Have you ever found yourself wondering if you’re dating an alcoholic? That in itself could be the first indicator that your partner may have a drinking problem. Or they may be at the threshold of alcoholism. This requires your immediate attention because being in a relationship with an alcoholic can wreak havoc on your mental well-being as well as put you at the risk of violence and physical or sexual abuse.
That said, enjoying an occasional drink or even binge drinking with friends once in a while to unwind or celebrate does not qualify as alcoholism. To be able to tackle this problem, you must first learn to spot the red flags. Next comes the arduous task of taking corrective measures. Neither is easy.
Equipping yourself with information and knowledge is the best way to handle this situation effectively.
What Classifies A Person As An Alcoholic?
Alcoholism is a condition defined by a person’s overwhelming physical need or desire to consume alcohol, even at the detriment of their health or ability to lead a normal life. Traditionally, people suffering from this condition were referred to as alcoholics. However owing to the stigma attached to this term, medical professional now use the term Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcoholism or AUD as “problem drinking that becomes severe”. To put it simply, an alcoholic does not know how and when to stop drinking. This condition is progressive. Over time, the affected person’s entire life begins to revolve around alcohol.
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They spend a major chunk of their time either trying to get their next fix, consuming alcohol or recovering from the after-effects of excessive drinking. This can interfere with a person’s ability to lead a normal life. This begins to trigger problems in their personal and professional life, coupled with financial woes.
It is vital to note that alcoholism is different than alcohol dependence. The latter refers to consuming alcohol regularly, albeit in moderation and a controlled manner. This does not have any harmful physical or psychological effects. However, people with alcohol dependence can develop alcoholism, if they don’t regulate their drinking patterns.
Signs and symptoms of alcoholism
To be sure whether you’re dating an alcoholic or someone with alcohol dependency or just a person who enjoys their drinks, it is important to be able to identify what excessive consumption of alcohol looks like.
Here are some of the tell-tale symptoms to look out for:
- An alcoholic may drink secretively or alone
- They have little or no control over their alcohol intake
- Someone who suffers from blackouts after drinking may be an alcoholic
- Such a person may lose interest in activities or hobbies they were once passionate about
- Unavailability of alcohol may make them restless or irritable
- They’re consumed by a strong urge to drink
- Alcohol becomes their prime focus. Everything else takes a back seat.
Besides these behavioral signs of alcoholism, it’s also important to know what alcoholics look like physically. Here are some of the physical manifestations of an excessive drinking problem:
- Weight loss due to choosing alcohol over food
- Dehydrating effects such as brittle nails and hair
- Sudden or speedy onset of signs of aging such as wrinkles
- Frequent alcohol breath even hours after the last drinking session
- Poor personal hygiene
- Broken capillaries on the face, typically around the nose
- Yellowish tinge in the eyes or on the skin due to the onset of liver damage
Not every alcoholic may exhibit all of these signs of alcoholism. However, if you have seen three or more of these behavioral and physical symptoms in your partner, there is a high possibility that you are dating an alcoholic.
Are You Dating An Alcoholic? – 8 Signs That Say So
Alcoholism is a rampant problem globally. According to the National Institute of Health data, 14.4 million adults in America struggle with this condition. WHO reports that 3.3 million people die due to alcohol abuse globally every year. Going by these statistics, the odds that one would end up dating an alcoholic are substantial.
Since alcoholism is a progressive condition, looking out for early warning signs can help you deal with this situation better. You can be better equipped to support your partner’s recovery too.
So, how do you identify if you’re dating an alcoholic? These 8 key indicators suggest so:
1. All their plans involve drinking
One of the first clear indicators that your partner has a drinking problem or is inching toward alcoholism is that all their plans and social activities involve drinking. Of course, anyone would like to down a few drinks at a birthday celebration, a concert or an evening out with friends.
However, what separates this from alcohol addiction is that the affected person will find a way to drink even during events or activities that don’t merit alcohol use. For example, if they bring beer cans on a hike, sporting events or a pottery class that you’re attending together, you have every reason to be worried.
Even more so, if there is a hip flask tucked in their jacket or coat for easy access at all times.
2. Irritability is a sign of alcohol addiction
If your partner becomes irritable and frustrated at the prospect of not being able to drink, it’s a classic sign that you’re dating an alcoholic. In some cases, this may even trigger angry outbursts or make you see a dark side to them that you didn’t even know existed.
Let’s say you go away to spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods somewhere and your partner runs out of their supply of alcohol by sundown. You’re away from civilization and it isn’t possible to replenish the stock immediately. Your partner lashes out at your for making the plan. They lose control of their temper if you suggest that they don’t need to drink more anyway.
If you have been in a similar situation, it a clear red flag that must not ignore.
