Secondhand Drinking and its Harm to Others

Last Updated: Mar 5th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Secondhand Drinking and its Harm to Others

Everyone has heard of secondhand smoking, but not many are as familiar with secondhand drinking. This particular terminology refers to the effects that one’s drinking has on others including (but not limited to) physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse, blackouts, unpredictable behavior, and driving under the influence. There are many dangers that secondhand drinking has on others, and it is imperative to examine the extent of its impact on so many. 

By The Numbers

As far as the number of those who have been impacted by secondhand drinking, it is estimated that nearly 75 million Americans have suffered. This includes parents, spouses, children, siblings, grandparents, friends, and partners. There are more people who have been victims of secondhand drinking than some may believe. The worst part about all of this is that it is rarely talked about. 

Concerning the world outside of the United States, there are many areas that have been impacted greatly by the effects of secondhand drinking. In Australia, 75% of all adults were impacted negatively by someone else’s drinking in the span of only a year. 

Secondhand Drinking and Toxic Stress 

Fight-or flight is what is referred to when someone is experiencing a great amount of distress and either instinctually fights through or runs away from conflict. Fight-or-flight is critical to one’s survival; when this sort of system is activated repeatedly, toxic stress happens.  The question remains though, what does this have to do with secondhand drinking?

Fear and anger are referred to as danger-producing emotions, and they trigger stress hormones that help people fight or run away. Most people know these hormones as adrenaline or cortisol. There is a great deal of stress that comes with a loved one being addicted. The way they act when they are drunk may trigger a fight-or-flight response from those who are secondhand drinking victims. This trigger has the potential to bleed into other areas of their lives, causing unwanted stress.

Secondhand Drinking: How Alcoholism Affects Others 

There are many monstrous dangers of alcoholism in the lives of others. If the loved one of an addict is suffering from secondhand drinking, they may be experiencing the following:

  • Strained family relationships
  • Financial difficulty
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Trust issues
  • Anger
  • Irritability

It’s hard to discern as to whether or not someone can avoid secondhand drinking altogether, but there are actually ways to do so, as impossible and unpredictable as it may seem. Being able to identify alcoholism in even its earliest stages can help streamline the process of getting someone help, making their chances of a successful recovery more likely. 

What is Alcoholism?

It can be best described as an insurmountable desire to drink alcohol in excessive amounts. Alcoholism is an extremely dangerous form of substance abuse. When someone constantly takes one drink and cannot stop after that, they’re probably suffering from alcoholism. Most of the time, all alcoholics can think about is when they’ll get their next drink. This makes them want alcohol even more over time.

When substances are used, the pleasure center in the brain is triggered. Because of this, one’s desires and judgment become distorted. When this happens, over time, desires will become more and more difficult to satisfy. To Take it a step further, substance use becomes the top priority when cravings cannot be satisfied elsewhere. 

Due to the fact that substance use becomes the top priority, addiction has a destructive impact on family life. Most people who are addicted to substances neglect their loved ones and place their own needs above the needs of others. This is perhaps most transparent in the area of finances. 

There’s no question that substance use is expensive, but if someone is addicted, financial difficulties may intensify. To put into perspective as to just how destructive financial burdens can be, one of the leading causes of divorce is centered around monetary disagreements. This gives dependency a dangerous edge when it comes to the survival of some families’ stability. Addiction can destroy families, marriages, careers, and friendships. This is why recognizing alcoholism is imperative to one’s recovery journey. 

How to Tell If You Suffer from Alcoholism

Though it may be difficult to recognize the signs of alcoholism in someone due to blind spots and partial bias, asking the question is a good place to start. Once someone is willing to accept the truth and ask the right questions, the signs of alcoholism will be much easier to recognize. 

Signs of Alcoholism

Someone who suffers from alcoholism may display the following symptoms:

  • Consistent lying
  • Consistent drunkenness
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Lack of self-control
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

The fear of calling out a disease for what it is is difficult. This is because as soon as you do so, it makes you vulnerable and susceptible to discomfort. Fear is a dangerous enemy; it leads people towards anger and denial, which is the enemy of progress. For those who desire to guide a loved one towards sobriety, it is imperative to show them love, grace, and understanding. This is the most effective and efficient way to approach someone who suffers from substance use disorder. 

Why Do Others Turn to Alcoholism/Addiction?

Some reasons that someone may turn to addiction include the following:

  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Peer pressure
  • Marital problems
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Self-confidence issues

It is immensely crucial to remember that alcoholism doesn’t just randomly show up; there are many reasons why people turn to alcoholism. It doesn’t just happen when someone randomly decides they want a drink. This is why it is so important to figure out what is causing the substance abuse, and not just nitpick at the symptoms in an ignorant manner. 

Substance Abuse Treatment Options

For those who are suffering from secondhand drinking, finding treatment for their loved ones who are suffering from alcoholism may be the best thing they can do for all parties involved. Luckily, there are many treatment options that provide those suffering the best opportunity available to recover successfully. 

Inpatient Treatment

Used for treating more severe cases of addiction, inpatient treatment is a residential program in which those who participate stay in a treatment facility for a prolonged amount of time. This rehab option allows patients weekly access to professionally licensed therapists and psychiatrists, as well as 24/7 access to professional medical personnel. As far as the length of this program is concerned, it could last anywhere from 28 days to six months. 

Outpatient Treatment

Lasting anywhere from 3 months to over a year, outpatient treatment programs allow patients anywhere between 10-12 hours of weekly access to professionally licensed therapists and psychiatrists. This treatment option is for those who only suffer from mild cases of addiction, or for those who need a stepping stone between addiction treatment and the outside world. 

Those who participate find themselves in a more convenient spot than those who participate in inpatient treatment programs. This is because of the fact that those who are involved in an outpatient treatment program are able to reside in the comfort of their own homes. This provides patients with only minimal disruption to their daily lives. 

Detox Treatment

Substance abuse withdrawal is a dangerous part of recovery; there are many who suffer from intensified withdrawal symptoms. Because of this, it is imperative that those who require detox treatment are recovering the right way. Oftentimes, those who are trying to detox on their own fail because they aren’t taking the correct precautions when it comes to coping. This is why medically assisted treatment (MAT) is vital to the success of many in rehab. MAT provides patients with treatment that allows them to recover with medicine that subsides withdrawal symptoms. This takes recovery from difficult to comfortable. 

There is Help for Those Who Need It

Though not many people are familiar with it, secondhand drinking is a real consequence of substance abuse. The effects that one’s drinking has on others including (but not limited to) physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse, blackouts, unpredictable behavior, and driving under the influence are astronomical; some don’t even realize just how their addiction is impacting the ones they love most. There are many dangers that secondhand drinking has on others, and it is imperative to get help for those who are causing it.


There are recovery options available for those who are suffering from substance abuse, no matter who they are or where they come from. At 1st step, our philosophy is to treat these individuals with the best care available in order that they might recover to their full potential. There is no cookie-cutter addiction treatment formula. Every individual that seeks help is unique and their treatment should reflect this. Whether they suffer from mild or severe addiction, they still need help that will give them the best chance of success. If you or a loved one are suffering from substance abuse, you can contact us here.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.