Cultivating a positive relationship with alcohol

Healthy relationships are based on respect, trust and safety. You and the other person serve each other’s needs, you enjoy each other’s company, and you make decisions together. If you start to feel unsafe, you no longer enjoy being around your partner, or they begin to make decisions for you unilaterally, these are signs of an unhealthy relationship.

These dynamics are also applicable to your relationship with alcohol. An imbalance of power is antithetical to healthy relationships. If you feel you no longer have much of a say in your relationship, and it’s taking you to places you don’t want to go to, it’s time to assess what’s going wrong – and if it isn’t reparable, it may be time to part ways.

We’re going to discuss ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with alcohol – and what to do if you decide it’s time to walk away and seek alcoholism treatment. Recognising the signs of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol early on can help prevent your drinking from spinning out of control into alcohol addiction.

Green, red and yellow flags

In relationships, ‘red flags’ signal problems, ‘green flags’ are positive signs, and ‘yellow flags’ are cautionary. This concept can be applied to drinking. A green flag might be enjoying a glass of wine with dinner without feeling the need for more. A red flag indicates a troubling sign that could be indicative of alcoholism, like drinking to cope with stress regularly. A yellow flag might be noticing an increase in your regular consumption. Using this framework to recognise healthy and unhealthy signs in your drinking can steer you towards better habits and help you get into the habit of assessing the health of your relationship with alcohol.

Honesty and self-reflection

Honesty is important in your relationships, and that applies to alcohol, too. Unhealthy relationships can be unpredictable and exciting and have addictive qualities, but when looked at objectively, these elements are troubling.

It’s important to take a clear-eyed look at your relationship with alcohol to assess whether your relationship with it is still serving your needs. You can do this by asking yourself these questions and answering them honestly, based loosely on the DSM-5 criteria for alcohol misuse disorder.

  • Are you starting to have concerns about your drinking?
  • Have others expressed concerns about your drinking?
  • Do you use alcohol to cope?
  • Do you often find yourself drinking more than you intended to?
  • Are you constantly thinking about your next drink?
  • Are you neglecting responsibilities, hobbies, or formerly pleasurable activities to spend time drinking alcohol?
  • Have you put yourself or others in dangerous situations?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you should consider mindful drinking, setting boundaries or ultimately walking away from alcohol altogether.

Tips from relationship therapy – attachment theory

Attachment theory is a therapeutic concept developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby. It’s theorised that there are four attachment styles that manifest in adult relationships – secure, anxious, avoidant and disorganised. These attachment styles manifest in early childhood through your relationship with your primary caregivers.

Attachment theory can provide a framework for understanding your relationship with alcohol in a couple of ways. If you find yourself using alcohol to fill a void or as a way of seeking comfort, it might reflect an anxious or avoidant attachment style. Recognising this can help in developing a more ‘secure’ relationship with alcohol, where it’s neither a crutch nor a source of avoidance.

Research has found a link between insecure attachment styles and alcohol misuse disorder. This makes sense, as insecure attachment styles can lead people to feel lonely and isolated, as they find connecting with and trusting people harder. This could increase a person’s desire to fill the void with alcohol. Alcohol misuse is correlated with childhood trauma- and childhood trauma is also associated with developing an insecure attachment style.

Systemic therapy

Systemic therapy looks at a person’s problems in the context of their wider communities – their families, relationships or culture. Applying this to alcohol means understanding how your relationships with others influence your drinking habits.

This is an important factor to keep in mind for the treatment of alcoholism. If a person’s network or community has a high level of alcohol use and misuse, this can make quitting difficult. This is why alcohol detox centres and alcohol rehab can be so valuable – they can provide a breathing space, away from normal networks, that facilitates the development of a new relationship with alcohol.

Mindful drinking

Often associated with meditation, mindfulness refers to the practice of remaining in the present moment, reducing obsessive thoughts, worries and rumination.

Mindful drinking means approaching drinking with full awareness and intentionality – being fully aware of each sip, fully feeling the effects on your mind and body, and understanding when you’ve had enough.

The goal is to appreciate the experience for what it is and be present with it so you are able to assess when you’ve had enough. Attempting to do so should pull the qualitative experience of how you’re drinking fully into mind.

Not everyone can drink mindfully. If this is the case, your relationship with alcohol should be fully examined, and the possibility of setting boundaries or walking away completely should be considered.

Setting boundaries – triggers and social settings

Learning to express your needs and desires is crucial in any relationship. Deciding on and setting clear boundaries is essential for mutual respect, understanding and healthy relationships.

Similarly, setting clear boundaries with alcohol is vital. This could mean limiting the quantity you drink, the frequency of your drinking, or the contexts in which you choose to drink. Establishing these boundaries and adhering to them helps to maintain control over the role of alcohol in your life – and boosts your self-respect. Maintaining healthy boundaries requires self-knowledge, bravery and assertiveness.

You may notice that entering certain places triggers drinking. Pubs and bars are obvious candidates, but it could also be the company of certain people, crowded and busy places or places that evoke certain memories. Once you have reflected on what these places and situations are, you need to set boundaries around how you interact with them – and, in some cases, consider avoiding them altogether.

Are you happy?

Often, the decision to break up is sparked by this question.

Unhealthy relationships make us feel trapped, out of control and miserable. If this is how your relationship with alcohol is making you feel, it’s time to start scanning the exits and searching for alcohol help.

Breaking up with alcohol

Sometimes, the healthiest decision in a human relationship is to part ways.

If your relationship with alcohol has broken down, it’s time to consider ending it. This break-up can be challenging, but it is a brave and necessary step towards prioritising your health and well-being.

If you’ve decided that it’s time to break up with alcohol, we can help.

Talk to UKAT

If your relationship with alcohol has left the honeymoon stage and become toxic, support is available. There is a range of alcohol addiction treatments available to support you at every step of your journey.

Alcohol detox treatment can allow you to take the first steps of ending your relationship with alcohol, while alcohol rehab gives you the space to develop and grow into your true self.

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Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

0203 553 9263