Why An Alcoholic Cannot Love: The Impact Of Alcohol Use On A Relationship

Medically reviewed by Bobbi Jo Stoner, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Can those struggling with an alcohol addiction express and feel love toward a partner or family member? Those who have experienced a challenging relationship with their partner due to addiction may ask themselves this question. Developing or sustaining a relationship with someone experiencing an alcohol use disorder may not always be easy. However, support options are available for both you and the individual.

Studies show that millions of people experience alcohol addiction, and many decide to go through addiction treatment with professional help. Some individuals experience substance codependency, which means they may have an unhealthy relationship with drinking but depend on alcohol to help them cope with their problems.

Due to symptoms of substance use disorders and addiction, previously known as “substance abuse disorder,” you may have doubts about whether the person experiencing the addiction feels love for you. If you're in a relationship with someone experiencing substance codependency and are wondering why an alcoholic cannot love, learn more about their substance use and its impact on your relationship and mental health. 

The impact of addiction on romantic partners or spouses

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Learn how to love an alcoholic partner

You may feel that things go downhill quickly when alcohol abuse plays a role in a relationship. You might see changes in your loved one’s behavior or personality that cause you to feel hopeless or worried. People who have alcohol use disorder can sometimes exhibit behaviors of someone who is angry drunk and the situation can be very challenging to deal with.

In the case of alcohol withdrawal or trying to quit, you may feel powerless watching your partner experience painful symptoms or feelings. You may feel that you need to accept their drinking habits to avoid these hurts.

While it is a personal choice to stay with someone who has an addiction, it may help to gain a further understanding of what your partner is doing when they choose to drink.

When in a complex relationship with someone who is addicted to alcohol, you may experience the following.

A lack of support or love

A person struggling with addiction may state that they support, respect, and love you. However, they may find it challenging to show this through their actions. This contradiction could make you feel resentful, bitter, or helpless in the relationship.

Physical danger

Alcohol may influence violent behaviors in some people, including against themselves or others. This behavior may happen because alcohol often leads to increased angry feelings with less of a sense of control due to intoxication.

Difficulty ending the relationship

Although it is possible to be in a loving relationship with someone who struggles with addiction, you may feel the urge to separate due to the negative effects of their drinking and the desire for a healthy relationship.

People around you may say you should leave your partner, and people in your life may isolate themselves from you, as well as your partner. This isolation may make you feel ignored, invisible, or rejected by those you love.

Difficulty handling your partner’s dependency on alcohol

 If you're in a relationship with an alcoholic or someone who struggles with alcohol addiction, you might find yourself wondering why an alcoholic cannot love. While a tendency to abuse alcohol might interfere with healthy relationships, though, it doesn’t mean that your partner doesn't feel love toward you.

There are different types of alcohol addiction, and some may lead to individuals feeling unable to do daily tasks without having a drink first. Others may rely on alcohol when experiencing emotional stress or turn to it to help them manage difficult situations. Such codependency may become an overpowering force in a relationship.

Potentially negative behaviors

There could be an increased likelihood of harmful behaviors such as lying, cheating, or excessive spending. Such situations may be reoccurring problems in a relationship, resulting in a partner not taking responsibility for their actions during conversations.

People who experience addiction may lie or steal from people who care about them, sometimes to continue their usage of the substance. They may say they will show up somewhere and don't follow through. They may also break promises related to their addiction.

An unstable living situation

Your living situation may become unstable, creating a lack of trust and anxiety. A person experiencing addiction may not be dependable when planning to do something or go somewhere. Sometimes drinking too much may create legal problems, leading to heavy fines and jail time.

Difficulty socializing at home

As the partner of the individual, you may feel uncomfortable inviting people to your home because you feel afraid or ashamed of how your partner might act if alcohol is present. The behaviors associated with addiction may create rapid changes so that you don't know what to expect, which may cause you fear or anxiety.

