Anxiety, Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Break ups, Children, Couple's counselling, Family counselling, Mental Health, Relationships, Work

How do you know if alcohol is ruining your relationship? And what can you do if it is?

Couples counselling brings in a lot of successful people – many of them high achievers, big money earners, or simply people are who are highly-regarded and high-functioning at work.  But that success often comes with big jobs, long hours, huge mortgages, frequent travel and a lot of stress – in particular relationship stress.


In about eight out of every ten stressed-out couples I see, alcohol and sometimes drugs (often cocaine) are used to manage that stress. And before Iong I am hearing how alcohol and drug use fuel conflict, including verbal and even physical abuse in relationships.

In Sydney there is such a strong culture around alcohol. It’s understandable. Sydney is stressful city to live in. And there is an expectation in some professions and even some areas, such as the Eastern Suburbs, that if you work hard you should be able to play hard too.

Sometimes, one person in the relationship will name alcohol as a trigger for conflict and relationship breakdowns. However, the vast majority of the couples I see deny they actually have a problem with alcohol.

Have you or your partner said any of the following?

  • I only drink on the weekends – so I let myself go on these days (binge drink).
  • I can’t really not drink with work colleagues at lunches, dinners etc. as it is expected of us and it wouldn’t look good.
  • I can stop drinking at any time I want, so I don’t have a problem.
  • My health is completely fine – despite me drinking > 6 beers a night.

We think a person is an alcoholic or has a drinking problem if they hide alcohol, don’t function well at work because of excessive and continuous drinking, are homeless and cannot stop drinking.

But these are not the only symptoms of an alcohol problem.

Alcohol is a problem if it is damaging your relationship!  Most people do not realise that the major sign we Therapists look for in identifying any kind of addiction is whether it is impacting relationships.

Here are some relationship signs you or your partner has a problem with alcohol:-

  1. Whenever one of you drinks, you get into fights and are verbally/physically aggressive or even abusive.
  2. Drinking stops one or both of you from being present with you children.
  3. Drinking leads to impulsive decisions that impact your relationship – e.g. kissing someone else, or worse.
  4. Drinking alcohol is the major way one or both of you manage anxiety or depression.
  5. Your drinking has led to socially embarrassing moments.
  6. One of you needs to leave a social situation before the other becomes too drunk and starts behaving badly.
  7. Your children have commented on your drinking.
  8. One of you stays up to drink while the other goes to bed.
  9. Even when you promise to limit drinking you don’t.
  10. One or both of you lose track of time when you drink and don’t tell your partner what you are doing or when you’ll be home.
  11. You spend money impulsively when you drink.
  12. One of you has been charged with drinking and driving – or regularly make poor decisions about driving when you’ve been drinking.
  13. You are offensive or abusive when you drink and have lost friends over it.
  14. One or both of you choose to socialise with other binge drinkers.

If you can relate to any of the 14 signs above, then your relationship is impacted by alcohol and at least one of you has a problem with alcohol.  And it doesn’t matter how much work you do with a Couples Counsellor – your relationship will not improve until you have addressed the alcohol (or drug) problem.

How can you address the alcohol – and relationship – problem? 

  • The person (or people) with the problem get individual counselling and support to stop or reduce their drinking.
  • The couple reduces stress in their lives.
  • The person or couple come up with healthier ways to manage stress.
  • The couple agree on social ground-rules or, better still, avoid social situations likely to lead to binge drinking.
  • The couple address underlying relationship problems which may also be leading to binge or excessive drinking.

After addressing the above, the couple will then need to start to try and repair the damage that alcohol has caused to their relationship.  Often resentment is there.  But there can also be a loss of feeling love for a partner from the person who has had years of putting up with the impact alcohol on their lives.

It’s a really serious issue and for many couples alcohol and drug abuse is ultimately a deal breaker.

If you and your partner are struggling with ongoing high conflict look to see if alcohol is playing a role in this.  A good Couples Counsellor can easily help you both identify what is causing your relationship distress and help you with new strategies to manage the stress in your lives.

About Jacqueline

Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.

If you are experiencing problems, please contact our receptionist today on 02 8968 9397 or contact us and we will support you to make the relationship changes you need to cope with the complexities of life and how best to deal with them.

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