11 Signs You Might Be Dating An Alcoholic

Updated November 20, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt

Alcoholism, also classified as Alcohol Use Disorder, is a chronic disorder where an individual is unable to stop or control their alcohol consumption, despite negative social, occupational, or health consequences. It’s a mental health condition where the person is preoccupied with alcohol consumption even as it causes problems in their life. Excessive alcohol use can also indicate an additional underlying substance abuse problem or a mental health issue.

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According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder. Film depictions or the negative way people discuss alcoholism may paint a mental picture of someone messy and obviously relying on alcohol. Because of this, one might think that it would be easy to identify whether the person they’re dating is an alcoholic. However, the bottom line is that it’s not that simple.

There are two types of alcoholics:

  1. High functioning alcoholics
  2. People whose substance abuse explicitly negatively affects their daily life

What Is A High-Functioning Alcoholic?

Many alcoholics manage to function very effectively with their jobs and personal life, and some are even successful with hiding their substance use for years or even decades without family members, partners, or friends finding out. These are high functioning alcoholics. Even if they drink far too much on the weekend, they report into work on time Monday morning and excel in their position. They can have great professional and personal relationships, successful marriages, and a life that appears to the outside world that they have everything going for them. In fact, their alcohol use crosses the line into a disorder when they find it challenging to control or cut back on consumption, or if they experience physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms if they try.

This is one reason why identifying whether someone you’re dating is an alcoholic can be challenging. Here are some signs which can help you identify, or at the very least investigate further, whether you’re dating an alcoholic with a substance use issue. People with alcohol use disorder are worthy of love and caring partners, so if you realize that your partner aligns with these signs, it doesn’t have to spell the end of your relationship.

11 Signs You Might Be Dating An Alcoholic

  1. Your Partner Drinks Any Time, Day Or Night

Most people set apart a specific time to have a couple drinks. It might be a glass of pinot noir to pair with the grilled salmon and roasted sweet potatoes they’re having for dinner or having a cold beer among friends and family at a barbeque. Many people enjoy a cocktail after work, or a couple beers while watching their favorite sports team. Even a mimosa during Sunday brunch is common. But an alcoholic will drink at any time, any day, to satisfy their cravings. Neither time nor event dictates precisely to an alcoholic when it’s time to drink. It can be first thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, or midnight and a reason for drinking will come up.

2. Your Partner’s Life Revolves Around Alcohol

With people who do not have a substance use issue with alcohol, their drinking generally revolves around the events in their life. Gatherings with family members, poker parties with friends, and weddings are all common reasons for people to consume alcohol, perhaps in larger quantities than a usual day. The alcohol is there to accompany the events – not the other way around. Furthermore, they don’t struggle to attend non-alcoholic gatherings, like little league games, instead of opting to go to the sports bar with their buddies. A person struggling with alcohol use disorder is likely to plan their life events around alcohol. Alcohol is almost always present wherever they go.

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  1. Alcohol Is Consistently Used As A Stress Reliever

Life can be challenging for everyone at times. Alcohol is a sedative and depressant that affects the central nervous system and can temporarily relieve stress. A person who is not dependent on alcohol as a stress remedy will use other methods to combat stress, like exercise, meditation, or rest. A person struggling with alcoholism is more likely to use alcohol as the primary remedy for the pressures of life. There may also be other mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, that someone is dealing with concurrently that make it harder to stay away from alcohol.

4. They Drink Whatever Is Available

Most social drinkers have a particular type of alcohol and brand they prefer and will usually stick with it. It could be a specific brand of scotch, beer, or wine, or a certain type of cocktail like a margarita. If their preferred alcoholic drink or brand is unavailable, they might opt instead for a non-alcoholic drink. Alcoholics, however, tend to drink whatever is available – any type of drink and any brand. It’s not so much the type of drink that matters, but that the drink has alcohol in it.

5. Their Personality Changes

Persistent mood swings in any direction after a few drinks are something to pay attention to. They could go from being playful and sweet to defensive and combative within a very short amount of time. People with alcohol use disorder can even become physically or verbally abusive. What may appear to be a minor issue or benign conversation might be taken by them in such a way where their subsequent response is out of character for their sober self.

