In everyday conversations, you might use the term “alcoholism” to describe any unhealthy use of alcohol. In the medical community, many providers use the term alcohol use disorder (AUD), which recognizes unhealthy alcohol use as a medical condition. AUD may be a widespread condition: according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 14.5 million people in the U.S. ages 12 and older (5.3% of this age group) had AUD. Symptoms of AUD can include alcohol cravings, alcohol-seeking behavior, an inability to control alcohol consumption, alcohol tolerance, and more. Online therapy can help you and your partner navigate AUD and get the resources and support you deserve.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
AUD is a term generally used by medical providers to describe alcoholism. AUD is defined as a chronic brain disorder. The latest edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) normally recognizes AUD as a disorder with mild, moderate, and severe forms.
- Alcohol cravings
- Recurrent use of alcohol that interferes with daily functioning
- Alcohol-seeking behavior
- Inability to control alcohol consumption
- Driving while intoxicated
- Alcohol tolerance, meaning that people with AUD may need more alcohol to achieve the desired effect or “buzz”
- Withdrawal in response to reduced alcohol consumption (e.g. hand tremors, nausea, agitation, hallucinations)
Recovery is possible for people with AUD regardless of the severity of their symptoms. Common treatment options can include hospital-based inpatient programs, rehabilitation facilities (which can be inpatient or outpatient), support groups like AA, mental health centers, and doctors’ offices, which may provide or refer patients to licensed therapy services.
Signs That Your Partner May Have AUD
When you’re in a trusting relationship with a romantic or platonic partner, you’re likely familiar with their daily routine, including their habits, quirks, and everything in between. But if you suspect that your partner is living with AUD, they may try to hide some of their behaviors and isolate themselves from you and other loved ones.
Healthcare professionals often rely on the following 11 signs that may indicate the presence of AUD. Regardless of your partner’s behaviors, it can be helpful to remember that this is often a complicated disorder. Your partner may not show all of these signs, and depending on the severity of their symptoms, it might be difficult to intervene without causing conflict.*
*If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233), or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
1. They Make Excuses To Drink
In many cultures, regular alcohol consumption is normalized and even encouraged. People with AUD may use the pervasiveness of alcohol as an excuse to drink more frequently and in greater quantities – even at the cost of their health and relationships.
When given the choice between drinking and engaging an important event, your partner might choose to drink on more than one occasion. If you notice that they’re cutting back on their hobbies or other important, interesting activities while increasing their alcohol consumption, it might be time to check in regarding their behaviors and priorities.
2. Despite Relationship Problems, They Continue To Drink
One of the hallmark signs of AUD can be feeling unable to stop drinking, even if a pattern of alcohol use begins to cause trouble with family or friends. In addition to problems in your relationship, you might also notice that your partner is more distant from family, friends, and other loved ones. They may spend more time alone at home or unaccounted for in public places.
You might also notice that your partner is spending time with a different group of people who may encourage or minimize their drinking habits. New friends are not necessarily a sign of AUD, but you might notice that your partner drinks more in the company of any new acquaintances, especially if they also drink heavily.
3. They Consistently Drink More Than Intended
Your partner might intend to drink only a certain amount of alcohol, or to stop drinking at a specific hour. But if they’re experiencing AUD, it can be incredibly difficult to end the night at a set number of drinks.
4. They’re Developing Alcohol Tolerance
People with AUD may begin drinking more to achieve the effects they once felt from smaller amounts of alcohol. As an observer, it can be hard to gauge if your partner is developing a tolerance, as this is a change they’ll largely observe in their body.
That said, if your partner is developing a tolerance, you might notice that they’re drinking more drinks than they did earlier in your relationship. They might also express that it’s taking longer to feel “buzzed” or drunk.
5. They Spend A Lot Of Time Drinking
It might seem obvious, but excessive drinking is a nearly universal sign of AUD. Whether it’s binge drinking on the weekend or random bursts of drinking throughout the week, there is generally no quantity or frequency of alcohol use included in the definition of AUD. As an onlooker, this can make it difficult to assess how much is too much.
Ultimately, if your partner’s drinking is becoming a problem in their life, this could be grounds for an AUD diagnosis, which should always be made by a licensed healthcare professional.
6. They Crave Alcohol
Most of us have experienced a craving for a favorite food or beverage. People with AUD tend to crave alcohol, and the drive to drink can overpower their responsibilities and relationships. Your partner might describe this feeling as a strong urge or even a need.
