Too much alcohol and drugs: Can relationships be good when you’re drunk?

Celebrating properly again? And I looked deeply in the glass, and took a lot of medicine? Shooting yourself regularly is not a petty crime, but a serious addiction that also has consequences for the relationship!


Latest example: A public court mud fight between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard! The mutual allegations were full of allegations of excessive alcohol and drug use, but above all the dire consequences that resulted from it. A humiliating, almost pathetic spectacle given by the two of them: Nobody wants that!


Caroline Litzbarsky has worked as a social worker in addiction support for a long time. Today she is an online relationship practice and guides both individuals and couples in learning important relationship skills such as communication and distancing. The partnership expert spoke to BILD der FRAU about addiction within a relationship, what it does to people and how the vicious cycle can be broken.

Too much alcohol and drugs … addiction in a relationship: can things go well?


Dear Madam LetsbarskyOr alcohol or drug abuse in a relationship: a common problem?

Caroline Litsbarsky: According to the German Head Office for Addiction Questions, a total of three million adults in Germany suffer from an alcohol-related disorder. This includes both alcohol use (1.4 million) and alcohol dependence (1.6 million). For comparison: estimates of illegal liqueur come to only half a million.


We can assume that the majority of people are in a relationship. So consumption and relationship are not mutually exclusive. However, abusive consumption, especially when it leads to addiction, affects the person, psyche, behavior – and relationship!


For example, relatives say that they no longer recognize their loved ones! Elevation is closely associated with loss of control. Verbal or physical distractions can occur when drunk. If poisoning becomes an addiction, sufferers often hide the fact that they have a problem. There are those affected who looted the joint account (or the other person’s account) without the knowledge of the other person, for example to finance consumption.


So a large part of the foundation of the relationship – trust and honesty – collapses. In this regard, it can be argued that the misuse of intoxicants, whether legal or illegal, is likely to be harmful to any relationship. Studies show, for example, that addicts have higher divorce rates.


How does consumption affect the relationship?


Various aspects can appear here. One person drinks or consumes, for example, “on a quarterly basis”, that is, at an interval, but up to the point of escalation. These vulnerabilities are either embarrassing, dangerous, or lead to conflict (many substances prevent and reinforce aggression) for those around them.


This was shown in the trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The video material, which showed Depp a drunken heart of a woman, certainly upset many fans.


However, it is not always necessary to escalate. There are consumption patterns in which sufferers regularly consume daily without noticing. You can start with vodka in your morning coffee. In fact, the affected person “needs” the substance to function at all in everyday life. This is often difficult to see.


The problem of low self-control: intoxicants have an inhibitory effect


What if they both consume too much in an abusive way?


Relationships in which drunkenness is part of shared leisure time are especially tragic. It can start with the fact that they both love to party and experiment with each other. After all, it’s great to spend quality time together.


Problem: There is an unhealthy educational effect!


Intoxicants activate the reward system in our bodies anyway. We feel good – and we want to repeat it. After a few iterations, a kind of connection is formed: time together in the top is awesome. It becomes difficult for spouses to find other activities together that produce the same reward effect. A walk, a trip, or a movie can quickly become boring. And then, at some point, there is only the folk festival with too much alcohol or the rave with too much grain to deliver.


And there’s another crucial effect, which we also saw in the Depp/Heard experiment: Most liqueurs have an inhibitory effect. When a couple has conflicting issues, smoke can make them pop even more. Anyone who is already annoyed with the other sober, not feeling love or experiencing jealousy, comes up with an idea: let’s make it clear now! If the other is also drunk, he may be intensely involved in the conflict. This creates a vicious circle of discussion, from which both probably won’t be able to get out easily. It’s hard for couples to stop emotional discussions even when they’re sober. Imagine that with diminished restraint!


By the way: drunken reconciliation is critical. This is where the learning experience can arise: we need intoxicants to address our problems and to reconcile again.


Established habits must be broken and changed


Can one understand relationship as a kind of resource?


Basically, relationship is a positive factor for healthy behavior. On the other hand, social relationships provide support and active support. On the other hand, for many people, a partnership or family, for example, is a stimulus to get out in the first place and build a urge to abstain from sex.


Healthy social relationships are also helpful for maintaining abstinence.


If they both tend to have somewhat unhealthy consumption habits, they can both motivate each other. It can be interesting to find common alternative actions that also activate the reward system (such as sports) and strengthen the connection.


Of course this could be a tip. I have often been able to notice this in addiction treatment facilities: couples relapsed together and/or discontinued treatment together.


So what can couples do when alcohol or intoxicants are a problem?


Do you feel trapped? Does your common free time also consist of a surplus or another?


First, it’s great that you strive to connect and activities together in your relationship. However, these do not have to end in poisoning.


Get in the habit of not going to consumption-related events together. If you want to go together, agree on drinking limits together or best of all, stay fully alert. The goal is: to change an established habit.


Find other fun activities. Shared sports activities, couple’s wellness, good food. You’ll notice: This type of connection is valuable!


If necessary, seek support to strengthen your unused connection, such as couples therapy.


The biggest failure is doing nothing


What do you do if someone drinks or consumes too much?


Do you feel that your partner’s consumption is out of control?


Open communication is helpful here!


It’s not about giving the other person the diagnosis. The point is that you describe explicitly and descriptively your observation and share your thoughts and any concerns you may have.


If you ask people with addictions, they often say, “I wish someone had told me something earlier.” The greatest failure is not to do or say anything out of shame or other motives. So: be brave!


Can’t you do much wrong with that?


There are two pitfalls: doing nothing and doing too much. The transition from partnership support to an unhealthy “savior role” is a seamless process! The latter implies an unfavorable role shift that is detrimental to the relationship in the long run.


So: Set limits in terms of partnership support. Signal: I am there for you to the point (…) and this (…) I ask of you. If the other person does not want help, seek professional help in dealing with the situation.


An addiction counseling center can be a good place to go, and perhaps also relationship coaching where you learn to set boundaries.


→ You can learn more about our expert on her homepage “Relationship Coaching for a Healthy and Satisfactory Relationship”.


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