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Dating an Alcoholic: 11 Signs, and What You Can Do

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Have you noticed that your significant other is drinking more than they used to? Or have you recently met someone you really like, but are noticing that they always have alcohol around? Are you beginning to wonder if you’re dating an alcoholic?

Not everyone who drinks has a problem with alcohol. But it’s important to know the signs of alcohol addiction. There are many ways in which dating an alcoholic can take a toll on your emotional health and well-being. And even if your relationship is harmonious and without conflict, worrying over someone’s long-term health can be stressful.

Here are some common signs to look out for, challenges to be aware of, and things you can do to help both your partner and yourself.

How to Know if You’re Dating an Alcoholic: 11 Signs

dating an alcoholic, two wine glasses overlooking water
Photo by Matt Mariannelli on Unsplash

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between a social drinker, and someone who has a real problem with alcohol. This can be especially true at the beginning, when a person is only just starting to drink too much. But if you have a feeling that things aren’t quite right, here are some questions to ask yourself about your partner:

  • Do they often drink more than they planned to?
  • Does their personality change when they drink?
  • Have they tried to cut back and found it to be difficult?
  • Do they drink to deal with stress or other negative emotions?
  • Are they often hungover?
  • Have they experienced legal, career, or family issues because of alcohol?
  • Do they seem to have a higher tolerance than other people?
  • Does their social life revolve around drinking?
  • Do they have a family history of alcoholism?
  • Have they exhibited irritability, or even withdrawal symptoms when they can’t get any alcohol?
  • Do they often go out of their way to find booze, even if the situation doesn’t call for it?

The more of these questions you’ve answered yes to, the more likely it is that you’re dating an alcoholic. And while this list cannot provide an official diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD), each of these is an important warning sign to be aware of.

For a stronger sense of whether your partner needs help, consider taking our alcohol survey, answering each question as if you were them.

How Alcoholism Can Impact Your Relationship

If your partner is drinking excessively, it doesn’t mean they aren’t a loving person, or that your current relationship is a bad one. But it’s important to be honest with yourself. There are many problems that can arise when dating an alcoholic—either immediately or in the long term. Here are some common issues to look out for:

Reciprocal Drinking

Studies suggest that the drinking behavior of one person can have a strong influence on their partner. This is especially common early in a relationship, and can be a greater risk for younger people. But it’s always important to be aware of your own habits, and watch how your partner’s behavior is affecting you.

This is especially true if you have your own history of heavy drinking, or if alcohol abuse runs in your family. Drinking heavily with your partner on occasion may not seem dangerous in the short term. But once you establish a pattern of drinking together, it can stick for the duration of your relationship, and negatively affect your health.

Codependency

If you don’t share your partner’s habits, you can sometimes wind up with the opposite problem. As their drinking increases, and you begin worrying about their well-being, you may start to prioritize caring for them over your own needs. This can happen gradually. It can also happen quickly if you’ve experienced similar dynamics in the past. But either way, dating an alcoholic can sometimes lock you into a cycle of codependency that is hard to break.

Codependency is a complex problem, and often extends beyond the issue of alcohol addiction. But ask yourself:

  • Has meeting your partner’s needs become more important than meeting your own?
  • Do you find yourself managing the same issues over and over again, without much reward?
  • Is looking out for them compromising your personal life?
  • Are you depending on your partner too much for your own self-esteem?
  • Are you scared of what might happen to them or yourself if you leave them?

These are all signs that you may be trapped in an unhealthy, codependent relationship. And while there are many reasons this can happen, having an alcoholic partner is among the most common. It’s noble to support the people you care about, but always be aware of your limits.

Long-Term Relationships With an Alcoholic

Beyond codependency, there are many ways alcoholism can undermine a long-term relationship. Studies show higher rates of divorce in marriages where one person drinks heavily, as well as lower relationship satisfaction and higher distress levels. And although some researchers question whether alcohol is the root cause of this, domestic violence appears to be more common when one partner drinks excessively.

Then, there are the impacts AUD can have on whole families. Children with alcoholic parents are at higher risk for a wide range of psychological problems, and often experience significant instability in their upbringing.

What To Do If You’re Dating an Alcoholic

While none of these issues are guaranteed to appear in your relationship, they remain a risk so long as your partner is drinking excessively. If you find yourself dating an alcoholic, it’s best to deal with the problem before it gets any worse.

Share your concerns 

Approach your partner about their drinking at a time when they will be receptive, preferably when they’re sober. Communicate with empathy and without judgement, but make your concerns clear. If they react poorly, this may be a significant warning sign—especially if it’s early in the relationship.

Direct them to the right resources

There are many ways to reduce or quit drinking. If your partner is receptive to changing their habits, offer to support them along the way, and help them find an approach that will work for them. Read more here about how to help an alcoholic.

Prioritize Yourself

Whether or not your partner is willing to change, make sure you are looking out for your own needs and well-being. No matter how much you love or care about another person, if the situation is hurting you, you need to take action. Make sure you have a good support system, and that you still have room for the activities that make you happy. And above all, remember that you always have a choice. As difficult as it can be, if a relationship is having a negative impact on you, you have the right to move on.

New Treatment Options

If you’re dating a problem drinker, there are more options than ever before that can help them cut back or quit. Ria Health’s telemedicine platform offers full support through a smartphone app. Our program features access to medications, coaching, digital tools, support groups, and much more. Your partner doesn’t even need to choose abstinence.

To learn more about our program, schedule a call with a team member today, or read more about how it works.

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