  1. They Become Easily Irritated

Similar to their change in personality, a person with a substance abuse issue like alcohol might become easily irritated, especially when they have not had a drink in a while. Because of the withdrawal effects of alcohol, the person may become upset and angry at the slightest aggravation. This is because once alcohol is no longer active in the bloodstream, the brain still remains in a state of overcompensation, but now there is no drug (alcohol) to counterbalance it, and therefore the person could become irritable. Someone who becomes easily irritated may also have other underlying mental health issues at play as well.

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7. Their Family Has A History Of Alcoholism

People with families with a history of alcoholism are at a higher risk of becoming alcoholics compared to people with no family history of alcoholism. If you are dating someone you suspect is an alcoholic, you might want to find out about their family history with alcoholism. Alcoholism has been linked to genetics. Having a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has a substance use issue with alcohol increases the chances that your potential partner will also struggle with the same addiction.

8. They Always Have Money For Alcohol

Alcohol is the priority for an alcoholic. The money going toward bills, the oil change, or the long-overdue and much-needed repairs on the house are superseded by the need for alcohol. If the funds aren’t available, they might ask a friend or family member to borrow some money to cover them until the following month. Their need for alcohol consumption will most likely take precedence over their financial responsibilities.

9. You Meet With Your Date, And They’re Already Drinking

You’re right on time. In fact, you’re a few minutes early. As you walk in the restaurant, not only is your date already there, but they’re finishing up on one glass of chardonnay and ordering another. An alcoholic is more prone to starting drinking even before their date shows up or before even leaving for the function. Whether it’s because of stress, withdrawals as a result of their substance abuse, or the mere need to drink, they’ll likely seek out a head start.

10. They Hang Around Other Drinkers

Alcoholics tend to surround themselves with people who also like to drink. It is fun to hang around people with similar “hobbies,” and it also makes their substance use look less obvious because when everyone else is also drinking. They may also feel more “normal” if all their friends rely on alcohol the same way they do.

  1. They Can Drink More Than Others Can

An alcoholic can have several drinks and not exhibit any signs of being intoxicated. If you were to try and keep up, you’d feel and possibly show the effects of the alcohol long before your date. The reason an alcoholic can “hold their liquor” is that over time, they’ve developed a tolerance for alcohol. It takes more alcohol to make them feel the effects, whereas it might only take you one or two drinks to have the same effect. If you find yourself drinking at the same pace and the person you’re dating doesn’t appear to be affected at the same rate, that might be a red flag that they’re used to drinking large quantities of alcohol.

Whether you have questions about alcoholism, concerns about if you might be dating someone with alcoholism, or if you may have alcohol use disorder yourself, a licensed therapist is always available to help. Know that you are not alone and that there are professionals to help you work through it at BetterHelp. With chat, text, phone, and video chat options, you can speak with a therapist in a way that is most convenient for you. Plus, you’ll enjoy ease of communication by being able to attend sessions wherever you have an internet connection.

Online therapy options are a great alternative to in-person therapy. In fact, 14 studies have found that when comparing face-to-face and internet interventions, there is no real difference in effectiveness – online therapy is just as effective as traditional, face-to-face therapy. You can begin making real progress and receiving tangible, honest advice from our licensed therapists today. We have many counselors who specialize in helping those struggling with alcohol use disorder and those who love them.

“Rebecca is a phenomenal counselor, her background and experience in a few areas like the judicial system and drug and alcohol treatment offers great insight for those who may have loved ones working through those issues. They are highly available, always willing to open up additional appointments if you can't find a time that works for you, respond quickly through chat. I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in working with cognitive behavioral therapy to reach out and see if they are available for a chat.”

“I’ve been in recovery for four months now. My weekly conversations with Annalicia have been critical in maintaining my sobriety and in living a healthier, more organized lifestyle. She treats me with kindness and respect while providing invaluable advice and perspective concerning both my sober journey and dealing with feelings of anxiety. Whenever I sit down for a session with Annalicia, I know I can look forward to an open mind, an empathetic ear, and a meaningful exchange. In taking the initial steps to live soberly, I was stripped of my coping mechanisms; Annalicia, however, has provided me with useful tools to deal with stress and anxiety while helping me build a new system of healthier coping skills conducive to a sober lifestyle. I look forward to our continued relationship, as she has been a crucial asset to my mental health and my positive lifestyle.”


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