11 Signs You Might Be Dating An Alcoholic

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt

Alcoholism, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder, is a pattern of alcohol substance abuse where a person has difficulty controlling their drinking. It’s a mental health condition where the person is often preoccupied with alcohol. They may continue to use alcohol even though it causes problems, whether with family members, their physical health, their personal or professional relationships, or difficulty holding down a job. 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. For most people, the word “alcoholic” conjures up a picture of someone whose life is in complete chaos and disarray due to their substance abuse. 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 basically to types of alcoholics:

  1. Functioning alcoholics (high functioning alcoholics)
  2. People whose substance abuse 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 abuse 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 can effortlessly go into work on time Monday morning and excel in their position, hiding any sign of their substance abuse problem. 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; when, in fact, they’re an alcoholic and may have mental health issues as well. This is one reason why identifying whether someone you’re dating is an alcoholic can be difficult. So, 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 abuse issue.

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, every day, to satisfy the cravings associated with their drug addiction. Neither time nor events dictate to an alcoholic when it’s time to drink. It can be first thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, or midnight.

  1. Your Partner’s Life Revolves Around Alcohol

With people who do not have a substance abuse issue with alcohol, their drinking generally revolves around the events in their life. The gatherings with family members, the poker parties with friends, the wedding they attended for their friend from high school. The alcohol is there to accompany the events – not the other way around. Furthermore, they are fine with attending the non-alcoholic gatherings like the little league games and high school football games, instead of opting to go to the sports bar with their buddies. A person with a drug addiction like alcoholism plans their life events around alcohol. Alcohol is almost always present wherever they go.

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     3. Alcohol is Consistently Used as a Stress Reliever

Life can be very challenging at times. And with that are the stressors that fall upon us at one time or another, like tough work assignments or unfair bosses, the child who’s pushing their parents’ boundaries, or having the in-laws move in with you. Alcohol is a sedative and depressant that affects the central nervous system and can temporarily relieve stress. A person who is not dependent on using alcohol as the go-to remedy will use other methods to combat stress, such as exercise, meditation, or much-needed rest. On the other hand, an alcoholic is more likely to use alcohol as the primary remedy to seek relief from the pressures of life. When it comes to relieving stress, it’s important to note that there may also be other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety that the alcoholic is dealing with.

  1. 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. And if their preferred alcoholic drink or brand is unavailable, they might pass for a non-alcoholic drink instead of an iced tea or a soft drink. Alcoholics, however, tend to drink whatever is available – any type of drink and any brand. For a person’s substance abuse addiction to alcohol, it’s not so much the type of drink, but that the drink has alcohol in it.

  1. Their Personality Changes

Even the slightest alteration of mood should be paid attention to if you suspect you’re dating someone with substance abuse to alcoholics. Their moods could very well change after they’ve had a few drinks. They could go from being playful and sweet to defensive and combative within a very short amount of time. They 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 overly personal and out of character. The reason for the personality change is that alcohol slows the brain’s synapses and chemically alters the body by affecting serotonin levels – the chemical responsible for transmitting signals of mood to the brain. These physical changes to their substance abuse cause a person’s emotions to get out of control and causes them to say and do things they normally wouldn’t.

  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. In addition, someone who becomes easily irritated may also have other underlying mental health issues as well.

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  1. Their Family Has a History of Alcoholism

People whose family has 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, and therefore having a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has a substance abuse issue like alcohol, increases the chances that a person will also struggle with the same addiction.

  1. 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 substance abuse will most likely take precedence over their financial responsibilities.

  1. You Meet with your Date, and They’re Already Drinking

You’re right on time; in fact, you’re a few minutes early – you left work on time, traffic was light, and, well, honestly, you’re looking forward to enjoying some quiet time with your date. You’ve always wanted to try the Linguine with Shrimp Scampi, and tonight might be the time. 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 out with drinking even before their date shows up, whether it’s because of stress, withdrawals as a result of their substance abuse, or the mere need to drink.

  1. The Hang Around Other Drinkers

Alcoholics tend to surround themselves with people who also like to drink. Why? Not only is it fun to hang around people with similar “hobbies,” but it also makes their drinking problem and substance abuse issue look less obvious because when everyone else is also drinking, it’s more challenging to pick out someone who is an alcoholic.

  1. They Can Drink More Than Others Can

An alcoholic can have several drinks and not exhibit any signs of being intoxicated, while if you were to try and keep up, you’d feel 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, which means it takes more alcohol to make them feel the effects of alcohol, whereby 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 have a substance abuse problem.

Whether you have questions about alcoholism, concerns about if you might be dating someone with alcoholism, if you struggle with alcoholism yourself, if you have questions on mental health or substance abuse in general, licensed therapists are always available to help. Know that you are not alone and that there are professionals to help you work through it, for example, with BetterHelp. With chat, text, phone, and video chat options, you can speak with a therapist in a way that is most convenient for you.


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