just an individual but their family and friends as well.

Social health refers to the quality of one’s social relationships and the ability to sustain positive, rewarding relationships. These healthy relationships are often integral in one’s recovery process as social health and a supportive social network are closely linked to an individual’s success, self-esteem, and happiness in life.

How Drugs & Alcohol Can Impact Children

A study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) identified that 1 in every 5 adult Americans lived with a relative who abused drugs or alcohol during their adolescence. 

People who were exposed to alcohol in their adolescence have a greater likelihood of emotional troubles compared to children who were not exposed to substance use in their homes. This exposure has the propensity to cause problematic relationships with substances in the future, with children of individuals who abuse alcohol being four times more likely to abuse substances themselves. 

According to the AACAP, children may notice changes in behavior from family members under the influence and falsely believe that they are the cause of these mood swings. This exposure may lead to self-blame, guilt, frustration, and anger. 


Increased substance use can influence one’s choice of company. It is particularly common for those suffering from substance abuse to push away those who care about them and are concerned about their drug or alcohol use. 

Our friends’ attitudes can often influence us in ways we aren’t aware of. Surrounding oneself with people who drink heavily or have other substance use issues may reinforce these bad habits.

2. Impact on Money and Finances

It’s not cheap to support an active addiction. Many struggling with substance abuse spend significant amounts of money on getting the addictive substances they feel they need to feel better. They may be unable to maintain a steady job and may resort to asking others for money, food, or shelter. Some may also ask for financial assistance to pay for a treatment facility or another program.

Furthermore, because of lowered inhibitions, one may be more likely to impulsively make purchases without thinking through the consequences of those purchases in the moment.

Finally, substance abuse can affect one’s productivity at work or school. College students who binge drink may have lower grades, and these lower grades can have a ripple effect throughout their employment prospects and salary potential. Employees who binge drink or engage in heavy drinking are more likely to be absent from work than employees who don’t binge drink. Those who drink excessively may need to quit their jobs earlier than they had originally planned as a consequence of drinking’s long-term effects.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking results in $249 billion a year in healthcare-related costs and lower employee productivity

3. Mental Health

According to one 2017 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 8.5 million American adults suffered from both a mental health disorder or mental health issues and a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder.

Substance use and depression/anxiety often coexist. Generally, depression and/or anxiety will come first, and a substance use problem develops from self-medicating their symptoms.

Addictions can also cause depression and anxieties, however. Substances alter the balance of your brain chemistry. For example, drinking alcohol relaxes you at first because alcohol enhances the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and diminishes the effect of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Your brain quickly adapts to this change, producing less GABA and more glutamate. This leads to more negative emotions when you’re not drinking alcohol. This also happens with other substances. 

Emotional Volatility

Alcohol and drug use can often lead to emotional volatility, such as losing one’s temper easily or suffering from mood swings. Lashing out is more likely when someone feels constantly anxious or like they are being threatened at some level. It’s especially common when someone feels like a loved one stands in the way of their alcohol or drug use. It may seem like drugs or alcohol are basic needs that a loved one is depriving them of and so they become more aggressive.

Brain imaging studies have shown that long-term substance abuse weakens the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating emotions and impulses, and its connections to other parts of the brain, especially the reward centers.

The prefrontal cortex is also the part of the brain responsible for higher functions like attention, planning, and self-control. It helps to moderate the emotional responses generated in older parts of the brain. Excessive substance use can weaken this area, making one more susceptible to emotional swings.

Secretive and Suspicious

Someone with substance use issues often becomes secretive and takes more care to protect their privacy. They may become less talkative or more suspicious when people ask them questions. They may be wary others are trying to get information out of them, and may spend more time alone, choosing not to divulge where they’ve been or what they have been doing.

People who struggle with substance use issues often become secretive and take extra precautions to protect their privacy. They may become less friendly or more suspicious when people start asking them questions. 

There may be many reasons behind this suspicious behavior.  They’re often aware that their friends and family’s disapproval would prevent them from drinking or using drugs. Second, they may use illicit drugs or illegally obtain controlled substances. They might be worried about getting into legal trouble or getting others into trouble.

4. Losing interest in Things You Used to Enjoy

One of the primary characteristics of addiction is that it becomes the most important thing in one’s life and everything else gets pushed to the side.

Whether it’s spending time with family, playing a favorite sport, or getting lost in an enjoyable hobby, your other interests will gradually lose ground to substance use. This damages your relationships for a number of reasons, largely because people don’t like being second to substance use.

5. Risky Behavior

Substance abuse often leads to riskier or less ethical behavior. As mentioned above, studies have proven that prolonged substance use impairs your prefrontal cortex. This also has an impact on foresight which leads to the inability to foresee the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use/actions.

Furthermore, drugs and alcohol may lower inhibitions encouraging someone to be more willing to engage in risky behavior such as sharing drug paraphernalia or engaging in unprotected sex. 

This lack of awareness of consequences can also have a deep impact on close personal relationships. Even perhaps stealing from loved ones to support habits.

6. Codependence

Codependency can be between two people abusing substances, family members or spouses of people misusing substances, or children of individuals struggling with substance abuse. Often in a codependent relationship, one person relies on the other to fulfill their emotional needs and provide them self-esteem. Codependency may also describe a relationship that enables someone with substance use disorder to continue self-destructive behavior.

Codependency also shares traits with enabling. Someone who displays codependent behavior may be frustrated by the needs and actions of their addicted loved one but may also feel a compulsive need to take care of that person. This creates a dynamic where the codependent relies on the one suffering from substance use disorder as much as the one suffering relies on the codependent. Their identity may become wrapped up in the “martyr” role, feeling compelled to “serve” or “sacrifice” for their partner, yet simultaneously acting to fulfill their own needs for attachment and closeness.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), those who may be codependent display the following behaviors:

  • Desire to control others because they don’t think the other person can function independently.
  • Experiencing low self-esteem and are overly focused on their loved ones.
  • Willing to compromise their own personal needs and beliefs to keep their loved one calm and content.
  • Are highly aware of the emotional changes of others. 
  • Willing to maintain loyalty and commitment to their loved one despite lack of reciprocation.

Next Steps

If you or a loved one are struggling with any of the above, please feel free to reach out to Riverside Recovery of Tampa’s admissions team to learn more about how to manage addiction and our treatment programs. Finding the right treatment can be challenging. From family therapy to residential treatment to outpatient services and aftercare, it’s important to find what journey will work best for you and your family. 

Contact our team today to learn more about all the different levels of care and how to get your best relationships back on track.






https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64258/ (impact of substance abuse on families)