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Alcohol and Mental Health

Social Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder

Published:
April 25, 2024
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24 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 25, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 25, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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The Wide-Ranging Social Effects of AUD

  • In addition to its potentially serious physical and mental effects, alcohol use disorder has wide-ranging social effects. It causes disruptions within family and social relationships and has an impact on the greater community.
  • You can be proactive in addressing AUD by addressing your own alcohol misuse, learning to support others, and sharing your story!
  • Reframe can help you battle AUD and its social effects by providing daily science-backed tasks, motivation, and a 24/7 support forum.

Chances are, you know someone who has a problem with alcohol. Maybe it’s a college roommate whose drinking spiraled out of control. Maybe it’s a parent or a sibling. And maybe you yourself have been stuck in what feels like an endless cycle of resolutions and slips in an attempt to cut back or quit.

If so, you’re not alone! According to the NIAAA 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 29.5 million people over the age of 12 had AUD in 2021. With numbers that high, it’s no wonder that AUD has wide-ranging social effects. But what’s the possible impact of alcohol use on the community? And what can we do about it? Let’s dig deeper!

All About AUD

A person resting their head on a table with a half-empty glass of alcohol

According to NIAAA, AUD is “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” (For a deeper look, check out our blog: “Understanding the Stages of Alcohol Use Disorder: Causes and Treatment.”) It begins with alcohol misuse that gradually morphs into dependence.

  • Alcohol misuse. It’s no secret that alcohol temporarily makes us feel good, thanks to the dopamine rush it provides. But when we use alcohol too much, it disrupts the normal functioning of our brain. 
  • Alcohol dependence. Over time, our brain gets used to the “new normal” and slows down its natural dopamine production. The result? Activities that used to make us feel good no longer cut it, driving us back to booze. At this point, we might not even be getting enjoyment out of drinking, but we “need” it to function at baseline.

If we try to stop drinking suddenly once we reach the stage of dependence, some unpleasant effects set in. These physical and mental withdrawal symptoms include nausea, shakiness, unease, anxiety, insomnia, and, in severe cases, seizures and delirium tremens. While these symptoms don’t last forever, they can be medically dangerous. It’s important to seek medical help if things get rough!

Effects of AUD: 3 Spheres of Influence

AUD takes a serious toll on all aspects of our lives, including our body, mind, and social life. Here’s an overview of the effects of alcohol on all three.

Consequences of Drinking: The Physical Fallout 

According to the NIAAA, alcohol affects pretty much every major organ system in the body. (For an in-depth look, check out our blog: “Alcohol’s Long-Term Effects on the Body: Adverse Outcomes To Be Aware Of”).

  • Brain. Alcohol misuse interferes with the neurochemical balance in our brain, leading to mood disruptions, cognitive problems, and, in extreme cases, brain damage.
  • Heart. Drinking too much can disrupt our heart rhythm, cause blood pressure fluctuations, and lead to cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle).
  • Liver. The liver, which metabolizes alcohol, bears the brunt of its toxic effects. Over time, excessive drinking can lead to inflammation, fatty liver, and, eventually, cirrhosis.
  • Immune system. Drinking too much — even just once — lowers our ability to fight off infections, making us more susceptible to disease.

As we can see, alcohol does our body no favors. Despite what we may have heard about the supposed “benefits” of alcohol, the WHO makes this point clear: “When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”

Consequences of Drinking: Emotional Turmoil

Anyone who’s ever been around a drunk person or someone struggling with AUD knows that alcohol misuse can cause emotional turmoil. While it manifests differently in everyone, there are a few common consequences of alcohol: 

  • Mood swings. Emotional instability, including rapid mood swings, often comes with the territory.
  • Increased stress. We often find ourselves spiraling into a vortex of stress that only gets worse if we try to use alcohol to get temporary (if any) relief.
  • Depression and anxiety. As with stress, our depression and anxiety tend to get worse over time, even if drinking seems to relieve it for a short while.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please seek medical attention. In the United States, you can reach your local crisis hotline by dialing 988. Click here for a list of mental crisis phone numbers by country.

To learn more about the effects of alcohol misuse on our emotional and mental lives, take a look at our blog: “Understanding Alcohol's Effects on Mental Health.”

Consequences of Drinking: Social Stressors

On the social side, alcohol misuse can wreak havoc on our relationships while also affecting society as a whole:

  • Family dynamics. Family members are deeply affected by the stress of caring for and worrying about loved ones. Shifting priorities and financial problems that come with supporting a family member with AUD can cause rifts and strain bonds.
  • Relationships. Friendships, romantic relationships, and work dynamics all suffer when AUD is in the picture. 
  • Society. Whether by increasing workplace injuries or contributing to alcohol-related traffic accidents, AUD impacts society as a whole.

