Why Alcoholics Cannot Love and the Reality of Emotional Unavailability

August 18, 2023

Addiction | Barbara Decker

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Key Takeaways

  • People who have problems with alcohol may find it hard to share their feelings, which can make it difficult to keep relationships and may affect their ability to love.
  • Striking a balance between caring for others and setting strict boundaries can prevent enabling addiction while dealing with alcoholism.
  • Supporting someone with alcohol issues requires empathy, patience, and self-care. Be kind and sympathetic to help them on their path to recovery.

Barbara’s Perspective

Let me share a bit from my own life. I’ve got a son who, for a long stretch of time, really overdid it with drinking. He didn’t see it as a big deal for the longest time (though he’s since gone through a 28-day rehab program). But here’s what I really want to say: even during those heavy drinking years, the love was always there. I felt his love, saw him in loving relationships, and he was always an integral part of our family.

When both of my parents were sick at the same time, he didn’t think twice before flying across the country to care for his grandpa. He often said they’d done so much for him, and now it was his turn to give back, to help them and me. To me, that’s solid proof that just because someone drinks too much doesn’t mean they can’t love deeply.

Barbara 🙏

There seems to be a connection between alcoholism and the apparent inability to feel deep and genuine love. However, is it a widespread rumor or a hidden reality?

I’ve heard more than once the phrase, “An alcoholic cannot love.” It stings and hurts, but is there any truth to this belief? With open hearts and open minds, I will give you enough information to answer this question.

Alcoholism may affect a person’s ability to love, but they need compassion and care more than ever. With support and understanding, we can help them heal and rediscover love on their journey to emotional well-being.

Alcohol Use: A Comprehensive Look

Some perceive alcoholism as a sign of weak will or poor character. However, these misconceptions are far from recognizing the complex nature of the disorder. Alcoholism is a chronic brain disorder characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over the intake, and a negative emotional state when abstaining.

Why does someone get imprisoned in the tormenting world of alcoholism? The causes are complicated: Mental health conditions, genetics, and even family roles in addiction are essential in developing this pattern.

Alcoholism and Its Role in Inhibiting True Love

People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) put their relationship with substances over relationships with their loved ones. As alcohol addiction progresses, the ability to express and receive genuine love can be severely compromised, often manifesting as emotional unavailability..

Over time, alcohol abuse and alcoholism can cause physical, emotional, and psychological effects, transforming a person’s identity far from their original self.

Understanding the Difficult Relationship with an Alcoholic

A bottle of alcohol and a cigarette on a table, symbolizing why an alcoholic cannot love with two people in the backgrounding fighting

When dealing with alcohol abuse, loved ones often face confusing and irrational behavior. An alcoholic may feel remorseful one day and in denial the next, making providing adequate support and assistance challenging.

The perpetual chaos caused by alcohol abuse further strains the relationship. Shared activities and hobbies that once brought joy are replaced by loneliness and isolation due to the alcoholic’s drinking habits. Communication may become strained, and trust can be shattered as the addiction precedes family bonds.

Confronting an alcoholic family member adds another layer of complexity to the already challenging situation. Family members may feel torn between expressing their concerns and fears and not wanting to trigger defensive or aggressive reactions from the alcoholic.

Struggling with Alcoholism: Facing the Volatile Landscape

Dealing with an alcoholic family member also involves facing challenges in seeking help. The individual may resist acknowledging their problem, leading to denial or avoidance of treatment. As a result, family members may struggle with approaching the subject or encouraging the alcoholic to seek professional help.

A few of these struggles include:

  • Erratic Mood Swings: Anger, despair, and euphoria are the norm.
  • Lack of Responsibility: Responsibility for personal actions and daily chores is ignored.
  • Disappearance of Shared Activities: Activities once enjoyed together become rare, replaced by the loneliness driven by alcohol consumption.
  • Relationship Issues: Situations can escalate to verbal abuse and domestic violence in extreme circumstances.