3. Drinking every day is non-negotiable
A person affected by alcoholism cannot survive without their daily fix. Come rain or sunshine, they need a bottle by their side. If you have been noticing similar tendencies in your partner or have become accustomed to the fact that drinking every day is a part of their lifestyle, it’s a worrying sign.
Their dependency on alcohol will only increase over time. If they’re drinking only in the evening right now, it won’t be long before they start taking a couple of swigs even before breakfast. Who’s to say they may already be secretly drinking more than they let on.
It’s not uncommon for alcoholics to down a few drinks alone so that their excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t draw attention and scrutiny by people around them.
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4. They use alcohol as a crutch
Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is one of the irrefutable signs of alcoholism. A vast majority of alcoholic start drinking excessively to deal with stress or numb their feelings. The buzz becomes their escape from the stark realities of life. Before they know, they’re hooked.
They turn to a bottle to deal with work stresses, family problems, past issues, anger, sadness, loneliness. At the same time, they need a drink by their side to celebrate success, feel happy and revel in joys of their achievements.
Simply put, be it the highest highs or the lowest lows, they cannot navigate the twists and turns of life without alcohol. If you have noticed a similar pattern in your partner’s drinking tendencies, they clearly have a problem.
5. Drinking has impacted their life negatively
This is also an important sign to take into account if you’re wondering whether you’re dating an alcoholic or just someone who enjoys their drinks a little more than usual. Alcohol addiction can begin to interfere with the affected person’s day-to-day life, resulting in disturbances and disruptions.
These disruptions could range from getting into a fight at a bar to missing a flight or an important presentation at work because they were totally hammered. Your partner may brush these incidents off as a one-time thing. If you pay attention, you’ll begin to see a pattern. This is extremely common among alcoholics.
Given that drinking becomes the single biggest focus for them, everything else takes a backseat. Be it work, family, friends or romantic relationships.
6. Abusive tendencies are a sign you’re dating an alcoholic
Assessing whether you’re dating an alcoholic or not can become even more difficult if the person is a high functioning alcoholic. Such people can maintain relationships and pursue successful careers even despite a drinking problem.
On the surface of it, they may seem like just another person who has a drink too many from time to time. They may even possess some disarming qualities like an inherent charm, intelligence and wit, which may distract you from focusing on some troubling aspects of their personalities.
This may include a tendency to get violent or abusive either under the influence of alcohol or lack of it. If your partner’s mood swings and irritability triggered by alcohol have led to nasty fights, something is definitely out of place. Worse still, if you have been at the receiving end of abuse or violence because of alcohol, it’s a clear indicator that you’re dating an alcoholic.
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7. They have financial troubles but find money to drink
Addiction of any kind is expensive. Have you noticed that your partner is always too broke to do anything with you? You may plan a fancy dinner to celebrate an occasion, a trip or a new adventure sport. Their answer always is ‘money is a little tight right now, let’s do it another time.’
You either have to cancel or pay for them too. However, when it comes to sourcing that bottle, day after day, they always find the money for it. It is one of the clear signs of too much alcohol intake.
What’s even more worrying is that drinking becomes the sole ‘source of entertainment’ for an alcoholic. Try suggesting an activity where these scope to binge drink till the crack of dawn and they’d not only jump at the prospect but also offer to foot the entire bill.
8. Their whereabouts are a mystery to you
As a person’s reliance on alcohol increases, their tolerance for it and their level of consumption also continue to increase. To drink more without rousing your suspicion or to escape from your ‘nagging’, your partner may start spending more and more time away from you.
There may be long periods of absence where you don’t know anything about their whereabouts.
When questioned, your partner may either dismiss your concerns off-hand or get all worked up about your ‘interference’ in their life. They may also have a circle of friends, who are also addicts, that you know nothing about. To cover their tracks, such a person may resort to lying, throwing temper tantrums or blaming you for being paranoid.
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What Can You Do If You’re Dating An Alcoholic?
Being in a relationship with an alcoholic is not easy. The excessive drinking, your concern for their well-being, the lying, the tension and fights can get too overwhelming for anyone. So what can you do if you’re dating an alcoholic? Here are 5 ways to handle this situation:
1. Stage an intervention on their alcohol addiction
This is an important first step if your partner is in denial about their drinking problem. However, it is imperative that this intervention comes across as a loving act and not a way of shaming them. You can reach out to their family, friends or co-workers to help your partner see the grim reality without making them feel humiliated or cornered.
Each person present can say their piece. The correct way to do it is telling the person how much you love them, sharing heartwarming stories about your association and then presenting your concerns about their drinking habits.
‘I love you too much to let you throw away your life like this.’
‘I can’t bear the thought of you self-destructing yourself in this way’
‘We love you but you can’t just come and crash at our place to get away from your problems. You need to get help.’
As their partner, you too must use this opportunity to let the person know how their addiction has affected you and your relationship.