Don’t blame yourself for your partner’s drinking

Consider that addiction is not your fault. At times, those struggling with it may blame others for their drinking when they are stressed, pressured, or worried. However, your partner may drink even if you have nothing to do with their urge. It is not your fault that they are experiencing addiction. Addiction is considered a mental health condition because it alters how the brain functions.

Individuals experiencing alcohol use disorders may struggle to make decisions because they are not always in control of themselves when under the influence. They may forget to show love or have difficulty with thinking about anything other than the substance. They may not be thinking clearly as they may have once done.

Why an alcoholic cannot love: The impact of alcoholism in relationships and how to get help

Aside from alcohol addiction, there are a lot of examples of addiction out there, such as substance addiction, drug addiction, sex or relationship addiction, and many more. It may be challenging to convince your loved one to get help, but options are available if you decide to help your partner find resources.

You may not be able to convince someone to stop drinking. However, alcohol rehabilitation facilities and therapists can provide hope and renewed perspective through programs designed to provide guidance and recovery. These programs are designed to allow those struggling with an addiction to manage their symptoms and live a life free of addiction. Studies show that addiction is treatable and recovery is possible.

Many people admit they have difficulty accepting that their loved one’s alcohol consumption has breached a harmful level. In many cases, however, the person struggling with addiction may also struggle to admit this to themselves.

You can do everything possible to show your love and support, from taking them to their appointments to engaging in healthy habits with them to help solve problems. However, the addiction itself may not be controlled by your actions. If you feel shameful or guilty for this, you may benefit from speaking to a professional or someone you trust about your feelings.

You may have to step back from the relationship if it is harming you emotionally. You may have tried to help as much as possible, and it could seem that your efforts aren’t making a dent. In this case, it may be beneficial to get professional resources in place for your partner, so that you don’t have to take it on alone.

Set boundaries to save yourself

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Even though you may love your partner, consider letting your loved one know when certain behaviors are unacceptable and why they are inappropriate to you. Setting boundaries means putting rules in place for your mental health and physical well-being. While continuing to love your partner, let them know that you may need to step away if they break a boundary.

Boundaries related to addiction may be:

  • Spending nights apart, instead of living in the same home
  • Seeing a couples therapist together to continue a relationship
  • Telling your partner “no” to sex while intoxicated
  • Breaking up with your partner if they physically or emotionally abuse you in any way
  • Not texting your partner until they are not intoxicated
  • Only spending time together in areas where alcohol is not present

Boundaries may be essential to you if you have children with an individual who is struggling. Reducing the risk of potential harm to children may be a step you have to take. Assert your needs and bring in another to help if you feel unsure or worried about the discussion.

Practice self-care

At times, self-care may get thrown out the window in relationships involving addiction. A sober person may rely on support from friends or family if they feel down, hurt, or stressed to help them feel better. However, someone who experiences alcoholism may not have developed this tool kit to seek help when needed and might instead turn to alcohol.

You may find that you need to help yourself first if you want to help someone you love. This approach may allow you to maintain a safe distance from your loved one but still support them as you take care of your health and enforce boundaries.

Get support from others who can relate

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Learn how to love an alcoholic partner

Providing support to someone struggling with addiction may feel stressful. Family and friends of those who are addicted often find comfort and support by joining local and online support groups. These groups provide insight from people helping their loved ones through recovery. Such groups provide guidance and insight on how to let go of the control associated with trying to influence better choices. Your loved one may also benefit from trying a support group.

You may feel nervous about attending a support group and talking to others about supporting your loved one with alcoholism. If this is the case, online therapy could be an effective support mechanism.

Online therapy for anxiety and depression has proved to be an effective alternative to in-person treatment. With a licensed therapist through a platform like BetterHelp, you may find support from someone experienced with treating the loved ones of those struggling with addiction. If you hope to attend therapy with your partner, platforms like Regain may offer couples therapy for a variety of concerns.


Addiction can feel isolating, scary, and never-ending at times. Both partners of those impacted and their loved ones who struggle with addiction may experience these types of feelings. If that sounds like you, you may consider reaching out to a professional to gain expert insight into how addiction may be impacting your relationship.
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