How Alcohol Affects Relationships

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Alcohol directly impacts several different parts of our brain both while we’re drinking and after. Two important structures to call to mind again:

  • The Prefrontal Cortex: Where our decision making, inhibitions, planning, and personality live. (These are obviously all very important for relationships!)

  • The Midbrain: The more primitive structures of our brain that are hardwired for survival and learn to repeat adaptive behaviors. Our brains interpret alcohol as adaptive because of the massive dopamine surge it creates.

Given a refresher of how the neuroscience works, it makes it much easier to understand why we might jeopardize important relationships in our life because of alcohol. While we’re drinking, our inhibitions are lowered, we have poor decision making, and our brains are more focused on the next drink than what our spouse is saying. We are more likely to engage in risky behavior, and have less regard for consequences. Even if we aren’t actively drinking, alcohol can impact these brain structures while we’re hungover and can even alter their physical structure with extended use. “Drug-seeking behavior,” a fairly clinical way of saying “doing whatever it takes to get another drink,” may eventually lead us to completely dismiss our relationships altogether.