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How Does Alcohol Affect Relationship Communication?
Even occasional drinkers experience communication breakdowns
Happy Hump Day, y’all! Welcome to the second issue of Beyond Liquid Courage. This weekly advice column answers subscriber questions about booze-free dating, relating, and hooking up—whether you’ve given up drinking for good or are just a little curious about the alcohol-free life.
I’m Tawny, AKA The Sober Sexpert and author of the forthcoming book Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relating, and Hooking Up Without the Booze. I’m here to help you move beyond liquid courage.
This week, I answer an important subscriber question: How Does Alcohol Affect Communication in My Relationships?
Nothing like getting sober to realize how much alcohol impacted how I communicated in relationships when I was still drinking! (Basically, I DIDN’T communicate!). Now that I’m dating as a sober person, I realize I have NO idea how to communicate in relationships. Do you have any tips for a later-in-life sober person who wants to communicate now that alcohol is out of the picture? PLEASE SHARE!
Hey Communication Breakdown! First of all, kudos to you for evaluating your relationship with alcohol and working on yourself in therapy. Expressing what you want (and don't want) is an important part of a functioning relationship—and much of this begins with understanding your own feelings.
Studies show that our emotional well-being drastically impacts our physical health. Plus, a lot of therapists offer sliding scale rates and even take Medicaid now so it might be more accessible than ever before—though it can take some extra legwork to find a qualified therapist who takes Medicaid and has availability. If you see the dentist twice a year and go for an annual physical, why wouldn’t you meet with someone to check in about your brain and emotions? OK, I’ll step off my therapy soapbox… for now.
Sobriety taught me that communication is actually about confidence. Clear communication isn’t just talking; it requires self-awareness and vulnerability —two qualities that alcohol often masks.
It’s no secret that alcohol affects our mood and personality. Someone can go from anxious to relaxed or shy to outgoing after just a few drinks. But how does someone’s social drinking or alcohol use disorder impact communication in their relationships? In short, quite significantly.
Whether someone is a social drinker, a self-identified alcoholic, or somewhere in between, drinking alcohol can create communication barriers. “Clear communication is essential for a healthy relationship,” says Keegan Herring, a mindfulness-based therapist, “Even the occasional drinker can still drink too much, initiating fights that they don’t remember, which often leave a lasting impact on their partner(s).” Using alcohol to numb unpleasant feelings or even distract from boredom can also hinder clear communication with your loved ones.
To improve your communication skills and communicate better in the future, you need the following:
The self-awareness to know how you truly feel.
The willingness to be vulnerable enough to advocate for yourself.
The confidence to discuss that feeling even though you know rejection might happen.
Here are a few prompts to get you started:
Does alcohol give you a dose of liquid courage to discuss uncomfortable topics you don’t think you can discuss while sober? If so, make a list of other activities that help you feel confident. Try one of those activities to psych yourself up for an uncomfortable conversation.
Who are the people in your life that you can be your 100% true, unedited self with while having vulnerable conversations? What do these relationships have in common? How are they different from your romantic relationships? How are they the same?
How do you communicate with yourself? Do you listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you something? Do you ignore physical or emotional pain to try and just “power through” it? How do you let yourself feel, then process, emotional pain?
Spending time alone and getting to know yourself can help you build authentic confidence, learn how to advocate for yourself, establish boundaries, and remember that you deserve to advocate for said boundaries, which in turn helps you build the confidence to communicate effectively.
If this week's column interests you, there’s a full chapter in my book, Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relating and Hooking Up Without The Booze, on this very topic. Preorder now on Bookshop.org (every purchase helps to support a local bookstore) or your favorite retailer.
Next week’s issue is all about booze-free, summertime date ideas. Subscribe here so you don’t miss out!
Until next time,