FREE: Get the 3 pieces of advice that helped me understand this disease of addiction

The Ambiguity of Alcohol Abuse

The most discouraging aspect lies in the ambiguity associated with alcohol abuse. Affection, rage, guilt, and denial all coexist, leaving you wondering how to understand and effectively help someone you love.

A love-filled promise made today may be forgotten tomorrow, and even minor disagreements can escalate into severe arguments due to impaired judgment. This characteristic of loving an alcoholic can leave you feeling neglected, emotionally drained, and in a constant state of fear.

However, it’s crucial to remember that this battle isn’t eternal. Acknowledging these challenges can help your relationship thrive and make it possible to be loved again.

Exploring Alcohol Abuse and Its Consequences

Alcohol abuse can cause severe damage. If your loved one is struggling with alcohol, it can result in various physical and emotional effects.

  • Liver Diseases: Like fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
  • Heart Problems: Including high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Stomach Conditions: Such as ulcers and inflammation of the stomach lining.

On the other hand, your loved one can experience a wide variety of mental issues:

  • Sleep problems: They can face excessive sleepiness or difficulty maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
  • Brain-related conditions: They are more prone to brain damage, memory loss, or dementia.
  • Emotional dysregulation: They can develop depression, anxiety, psychosis, or antisocial behavior.

People with an active addiction often have an altered perception of reality and their relationships. This is especially catastrophic when you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic child because, as a primary caregiver and role model, you see their future falling apart if no action is taken.

Do Alcoholics Struggle to Love?

An emotionally unavailable man, possibly an alcoholic, laying on a bed with his head on his pillow.

When discussing the emotions of an individual with alcoholism, various factors come into play. The negative emotions that arise from addiction can impact their ability to function and make it difficult for them to experience love.

Additionally, an alcoholic’s capacity to love and be loved can be hindered by their behavior and physical experiences.

The Reign of Compulsion: Losing Self to Addiction

Individuals struggling with alcohol addiction may be caught in a cycle of compulsive behavior. The need for alcohol can become all-consuming, overshadowing the importance of other aspects of life, such as love and meaningful relationships.

As a result, those struggling with addiction dedicate significant time and energy to maintaining their addiction, leaving little room for building fulfilling connections with others.

Emotional Unavailability: A Barrier to Genuine Connection

Successful relationships thrive on deep emotional connections. However, alcoholics can frequently display emotional unavailability symptoms wrapped in layers of denial, guilt, and self-loathing.

It’s like when a kid wants to play with their favorite toy, but it’s locked up in a box, and they can’t reach it. That’s kind of like what’s happening when we talk about someone being “emotionally unavailable”.

It doesn’t mean that an alcoholic doesn’t have feelings or emotions. It’s just a sign of their hard time showing love or reacting to others’ feelings correctly.

Experience of Pain: Love’s Antithesis

Withdrawal from alcohol causes both physical discomfort and emotional agitation, which can lead to chronic pain. This pain can make it difficult for addicts to maintain intimate and loving relationships with others.

Sometimes, people build emotional walls to cope with their struggles and avoid confronting their deepest feelings. Unfortunately, this can inhibit their ability to give and receive genuine love, but they’re still capable of feeling it.

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The Trap of Codependency

A codependent relationship is a type of connection where both parties depend on each other regarding their mental, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual well-being. This type of relationship often results in unhealthy dynamics.

It can be challenging for loved ones of those dealing with alcoholism to recognize signs of codependency. You may feel like you’re doing the right thing by being by their side, focusing on their needs and avoiding conflict at all costs.

True love requires a certain level of emotional connection and understanding, which can be difficult when substances are involved. Those dealing with addiction crave love and connection, but they may struggle to express or receive it due to the power of their habit.

However, this trap can worsen and damage family and friends relationships. Breaking this codependent relationship is essential for both parties involved, so you can trust and lean on each other.

Supporting a Loved One in Active Alcoholism

A group of emotionally unavailable people sitting on the floor and discussing why alcoholics cannot love each other.

Loving someone and watching them fall into alcoholism is heartbreaking. Rebuilding relationships in recovery is complicated, but it’s less exhausting than being silent about the situation. The key lies in striking a delicate balance between understanding and consistent boundaries.