As we can see, the effects of AUD extend far beyond our own lives and even those of our loved ones. Let’s take a closer look at the far-reaching social effects of AUD.

Social Effects of AUD: A Closer Look

AUD notoriously shifts the dynamics within families, interpersonal relationships, communities, and society at large. When it comes to AUD, there are profound social effects that take place at each level. Let’s dig deeper!

Impact of Alcohol Use on the Family

Living in a family affected by AUD can be a daily struggle. Whether it’s a fifth-grader embarrassed to see their mom tipsy at a field hockey game or a parent worried about the frequent bouts of binge drinking their college freshman son is doing, the stress can become overwhelming. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Emotional roller coasters. The whole household feels the effects when one of the members has AUD. People feel like they have to walk on eggshells because their mood can change at any instant. What starts as a great family breakfast can end in a screaming match, while a night out can lead to an embarrassing outburst in front of family friends.
  • Broken bonds. Needless to say, AUD undermines the bonds between people who love and care for each other. AUD increases the likelihood of both divorce and domestic violence.
  • Secondary health issues. Constant worry can lead to health issues, such as heart trouble or high blood pressure. It can even trigger substance misuse in other family members.
  • Vicious cycles. Research shows that children in families affected by AUD are more likely to develop the condition themselves in the future. Plus, the missed school days, sleepless nights, and lack of much-needed support all take a hefty emotional toll.
  • Financial strain creates additional hardships. ​​The costs just keep adding up — alcohol itself, medical bills, maybe even legal fees. It's all money that could have been saved for vacations, savings for college, and basic necessities. 

The light at the end of the tunnel? While families often bear the brunt of the hardships related to AUD, they can also play a key role in recovery. As an Alcohol Research article exploring the complexities of AUD and families shows, family support is crucial in seeking help for AUD as well as in putting the pieces together afterward.

Impact of Alcohol Use on Relationships 

Family members are not the only ones who feel the social effects of AUD — friends, colleagues, and romantic partners do as well. There are several consequences of drinking in social spheres outside the home:

  • Friendships get strained. One of the hardest aspects of AUD is the isolation it often brings. Friends might mean well, but everyone has different limits. It can be frustrating to watch us change without knowing how to help, so friends might begin to pull away. We might also start isolating ourselves as alcohol becomes our main priority.
  • Codependency can set in. On the other hand, ignoring or enabling alcohol misuse can be even worse than getting distant. Codependent relationships can form as a result, especially if both people are struggling with some form of addiction.
  • Work relationships are undermined. We all know that booze and professionalism don’t mix, and many careers have stalled or ended due to alcohol misuse. The result? Our professional reputation suffers, making it harder and harder to land a new job. 
  • Intimate relationships become toxic. With booze in the picture, it can seem like drinking has become the priority for our partner at the expense of everything else. It can be heartbreaking to watch them choose alcohol over our well-being and their own health. 

Just as with family relationships, however, our interactions in other areas of life can help us overcome AUD. There’s nothing like the support of like-minded people when it comes to tackling this complex problem, and a strong social network can be a lifeline.

Impact of Alcohol Use on the Community

The social effects of AUD have large-scale implications for society as a whole:

  • The economy bears a heavy burden. According to the CDC, the economic burden of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. reached $249 billion in 2010, highlighting the significant impact on healthcare, workplace productivity, and law enforcement.
  • Drinking and driving threatens public health. The CDC reports that car accidents involving drunk drivers kill one person in the U.S. every 45 minutes — a number that tragically adds up to 32 lives lost every day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost a third of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol.
  • Workplace injuries add to the toll. The workplace isn’t free from danger either: alcohol misuse is linked to approximately 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of industrial injuries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 
  • Community resources are depleted. Emergency services and healthcare systems are often stretched thin when faced with the aftermath of excessive drinking. In addition to causing accidents, AUD is linked to many chronic health conditions, such as liver disease, heart disease, and many types of cancers, all of which require costly medical treatment.

All in all, AUD can’t be separated from the community at large. As John Donne wrote,“No man is an island”: we are all members of multiple communities and social networks that are deeply affected when alcohol misuse is in the picture.

Impact of Alcohol Misuse on the “Digital Dimension”

Finally, let’s not forget the digital world — AUD leaves a dangerous footprint here as well:

  • Social media and alcohol can be a toxic mix. Ever posted something on Facebook or Instagram and regretted it the next day? Alcohol can turn us into “keyboard warriors” who lash out at others and later regret it. It’s also easier than ever to tell the world what you’re thinking at the moment — and if alcohol is involved, it often doesn’t end well.
  • Online content can normalize problematic drinking. From articles and ads to discussion board posts, there’s a lot of content that glamorizes alcohol or, at the very least, normalizes it. This type of information can make it harder to spot signs of a problem (“If everyone’s doing it, it must be okay, right?”).

