Rebuilding lives affected by alcohol addiction

The effects of alcohol addiction are devastating. Alcohol misuse can have long-lasting consequences for a person’s physical and mental health, their finances, and their interpersonal relationships.

Acknowledging that these consequences affect not just the person experiencing addiction but also their loved ones is critical. Interpersonal connections can be profoundly damaged by alcohol misuse – and in some cases, unhealthy relationship dynamics can exacerbate, co-create and enable addiction. In addressing alcohol addiction, it isn’t just the life of the person experiencing that addiction that is transformed, but the lives of those around them too.

Understanding the Depth of Alcohol Addiction

While alcohol addiction may manifest as risky behaviour, failure to fulfil obligations and a great deal of time spent seeking out and consuming alcohol, equally, it may fly under the radar.

It’s estimated that there are over 600,000 problem drinkers in England – based on adult population figures for 2022, this is 1.3% of the population.

In the UK, drinking is culturally embedded. In a 2021 NHS survey, 79% of adults in England reported drinking alcohol in the last year, and 49% reported drinking in the previous week.
This may decrease the likelihood of problem drinkers accepting they have a problem, as their behaviour stands out less in a culture where drinking is normalised.

Alcohol addiction does not present identically between different people. In some cases, it may be clear to an alcoholic’s loved ones that they have a problem – for others, it may not be as obvious. In addition to a larger culture of normalised drinking, alcoholics may go to great lengths to conceal the extent of their consumption.

This is why the DSM-V requires only 2 or more criteria to be fulfilled from their Alcohol Use Disorder checklist for a diagnosis. These criteria must also ‘lead to clinically significant impairment or distress’ and ‘occur at any time in the same 12-month period.’

Alcohol addiction and its effects on relationships

Alcohol addiction attacks the intimate bonds between people at every level. Sadly, this can start a cycle that becomes self-perpetuating. The Rat Park Experiment revealed how loneliness and isolation can lead to addiction. As a person’s alcohol misuse escalates, their relationships may break down, causing them to turn to alcohol for comfort increasingly and creating a spiral.

Trust can be eroded by secretive behaviours, as the person experiencing addiction seeks to conceal the extent of their drinking. Neglected family and interpersonal duties can lead to frustration and resentment from loved ones, further eroding trust. Alcohol addiction is associated with increased conflict, which can escalate to domestic violence. Finances can become strained, and children are negatively impacted.

These factors can lead to helplessness and frustration in the friends and families of people experiencing addiction, negatively impacting their mental health and leading them to pull away.

Finally, codependency can play a role. Codependency is a relationship pattern where another person can unknowingly or unwillingly play a role in enabling another person’s addiction. This includes covering up and making excuses for them, taking over their responsibilities, providing financial support, or denying the existence of a problem. Codependency is significantly higher for relationships where one partner is in active addiction4 – and as codependency can enable this addiction, navigating these relationships in the context of the treatment of alcoholism is particularly critical.

A good alcoholism treatment centre will be aware of the ways alcoholism can damage relationships or how some relationships can sometimes play enabling or unhelpful roles in a person’s pattern of substance misuse. Therapy that seeks to treat the whole person, not just the addiction in isolation, is important.


Alcohol addiction prevention happens on two levels – population and individual. Population-level prevention programmes aim to reduce overall consumption and harm, while individual interventions are used for targeted, personalised treatment. Examples of population-level interventions include restrictions on the availability and marketing of alcohol, minimum unit pricing and public health campaigns. There is evidence that these measures are useful for reducing overall consumption, but they do not eradicate alcohol addiction in individuals.

Individual prevention measures are less common. Targeted awareness programmes, screening and early education interventions exist, but they focus on young people and at-risk groups. Individual interventions rely on people struggling with addiction realising they have a problem and seeking alcohol addiction help. This makes individual prevention difficult, as the person has to enter active addiction, realise they have a problem and seek out treatment from alcoholism rehab or an alcohol detox centre.

Co-occurring issues

Alcohol misuse and mental health disorders can be bidirectional. People can turn to alcohol to self-medicate for mental health disorders, and these disorders can be exacerbated by alcohol. There is evidence that for depression specifically, alcohol is a causal factor, but a 2020 worldwide study in The Journal of Addictive Behaviours found that in the majority of cases, mental health disorders preceded the onset of alcohol misuse disorder.

The occurrence of a mental illness alongside substance abuse is called dual diagnosis. Because of the high comorbidity of alcohol addiction and mental health disorders, it is important not to treat alcohol misuse disorder in isolation in the context of alcohol detox treatment.

Alcohol help – The importance of seeking professional assistance

When a mental illness occurs alongside substance misuse, getting help gives the highest probability of recovery. Alcohol addiction help such as therapy, counselling, and rehab are critical – but even if substance misuse is diagnosed in isolation, these tools greatly increase the likelihood of recovery.

There are many types of alcohol addiction treatment available, and availing yourself of the full range of help available at an alcohol rehab can include a variety of tools and treatments. Rehab, particularly inpatient rehab, is especially pertinent in this context as it provides a respite away from addiction, giving relationships damaged by alcohol misuse a chance to recover and be revisited later.

Rebuilding lives affected by alcohol addiction requires courage, commitment, and the right support. Whether you’re someone struggling with addiction or part of their support network, remember that recovery is possible, and a better, healthier future awaits you and your loved ones.

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