Remember that we can’t control their addiction, no matter how much we may want to help. Our goal should be to support them on their journey toward recovery and offer encouragement along the way. Even though seeking professional help and making positive changes is important, this decision must come from your alcoholic loved one.

Expressing Empathy: Connect, Don’t Confront

When supporting a loved one in alcohol rehabilitation, the first step is to express empathy. It’s important to remember that alcoholism is a progressive disease, not a sign of a lack of willpower or violent character.

Confrontations, though natural, can exacerbate feelings of guilt and deepen their emotional unavailability. Instead, it’s best to calmly and empathetically communicate your concerns to your loved one, showing them that you care and are there to help.

Setting Boundaries

While empathetic understanding constructs a bridge of support, setting boundaries forms the protective shield against enabling their addiction.

You can use the following boundaries to protect your emotional well-being and draw a line separating support from enabling:

  • Refuse to cover for their mistakes.
  • Avoid offering financial aid for buying substances.
  • Decide to stop tolerating abusive behavior.
  • Choose between staying in the relationship or, in the worst scenario, leaving your loved one aside.

WATCH: Free, confidential workshop that explains how to "Love Another Way"

Encouraging Professional Help

Talking to a loved one about their alcoholism can be difficult, but it’s crucial to approach the topic when they feel relaxed. Creating a calm environment can help them feel safe and comfortable when considering addiction treatment options or joining a support group.

Ultimately, the decision to seek help must come from them, and we can only offer encouragement and support as they work toward recovery. It’s essential to be patient and compassionate, letting them know that you’ll be there for them every step of the way.

Practicing Self-Care: Preserving Your Emotional Health

It‘s essential to prioritize your mental health while helping your loved one through their recovery. Don’t let managing their addiction consume your life; dedicate time to self-care.

Remember that a caregiver who is burned out can’t provide adequate support in the long term. Balancing compassion and boundaries may seem challenging, but know that you have the support of your family and friends. All of them should take an active role in offering guidance and support.

Moving Beyond Alcohol Abuse

A group of emotionally unavailable people sitting around a table and clapping while attending a support group for alcoholics.

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who abuses alcohol and be loved in return. Still, it may require compromise in recovery, changes in lifestyle and perspective, mutual support, and professional help.

For family and friends of alcoholics, the most crucial advice is to seek help. There is no shame in acknowledging struggles, but ignoring them can be detrimental. Remember that alcoholism, like any other disorder, requires attention, treatment, and support. Despite the confusion, pain, and heartbreak that may be experienced, recovery, healing, and unconditional love can always be achieved.

Frequently Asked Questions About Why an Alcoholic Cannot Love

Does Alcoholism Change Personality?

Yes, alcoholism can bring significant changes to a person’s personality. While intoxicated, someone may exhibit a different temperament from their sober self and become more aggressive, impulsive, or anti-social. Over time, these shifts can solidify into more permanent personality changes due to alcohol’s detrimental effects on the brain.

Do Alcoholics Lose Empathy?

Alcoholism can impact the brain’s neural pathways responsible for empathy and understanding, impacting an individual’s ability to care about others. The fear of not being able to obtain their next drink or experiencing withdrawal symptoms can overshadow their capacity to empathize with others, resulting in a loss of emotional connection and giving the impression of being heartless.

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What Mental Disorders do Alcoholics Have?

Alcoholics often deal with co-existing mental health disorders, like depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Alcohol may initially seem like a refuge from these conditions, but prolonged use worsens these disorders, building a vicious cycle of addiction and mental distress.

Do True Feelings Come Out When Drunk?

While alcohol can lower inhibitions and lead to more emotional expressions, the feelings unleashed aren’t always an accurate representation of someone’s “true feelings.” Alcohol impairs cognitive and emotional systems, distorting our perceptions and emotions and how we express them. While someone might be more straightforward under the influence, it would be wrong to mistake alcohol-influenced expressions as the absolute truth about an individual’s feelings or beliefs.

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