Updated on March 27, 2024
7 min read

Why an Alcoholic Cannot Love

Key Takeaways

Why an Alcoholic Cannot Love

There are many reasons why an active alcoholic cannot love until they enter recovery. For example:

Lack of Respect

Alcoholics treat people in their lives as a means to an end. They don’t respect them or see them as human. Instead, they manipulate and use them to fulfill their needs without concern for the other person’s well-being.

Additionally, alcoholics are impulsive and want instant gratification. They don’t consider the consequences. Many are self-centered and behave narcissistically.

They cannot be fully present in relationships, but they won’t end those relationships. They put all of the burdens on the non-alcoholic person.

Untreated AUD and all addictions worsen over time. Even if an alcoholic wants to stop drinking, their disease worsens. Issues with neglect and emotional and physical abuse escalate.

People Aren’t a Priority

As much as an alcoholic might want a healthy relationship, alcohol is their priority. This means they’ll risk everything to continue drinking. They drink regardless of whether it hurts themselves or others.

Lack of Self-Love 

Alcoholics don’t love themselves. They don’t provide what they need and expect others to do it for them. They’re emotionally, physically, and mentally abusive to themselves.

Eventually, they project and reflect their abuse onto others. They say they love people and might even believe they do. However, they’re using love as a weapon to control others.

Co-Occurring Disorders

A drinking problem is often accompanied by other mental health disorders. This means that in addition to dealing with addiction, the relationship will be challenged by other issues, such as depression or anxiety.


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Can an Alcoholic Have Empathy?

Alcoholism causes problems in relationships. In part, this is because alcoholics struggle to identify emotions expressed by others. They also have a hard time feeling and expressing empathy. This makes relationships with alcoholics very difficult. 

Most alcoholics are incapable of empathy. People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) tend to misinterpret negative emotions. They interpret the expression of negative emotions as critical. They also tend to underestimate negative emotions and overestimate positive ones.

This is one of the many reasons relationships with alcoholics are difficult and painful. 

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Over time, it destroys someone’s ability to function. This includes functioning in relationships. Alcohol addiction is selfish and often leads to abuse and neglect.

This is why people in relationships with alcoholics must protect themselves. In many cases, this includes ending the relationship. It’s important to get professional support, whether you stay in the relationship or not. 

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What Is It Like Being in a Relationship with an Alcoholic?

Relationships with alcoholics are difficult. Partners and other loved ones of alcoholics experience:

Little to No Support or Genuine Love

Even when an alcoholic tells you they love and respect you, you’ll unlikely see this in their actions. Their words and deeds contradict each other. This causes resentment and feelings of bitterness.


People with AUD struggle with anger. Alcoholism also makes it difficult to manage behavior. This includes violent physical behavior. It’s common for angry emotions to escalate into verbal abuse or physical violence when someone is under the influence of alcohol.


It’s difficult for people who lack experience with alcoholism to understand the struggles in this type of relationship. 

Loved ones of alcoholics often feel judged, ignored, or rejected. They lack the support they need to make healthy decisions, which makes them feel as if they have no choice but to remain in an unhealthy relationship. 

Some people remain in relationships with alcoholics because they believe their only other option is to be alone.

Consequences of Their Loved One’s Poor Choices

Alcoholics are more likely to lie, cheat, steal, and engage in other negative or illegal behavior. They rarely take responsibility for their actions. 

A relationship with an alcoholic often includes “cleaning up their mess” or rescuing them from a bad situation. The loved one deals with the consequences of their loved one’s poor choices.


There isn’t much stability in a relationship with an alcoholic. Alcoholism takes its toll in many ways, including financially. 

In addition to the cost of purchasing alcohol, it can lead to job loss. Many alcoholics aren’t dependable, and they fail to meet their responsibilities. In addition to a lack of trust, it also leads to financial and legal concerns.

Difficulty Building and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

People who love someone with AUD might feel embarrassed or ashamed of their loved one’s behavior. They might be uncomfortable socializing, especially at home. 

Building a social support network is difficult when you’re constantly afraid of your alcoholic loved one messing it up.

Health Problems

Loving someone with alcoholism sometimes causes people to neglect their health. Addicts take up a lot of emotional space in a relationship. The non-alcoholic might feel too drained to care for themselves because of their loved one’s addiction.

In general, relationships with alcoholics are chaotic and stressful. Even during the good times, you anticipate the next negative episode. 

How to Help Someone with Alcohol Use Disorder

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with an alcoholic if they’re committed to recovery. Too often, though, people trying to help an alcoholic make the situation worse by enabling them. To truly help an alcoholic, it’s important to:

Seek Professional Help

Not only should you encourage your alcoholic loved one to get help, but you should also seek professional counseling. It might also be beneficial to participate in therapy together and individual counseling.

Establish and Enforce Boundaries

Boundary setting in relationships can be challenging for anyone. It’s especially difficult in relationships affected by alcoholism. 

To have a healthy relationship, you must learn to say no, even if it means upsetting the alcoholic. It also means not tolerating abusive behavior.

Boundaries in relationships affected by substance abuse might include:

  • Living in separate homes 
  • Saying no to requests during active addiction
  • Barring communication with the intoxicated person
  • Committing to therapy
  • Ending or pausing the relationship if things aren’t improving
  • Spending time together only when there is no drinking or active alcoholism

Be Compassionate

As hurt and angry as you might be by your loved one’s drinking, it’s important to be compassionate. Having AUD doesn’t mean your loved one wants to hurt you or that they don’t care about you.

People with AUD tend to feel shame. Nagging, lecturing, or judging them only makes the situation worse. Instead, let them know you want to support them and give them a space to express their feelings. This doesn’t mean you should allow them to take advantage of you or manipulate you. You can set boundaries and still be compassionate.

Boosting Your Self-Esteem

One of the best ways to help an alcoholic loved one is to work on yourself. It’s not selfish to become healthier. It’s one of the best things you can do in any relationship, whether or not alcoholism is involved. 

Schedule time for things you enjoy, and don’t neglect your physical or mental health.

Never Blame Yourself for Your Loved One’s Choices

It’s not your fault if your loved one chooses to drink. You can’t stop them from drinking. Alcohol addiction is a mental health condition. 

Even if they try to blame you for their actions when they consume too much alcohol, it’s not your fault. 

Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

You must ensure you don’t fall into unhealthy habits due to an alcoholic’s behavior. Negative emotions might feel overwhelming. 

The non-alcoholic partner or family member must protect their physical and emotional well-being.

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Loving someone who tends to abuse alcohol is challenging. Alcoholics struggle to show empathy and understand the emotions of other people. 

People in a difficult relationship with an alcoholic face physical and emotional risks. Their lives tend to be chaotic and unpredictable due to the actions of their alcoholic loved ones. 

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with someone recovering from alcoholism, but it takes commitment and work from both parties.

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Updated on March 27, 2024

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