Two women (one black, one white) sitting beside each other looking upset.

The Scientific Reason Alcohol is Hurting Your Relationships

Most people don’t recognize how this damages the long-term success of any relationship.

Photo by Anna Shvets:

“A relationship is like a house. When a lightbulb burns out, you do not go and buy a new house, you fix the light bulb.” — Anonymous

“I’m going to stay at a hotel,” I shouted, as I grabbed my stuff from my then-girlfriend’s apartment.

“Fine then,” she replied. “Go ahead.”

I plopped down in the back of the Uber, which had an overwhelming smell of strawberries from the scented air freshener blasting from the AC. As the driver sped off to my hotel, I remember thinking, how did that happen?

We were just in the middle of having a good time pre-game drinking to meet our favorite couple out for dinner and somehow we got into an argument about “what,” I couldn’t tell you.

I think it had to do with if she had heard me when I called her earlier or if I had heard her when she was telling me about something.

Any other time, it wouldn’t have turned into anything, but this time, it blew up into the Infinity Wars with both of us feeling like we were Thanos.

Now, I was in the back of an hastily ordered Uber on my way to a Holiday Inn to spend my night alone instead.

We broke up for six months after that argument because we felt we didn’t “communicate well enough.”

Luckily, we both came to our senses, realized we truly belonged together, and now we’ve been together for almost 5 years and married for three since that incident.

When I think back on the reason that happened in the first place, I recognize that we were the victim of something that many relationships fall prey to because of alcohol.

It’s called alcohol myopia and is the reason that many relationships suffer from major arguments while drinking. This can ultimately lead to hurt feelings, huge fights, and eventually breakups if one doesn’t get it under control.

What is alcohol myopia?

Alcohol myopia is known as a condition created by alcohol in which one’s decision-making ability is greatly narrowed by alcohol’s effects on the brain.

These effects relate to how alcohol inhibits our brain’s Gaba receptors to functionally properly and causes a host of negative emotions and responses to situations related to this.

Gaba receptors are our brain neurotransmitters that typically regulate our emotional response to various situations to make sure they are appropriate to the situation at hand. They typically help prevent feelings like anxiety or heightened anger in situations that may not merit them.

When we drink excessively, these neurotransmitters are damaged, thus leading to highly emotional responses that we would not have while sober.

What this then does is make it more difficult for us to respond appropriately to various situations based on not having the ability to truly assess the severity of them.

The other side of this is that alcohol has already made it more difficult for our brain to think through the long-term consequences of a decision due to the damage it does to our prefrontal cortex.

This damage causes us to only consider the “here and now” in our decision-making and not think through the negative possible long-term results.

Couple this with the effects above and we have alcohol myopia — a condition in which we’ll have an overly emotional response to a mild situation that doesn’t take into consideration the long term effects of our actions or decisions.

How does this play out in relationships?

My opening story is probably a good example of something we’ve been all been through.

You are drinking with your significant other and get into a disagreement about something.

Any other time, this disagreement would not be a big deal, but in this situation, not only is it important, but neither of you can seem to let it go.

You Gaba receptors are not working correctly, so, whereas in the past, you would realize that your significant other forgetting to order you another drink was an oversight, in this situation it seems like it’s just another example of her ignoring you and not considering your potential needs over her own.

This then turns into you deciding you have to say something about it now because it’s SO important. With her Gaba receptors also inhibited, the chances of this ending well is not good.

This overly emotional response leads to you both say things to hurt the other because you feel the situation is so important that you can’t back down.

However, when you are back sober and realize how silly it all was, you may have already said or did a number of things that you can’t take back that could’ve destroyed the relationship completely.

It happens time and time again.

How do you prevent/cope with this?

There are two ways that one can go about this.

The first is related to just recognizing that you cannot trust yourself when you’re drinking and shouldn’t try to discuss anything important or even entertain getting into too much of an argument with anyone if you can help it.

Recognizing that alcohol myopia is making it difficult for you truly to assess what is important versus what isn’t should give you pause as it relates to how you respond to things while drinking.

Since your Gaba receptors are inhibited, you are going to have to do extra intentional work to calm yourself down when you find yourself getting “riled up” about something that usually wouldn’t bother you.

Being cognizant of this reality is an important strategy to ensure you don’t say or do something stupid that you will regret the next day.

The other obvious strategy you can implement is the one I would advise, and that is to keep your drinking to the recommended limit (very challenging to do for some) or to not drink at all.

Due to alcohol’s effects on our brain’s ability to correctly assess and respond to situations appropriately, trusting yourself to be able to recognize when you’re not thinking correctly is like asking yourself to recognize that you’re dreaming when you’re IN the dream.

It is possible, but it often doesn’t happen because you are so caught up in the moment that “feels” so real.

Therefore, I would suggest tactic number two to give yourself the best chance to prevent this from ruining a very good relationship in the future.

And while I can’t promise that you won’t argue at all because you’re sober, at least you’ll know that you won’t find yourself in an Uber on your way to a hotel room alone thinking about the last time you ate strawberries because of it…hopefully.

Thanks so much for reading.

If interested in learning about how alcohol affects your life and ways to quit/moderate, please feel free to follow my Medium publication, AINYF, and/or join its newsletter group below for information and updates.

Also, if you’re looking for a social group that can help with your journey for alcohol-consciousness, please check out my mate, Janet Gourand, at Triber Sober or my other homie, Victoria English Martin at After The Crisis.

Both have great content and tips/strategies to help, so pick the one that is right for you.

Lastly, if you are new to sobriety and could use some help in planning out a vacation that doesn’t involving drinking, please check out Patty McMahon, M.Ed magazine, How to Plan Your Sober Vacation, for tips and strategies on how to do so.

Thanks for reading again, and remember…

You never lose the battle until you stop fighting…