2. Have a conversation about signs of too much alcohol intake
Once your partner has had the chance to process the intervention, sit down for a serious conversation about the problem. Point out the signs of too much alcohol consumption that were the red flags leading you to conclude you’re dating an alcoholic. They may still act defensive or be in denial about it.
Don’t push them too hard at this point. Just express your concerns, and let them know you’re coming from a place of love and care. Point out how their alcohol addiction has impacted your relationship.
And also it’s effects on your mental well-being. Make sure you do this when they’re sober and in the right frame of mind to receive your inputs positively. For instance, having the talk after they’ve spent the night out drinking and returned home terribly hungover is pointless.
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3. Assess if you’re part of the problem
Addiction thrives in a system and you have unwittingly become a part of that system. This is not to say that you are to blame for your partner’s alcohol addiction. Not at all. Even so, it is important to assess if you have in some way enabled their tendencies.
Ignoring the signs of too much alcohol consumption, hiding their drinking habits from family or friends, making excuses for their excessive drinking, blaming it on their friends or family, not being vocal about how you feel, or suffering emotional, verbal or physical abuse silently.
To break the cycle, you need help to be able to help your partner. Consider joining Al-Anon. At least, attend a few meetings. This is a free program designed specifically for people who have someone with a drinking problem in their life. Parents, spouses, partners, siblings, relatives of people with addiction come together and share their stories and journeys.
It can be a tremendous source of support since these people can relate to exactly what you’re going through. Something your friends or family may not.
4. Nudge them to get help
Alcoholism or AUD is a medical condition. You can’t just make it go away with will power and strong resolves. Besides, quitting cold turkey can have dangerous consequences for a person used to heavy drinking every day. The symptoms can range from shakes and seizures to hallucinations, and in some extreme cases, even death.
So the detox process must take place under medical supervision or at least guidance of experienced coaches, sponsors or internists. If you’re dating an alcoholic, slowly but surely nudge them to get help. Here are some of the top options available to you:
- Alcoholics Anonymous: Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful resources available for achieving and maintaining sobriety. It is a free, nonprofit fellowship that has groups and meetings all over the world, which means it is easily accessible to people of every background. Their 12-step program, with a sponsor to guide an addict through their recovery and sobriety, is immensely successful and effective.
- Work with an addiction therapist: For those who have the means and require a cloak of confidentiality to embark on the journey of sobriety, working with an addiction therapist is a great option. Once a person stops drinking heavily, all the issues that they have not been dealing with begin to resurface. Besides, once the crutches of alcohol are removed, an addict can start feeling extremely vulnerable. A therapist can help your partner work through these feelings without a relapse.
- Rehab: If alcohol abuse has started to take a toll on your partner’ physical and mental health, an in-patient rehab facility is most advisable. Given that addicts get a chance to recover in the care of trained doctors and experienced therapists, this is the most effective option for overcoming addiction. However, not everyone can take 60 or 90 days off from work and focus solely on healing. Those have the time often lack the financial resources for it. But if neither of these is an issue for you, find out a good rehab facility in your vicinity and motivate your partner to check-in.
5. Prioritize yourself if you’re dating an alcoholic
There is only so much you can do to help a partner grappling with alcohol addiction. In the end, it is your partner’s will to make a change that counts. Do not brush aside the impact of dating an alcoholic on your well-being. If the situation is hurting you and you see no hope for improvement, focus on yourself.
Make sure you have the right kind of support to cope with this situation. Don’t make your life revolve around your partner, no matter how much you love them. Do the things that make you happy.
Give your partner a chance to change course, but if all you get are empty promises, don’t hesitate to move on. That choice is always and only yours to make.
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Is It Okay To Date An Alcoholic?
There is no denying that dating an alcoholic can impact you deeply. The toxicity you experience can change your outlook toward relationships. Besides, partners of people with alcohol addiction are more susceptible to reciprocal drinking. This means you are at risk of developing an addiction or dependency yourself.
Abuse is also a big concern in such relationships. Of all the domestic violence cases reported in the US, at least 60 per cent are caused due to alcohol abuse. Then there is the question of whether you can envisage a long-term relationship with an alcoholic partner.
The average lifespan of an alcoholic is 24 to 28 years shorter than the general population, and much of it is spent in and out of rehabs and medical facilities. You need to think long and hard if that’s the kind of life you want for yourself.
Also, codependency – which means prioritizing their needs over yours and feeling responsible for their actions and well-being – in such relationships can keep you caught in this rut longer than you’d like.
So, is it ok to date an alcoholic? Ideally, it’s best to steer clear if you know that a potential partner deals with alcohol addiction. But if your partner develops an addiction later on in life, you must give them a chance to bounce back from it. Stick around and help them on their path of recovery. However, if you don’t see them maintaining their sobriety, be prepared to walk away.