How drinking or marijuana use influences romantic relationships


Romantic relationships can give us great joy and grief. Satisfaction of a relationship can strongly influence our body and mental health.

Substance use, such as drinking alcohol, using marijuana, and smoking cigarettes, can significantly influence romantic relationships.

Normally use of these substances can be a source of bonding and shared experiences. However, when substances are used excessively, they can generate stress, conflict, and tension.

In a paper newly published in Current Opinion in Psychology, researchers discussed how substance addiction affects romantic relationships.

In some situations, substance use can directly harm relationship quality. Couples in which one partner drinks heavily show low satisfaction and are more likely to divorce. Moreover, heavy drinking is a key factor in intimate partner violence. People show more violent behavior after drinking heavily.

Heavy drinking is also associated with negative jealousy (i.e. suspicion that a partner is cheating) and weak impulse and anger control.

Recent research shows that marijuana use may link to partner aggression. For example, college women show more psychological aggression after using marijuana.

In some situations, substance use can affect relationship functioning. If couples have different substance use habits, their relationships are harder to maintain. This has been confirmed in alcohol use, marijuana use, and other illicit substance uses.

Newly married couples with discrepant heavy-drinking habits are more likely to experience separation and divorce. This is especially true when the wife is a heavier drinker.

Some studies show that if couples have similar marijuana-use habits, they can have greater risk for domestic violence compared to couples in which only one person use marijuana. Furthermore, if the husband uses illicit drugs and the wife uses marijuana, their risk for domestic violence is higher.

Sometimes, relationship distress can lead to alcohol and substance use. Partner conflict in young adults is related to alcohol-tobacco use disorders in the long run. In addition, many people use alcohol to deal with relationship conflict, and hence experience greater alcohol-related bad outcomes.

Importantly, perceptions about a partner’s behavior often have more powerful effects on outcomes than the partner’s actual behavior. For instance, perceiving that the partner’s drinking can even harm the relationship more than the partner’s actual drinking. Such perception can also harm the wellbeing of the perceiver.

Researchers suggest that if one wants to change the partner’s substance use habit, it is better to use positive strategies, such as rewarding. This can help reduce the unhealthy addictive behavior. Negative strategies, such as punishment, may not be useful and even push the addicted partner farther away.

Citation: Rodriguez LM, Derrick J. (2017). Breakthroughs in understanding addiction and close relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13: 115-119. doi:
Figure legend: This image is credited to Yvonne Yiwen Lee.