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Alcohol and Health

What Are the Impacts of Living With a Heavy Drinker?

April 22, 2022
10 min read
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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 22, 2022
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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 22, 2022
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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.
April 22, 2022
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Reframe Content Team
April 22, 2022
10 min read

Many of us would like to believe that our drinking habits do not affect those around us, but  studies show that heavy drinking can negatively impact those we live with — our partners, our children, and our closest friends. As our drinking progresses, our loved ones will likely experience a range of negative emotions. Promises to stop drinking are repeatedly broken and consequences of alcohol use escalate over time.

Consider Mark, a university student whose excited to share a flat with his high-school best friend, Peter. They move in, set up their space, and look forward to a year of shared memories. However, Mark soon realizes that Peter's social drinking has morphed into heavier, more frequent alcohol use. This story isn't just about Peter's journey with alcohol; it's also about Mark's experiences living with a heavy drinker, a side of the story often left untold.

What Is a Heavy Drinker (aka a Heavyweight Drinker)?

A heavy drinker is a person who consumes alcohol amounts that significantly surpass the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC, heavy drinking for men involves having more than four drinks on any single occasion or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, the threshold is more than three drinks in one sitting or more than seven drinks over the course of a week. The CDC defines “a standard drink” as one that contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol (aka, 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits). Consistently drinking beyond these limits can lead to a host of health complications, including increased risk of chronic diseases, neurological impairments, and psychological issues, and it also raises the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence.

If that’s a heavy drinker, what is a frequent drinker? A frequent drinker consumes alcohol on a regular basis, often doing so multiple times per week, or in some cases, daily. This term doesn't automatically imply heavy drinking; instead it highlights the regularity of alcohol intake. While it may not always exceed recommended guidelines for moderate drinking, frequent drinking can still pose similar risks as heavy drinking. 

Psychological Impact: Living in a Stressful Environment

Living with a heavy drinker can place an enormous psychological burden on cohabitants. The unpredictable nature of a heavy drinker's behavior may lead to constant tension and anxiety. We never know if the drinker will be jovial, angry, or completely indifferent. This unpredictability can lead to chronic stress and, over time, result in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Besides, the drinker's focus on alcohol often means that they neglect their relationships, leading to feelings of loneliness and abandonment in those around them. Thus, a home with a heavy drinker can become a space filled with emotional turmoil and isolation.

Economic Impact: The Financial Strain of Heavy Drinking

The financial effects of sharing a home with a heavy drinker are enormous. In addition to the direct costs of buying alcohol, there may be indirect economic effects. For instance, heavy drinkers may face job loss or decreased productivity, leading to reduced income. This financial strain can impact the entire household, especially when the heavy drinker is a primary breadwinner. Financial strain may also be made worse by additional costs linked to health problems or legal challenges brought on by heavy drinking.

Social Impact: Damaged Relationships and Stigma

Heavy drinking can severely impact the social dynamics within a household. Relationships can be strained due to erratic behavior, broken promises, or neglect, often leading to feelings of resentment and frustration.

Partners of heavy drinkers frequently suffer with their own problems, like codependency, which can lead them to blame themselves for the situation. They may wonder what they did wrong or failed to do right. They may also stay in the unhealthy relationship out of comfort or a desire to “fix” the heavy drinker. Additionally, worried partners may pressure the heavy drinker to get help, which could lead to conflict in the relationship, or they may choose to deal by withdrawing into denial, supporting reckless conduct despite its terrible repercussions on the happiness of the family. 

Children who live with a heavy-drinking parent may face particular challenges, including neglect, emotional abuse, and the burden of assuming adult responsibilities.

In the United States, 1 in 10 children grow up with a parent who struggles with substance misuse. This is incredibly detrimental because these children do not have access to the needed safety and stability to thrive. In a home where alcohol misuse prevails, the chaos can cause anxiety that may stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, there is often societal stigma associated with heavy drinking. Friends, neighbors, or extended family members may distance themselves, leading to a sense of isolation for all members of the household. The fear of judgment can also deter people from seeking support, further compounding the problem.

Coping Strategies: Navigating Life with a Heavy Drinker

Living with a heavy drinker is undoubtedly challenging, but implementing coping strategies can  can provide some relief. Support groups can offer a space to share experiences, express feelings, and learn from others who are in similar situations.

Furthermore, setting boundaries can be crucial for self-preservation. It's essential to understand that we can't control or cure someone else's tendencies — only they can make the decision to seek help. Hence, protecting our own mental and physical health becomes paramount. This might involve strategies like not engaging with the drinker when they are intoxicated, or seeking respite in hobbies, activities, and relationships outside the home.

The Unseen Victims of Alcohol Misuse

Living with a heavy drinker can be a tumultuous journey. It often comes with significant psychological, economic, and social impacts that ripple through all aspects of life. However, amidst these challenges, it's crucial to remember that support is available, and there are strategies for coping.

Like Mark, many people live with the impact of someone else's heavy drinking. We need to understand and acknowledge these experiences to provide support, break stigmas, and cultivate empathy. After all, our experiences shape us, and when we understand each other's journeys, we create a more compassionate, empathetic society. 

How To Cope

If you are living with someone you believe is a heavy drinker, or someone who is suffering from alcohol misuse, there are support resources and techniques for you. 

  • Practice self-care. Whether caring for yourself emotionally, physically, or spiritually, this is key to your ability to cope. It might involve activities like meditation, exercise, or new hobbies to pursue during this stressful time. Making time for, and even prioritizing, these activities is beneficial.
  • Educate yourself. On what your loved one is going through, what treatments may be available to them, and what resources they may be able to access when they’re ready to get help. Being prepared for when they are ready to talk about their problem may make you feel more at ease.
  • Therapy. Can be helpful for you to learn how to cope with a loved one suffering from alcohol misuse. Research have shown that even when the spouse refuses to get help, family therapy can help the non-drinking spouse reduce stress and learn coping methods.

Unlock Optimal Well-Being With Reframe!

We understand how tough it can be to live with a loved one who struggles with alcohol misuse. At Reframe, our mission is to stop the stigma and empower users to make lasting changes to their drinking habits. So, if you or someone you live with is looking to build better drinking habits, we encourage you to download Reframe right now and kickstart your wellness journey!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually and 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.

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 gives you 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 from around the world who are going through the exact same experiences as you! 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 ensure your in-app experience is optimal. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, whose powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to support you whenever you need it and lend an extra helping hand as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. Oh, and that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges — from Dry/Damp January to Sober Spring to Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more of your vibe!).

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 the app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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