No doubt — our online lives can land us in a minefield of triggers and give us opportunities to channel our alcohol-fueled impulses in unhealthy ways. However, the opposite is also true: we can use our digital lives to find support in online communities (such as Reframe!) and discover crucial information we need to understand and tackle AUD.

Prevention and Outreach Programs

While the consequences of drinking in excess are serious, there are many ways to intervene and improve the situation. Outreach and prevention programs are a proven way to help. There are several different kinds: 

  • Education campaigns in schools. According to Alcohol Research and Health, school-based programs play a crucial role in setting the stage for a healthier approach to alcohol. The best age to start? Middle school — or possibly even younger.

    The interventions try to “address social norms around alcohol use” and support the development of “personal and social skills helping students resist pressure to use alcohol.” The best ones “involve interactive teaching approaches, use peer leaders, integrate other segments of the population into the program,” and build consistently over many years.
  • Adult education programs. Learning doesn’t stop when we leave high school (or college)! There are many programs targeted at adults that aim to spread the word about the risks of alcohol misuse. For example, the Massachusetts Drug and Alcohol Awareness Class is just one of many around the country. Courses such as this one aim to teach those who find themselves struggling with substance misuse about the risks and realities of the situation framed in a hopeful way. 
  • Community health programs. The SAMHSA guide outlines several types of community-level interventions to reduce alcohol consumption. For example, recognizing that alcohol has become increasingly easy to get in recent years (home delivery, anyone?), they suggest implementing zoning laws to limit physical availability.
  • Family assistance programs. Organizations such as SAMHSA also provide resources for families whose loved ones are struggling with AUD. These resources include brochures, videos, and links to local assistance programs.
  • Online resources and digital tools. Online resources and digital tools (such as Reframe!) can work wonders in spreading awareness and giving people easily accessible, personalized methods to reduce their drinking.

So while there are many social consequences to drinking, communities also hold a lot of positive power. Change is possible!

A Safer Drinking Culture

Tips for a Safe Society

So is there anything we can do about all of this? How do we keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Start with yourself. Take a look at your drinking patterns to see if you might need to rethink your relationship with alcohol. If you‘re struggling, asking for help can be a crucial step in turning things around. 
  2. Help without enabling. Helping someone struggling with AUD can be tricky. Show support, provide information, and let them know you’re there, but don’t enable their behavior. (We know this is easier said than done! For more tips, check out our blog: “What Does It Mean To ‘Enable’ An Alcoholic?”).
  3. Keep the public conversation going. Join in (or start!) programs and events in your community to help those struggling with AUD or other types of substance misuse.
  4. Share your story. If you are on a journey to quit or cut back on booze, telling others about your experience can be a lifesaver. You might inspire someone to seek help or see their struggles with AUD in a new light, knowing that there’s a way out.

With these tips, you can play an important role in addressing the social effects of alcohol and helping your community thrive!

Summing Up

While alcohol misuse can wreak havoc on communities, communities can do a lot to address the problem head-on. Often the very people who struggled with AUD themselves can play a crucial role in helping others. 

In the words of writer Jodi Picoult, “Heroes didn't leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand … They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else's. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”

Summary FAQs

1. What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

AUD is a medical condition marked by an inability to control our alcohol use despite facing negative consequences in our social life, job, or health. It starts with alcohol misuse and can progress to dependence — needing alcohol to function normally.

2. Can AUD strain family relationships?

AUD can create an emotional roller coaster for families, leading to trust issues, financial strain, and potentially even triggering substance misuse in other family members. Children in these environments are more likely to develop AUD themselves.

3. How does AUD affect friendships and work relationships?

AUD can lead to isolation as friendships become strained and professional relationships suffer. Work performance may decline, jeopardizing careers and making it challenging to find new employment opportunities.

4. What is the possible impact of alcohol use on the community?

AUD places a significant economic burden on society through healthcare costs, lost productivity, and legal expenses. It also contributes to public safety issues like drunk driving, workplace accidents, and overburdening emergency services.

5. What can we do to combat the effects of AUD?

Prevention and outreach programs, including education in schools, adult education programs, and community health initiatives, can help mitigate the effects of alcohol. Online resources and digital tools also offer accessible ways to get support. On a personal level, examining your own drinking habits, offering support without enabling, and keeping the conversation about AUD going in the community are crucial steps. Sharing personal experiences can inspire others and foster a supportive environment.

Ready To Take an Active Step in Changing Your Relationship With Alcohol? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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