Are You Dating Someone With Alcohol Use Disorder? 11 Signs And Symptoms

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated July 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

In everyday conversations, you might use the term “alcoholism” or “alcohol abuse” 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 causes of AUD may include factors like chronic stress, depression, anxiety, trauma, or a family history of alcohol addiction where drinking is used as a source of comfort or numbing. 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.

The primary symptoms of AUD can include: 
  • 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 alcohol addiction 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. Various organizations may connect individuals or refer patients to mental health professionals who provide licensed therapy services or healthcare providers specialized in addiction medicine. 

Signs that you’re dating an alcoholic

iStock/laflor
Concerned about your partner’s relationship with alcohol?

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.* 

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 in an important event, your partner might choose to drink on more than one occasion and show a pattern of prioritizing alcohol over social events. If you notice that they’re cutting back on their hobbies or other important 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 abuse alcohol

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 close family members, friends, and other loved ones. They may spend more time alone at home or unaccounted for in public places. Social isolation may signal a red flag indicating deeper problems with alcohol.

You might also notice that your partner is spending time with a different group of people who may encourage 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 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 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 a licensed healthcare professional should always make.

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 need. 

7. Alcohol abuse 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. 

Ilona Titova/EyeEm

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 more depressed or less energetic than usual, and they may also report memory loss and even memory “blackouts” after drinking. Noticing other warning signs, such as low self-esteem, lack of self-care, and personality changes, may also be key in recognizing how excessive drinking might be affecting your partner's mental health.

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

  • Irritability

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Restlessness

  • Nausea

  • Hallucinations

In severe cases of AUD, mental and physical symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable. Treatment with a rehabilitation program may be necessary in such cases. 

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.

Finding support for alcohol addiction

Problems with alcohol disrupt what could otherwise be a healthy relationship and often require establishing clear boundaries. Addressing these problems can be challenging, and there's no right or wrong way to approach the situation, as treatment is often individualized. 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.

Many people invest in their mental health and relationships through online therapy. Digital platforms can empower patients to prioritize their well-being without the stress of commuting to in-person counseling. If your partner is experiencing challenges around alcohol, a professional therapist can guide you through the process and offer tools or additional resources to help your partner with alcohol challenges and improve your relationship. 

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.

Getty
Concerned about your partner’s relationship with alcohol?

Takeaway

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 you or your partner may be living with AUD, online therapy with a licensed therapist can provide the help you deserve in navigating this disorder.

Enter relationships with a refreshing perspective
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started