7. Drinking Interferes With Their Daily Responsibilities
If your partner repeatedly gets sick or fatigued from drinking, they may struggle to assist with daily tasks around the home. If you have a family or pets together, they might also have difficulty taking care of your children or following through with chores and other responsibilities.
8. They Put Themselves In Unsafe Situations
Alcohol often lowers inhibitions and can lead people to make poor decisions regarding their health and safety. When you’re drinking, basic activities like swimming, driving, operating machinery, having sex, or even taking a walk around the block can become hazardous.
9. They’re Experiencing Other Mental Health Concerns
Excessive alcohol consumption can worsen preexisting mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Your partner may express that they’re feeling more depressed or less energetic than usual, and they may also report memory loss and even memory “blackouts” after drinking.
10. They’ve Had Withdrawal Symptoms
Your partner may have tried to cut back on their drinking alcohol for a short period of time. During these periods, they may have experienced some of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Trouble sleeping
- Shakiness and sweating
In severe cases of AUD, these symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and are often treated in a rehabilitation program.
11. They’ve Tried To Cut Back On Drinking Without Success
Many people with AUD make several attempts at recovery. One study found that among a group of U.S. adults with substance use disorders (including alcohol and other drugs), participants made an average of 5.35 attempts to quit substances before making a sustained, long-term recovery.
Online Therapy Can Help
If your partner is using alcohol and/or substances, it will likely take time, patience, and possibly multiple attempts for them to recover. As a partner of someone with AUD, there may be ways to support their recovery while focusing on your own mental health and healing.
Today, many people invest in their mental health through online therapy. Digital platforms can empower patients to prioritize their well-being without the stress of commuting to in-person counseling. If you or your partner is experiencing challenges around alcohol, a professional therapist can guide you through the process and offer tools to improve your relationships with alcohol and your partner.
A growing number of studies indicate that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. In a review of 14 studies of internet-based therapy, researchers found that face-to-face and internet interventions generally resulted in similar improvements in patients’ mental health. A more recent study assessed the value of an internet-based self-help program for people with AUD, and found that incorporating digital interventions in AUD recovery often made it easier for patients to comply with the treatment program.
Alcohol use disorder can be a complex brain disorder that may be considered mild, moderate, or severe. Symptoms can include alcohol tolerance, alcohol cravings, recurrent use of alcohol that interferes with daily functioning, an inability to control alcohol consumption, and more. If you believe that yourself or your partner may be living with AUD, online therapy with a licensed therapist can provide the help you deserve in navigating this disorder.
What does it feel like to be in a relationship with an alcoholic?
The specific impact an alcoholic has on their relationship can vary considerably from person to person. Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) exist along a spectrum of severity, and some of those with mild AUD may not experience a significant impact or may be able to conceal their drinking. Similarly, high-functioning alcoholics may be adept at managing the symptoms of their disorder and limiting the impact on their daily lives regardless of severity.
Although the effects of alcohol on a relationship can vary, the relationship is rarely impacted positively. Dating someone with an alcohol addiction can lead to conflict in the relationship, increased jealousy, financial difficulties, and a higher risk of infidelity. In addition, alcohol use can significantly increase the risk of intimate partner violence.
Is it hard to be in a relationship with an alcoholic?
Dating someone with the potential to abuse alcohol has the potential to introduce adverse effects and instability into the relationship. However, moderate alcohol usage that does not amount to an addiction can have both positive and negative effects. When alcohol abuse begins to affect the relationship negatively, conflict is likely to rise, and the total relationship strain will increase.
If a person catches excessive alcohol use in the early stages, they may be able to work alongside their partner to treat their addiction. Evidence suggests that involving partners in treatment can help the recovery succeed. However, a severe alcohol use disorder can come with risks that can make a relationship untenable. Likely, the most significant risk is the increased likelihood of intimate partner violence that is associated with alcohol use. Evidence also suggests that a partner with a drinking concern can lead to increased relationship conflict, increased financial strain, and reduced intimacy.
Is alcohol a red flag in a relationship?
Appropriate alcohol use is not a red flag in a relationship, but excessive or inappropriate use may be. If you’ve noticed signs you’re dating an alcoholic, it will likely be helpful to consider potential adverse effects. Alcohol use becomes a problem when it begins to negatively affect the relationship or disrupt the lives of either partner. Here are some common danger signals that drinking is causing harm in a relationship:
- Excessive arguments related to drinking or substance use.
- One partner has to “cover” for the other by providing excuses for their alcohol use, such as calling their employer to report them “sick” when they have drunk alcohol excessively and cannot attend work.
- Partners rarely have fun together doing events or activities that don’t involve drinking.
- A partner cannot show affection or talk about issues in the relationship without first consuming alcohol.
- The couple or family has become isolated from others to hide the drinking problem.
When does alcohol become a problem in a relationship?
Experts suggest that drinking regularly becomes a problem in a relationship as soon as it begins to affect one or both partners negatively. This may mean that conflict in the relationship increases or one or both partners experience adverse impacts on their mental and physical health. If one partner is experiencing adverse impacts or expresses significant concerns about their partner’s drinking habits, it is likely that the relationship has already been negatively affected.
Can an alcoholic have a personality disorder?
Alcohol dependence is associated with several co-morbid conditions, including personality disorders. Evidence suggests that alcohol use disorders often occur alongside Cluster B personality disorders. Cluster B disorders are sometimes categorized as “dramatic disorders” and consist of conditions that significantly impair a person’s ability to keep and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships.
Cluster B personality disorders include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Each condition is associated with impaired self-image, behavioral regulation, and social perception. Researchers theorize that those with personality disorders use alcohol both to cope with unpleasant thoughts or experiences and to enhance social experiences where drinking is typically accepted.
Is it bad to date an alcoholic?
Dating an alcoholic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are inherent risks. Alcohol use disorders are a medical condition and typically require professional help to address appropriately. If an alcoholic person is willing to seek help, engage in treatment options, and recognize the impact of their drinking, it is possible that they can prevent their addiction from impacting their relationship.
However, alcohol use disorders also have significant risks, chiefly the increased risk of intimate partner violence. Excessive alcohol use can also increase relationship conflict, introduce financial strain, and significantly reduce intimacy. A functional alcoholic may be able to reduce potential conflict in their relationship and seek treatment with the help of their partner. It may be helpful to work with family members and other supporters. Family therapy and other approaches that involve loved ones can increase the likelihood that alcohol use disorder treatment will be successful.
What do you do when you don't like your partner drinking?
If you’re concerned about your partner’s drinking, it is likely best to bring it up with them in a calm, non-judgmental, and non-confrontational way. Many people with alcohol use disorders are struggling with mental health concerns or other comorbid issues that can be masked by using substances. Likely, the most important thing to remember is that your well-being and safety are paramount. If your partner becomes agitated, defensive, or aggressive, be sure you are taking steps to protect yourself from mental or physical harm.
What mental illness is associated with alcohol?
Alcohol use disorder often occurs alongside other mental health problems, often because alcohol provides an escape from challenges associated with those problems. Personality disorders can often lead a person to drink excessively, especially Cluster B disorders like antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Mood and anxiety disorders are also associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Mood disorders like depression may lead to alcohol use as a way to introduce feelings of stability or happiness, and those with anxiety disorders may experience significant relief from their symptoms while drunk. A family history of other mental health concerns may also make it more likely that a person engages in substance use to cope.
How do I deal with a mean and drunk boyfriend?
If your boyfriend is mean and drunk, strongly consider securing your own well-being and safety before trying to address their behavior. Alcohol use is strongly associated with intimate partner violence, and the risk of a physical assault is higher when a person is drunk. Violence isn’t the only risk. Persistent verbal aggression, insults, put-downs, or other unacceptable commentary can significantly reduce a person’s mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being.
If your boyfriend is only mean while drunk, and you are certain of your safety, you can suggest to your partner that they attend group therapy or seek another form of treatment where compassionate people can help them address their drinking behavior. However, if your boyfriend is consistently mean, it is unlikely a substance use disorder is to blame; they may just not be treating you with the respect you deserve.
Do alcoholics act like narcissists?
Alcoholism and narcissism are sometimes related, but they are distinct concepts that can be expressed together or separately. Evidence suggests that vulnerable narcissists - those whose narcissism is driven by insecurity - are more likely to develop alcohol use disorders than the general population. Alcoholics may also engage in selfish behavior similar to narcissism in an attempt to deflect from their drinking. They might become defensive when confronted about their drinking or react defensively to suggestions regarding seeking help.
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