Is your partner an alcoholic?
This can be a surprisingly difficult question for many people to answer. For one thing, most people don’t understand enough about alcohol use disorders to know one when they see it. Even if you personally know all about alcoholism and the signs of alcohol abuse, your partner could be a high functioning alcoholic who is very good at hiding their affliction.
This article will provide you with further insight into the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, so you can look past your partner’s denial and deception, and discern the truth about their relationship with alcohol.
Alcohol Addiction in the United States
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found extensive evidence of widespread alcohol use in the United States. Among Americans age 18 or older, 86.4% report drinking alcohol at some point, 70.1% drank in the past year, and 56% drank in the past month. Much of this drinking is harmless—some studies have even shown that moderate alcohol use (defined as one drink for women and two for men) can even be beneficial to your health.
Binge drinking, however, is always unhealthy. Over a quarter of Americans age 18 and older (26.9%) report binge drinking in the past month, and 7% report heavy alcohol use. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within the span of a few hours. Heavy alcohol use is defined as engaging in binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.
This same study found that in 2015, 15.1 million Americans 18 and older suffer from alcohol use disorder. That’s over 6% of people in this age group who are addicted to alcohol. But out of those 15-plus million individuals, only 6.7% received treatment.
The toll that this problem is taking on our country can be seen economically—we spent 249 billion dollars on problems related to alcohol misuse in 2010—and in the rising death rate. Alcohol-related fatalities are the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. today, and alcohol causes 31% of fatal car accidents. Each year, over 85,000 American deaths can be attributed to alcohol.
Why You May Not Know Your Partner is Addicted to Alcohol
Approximately one-fifth of Americans with alcohol use disorder can be classified as high functioning alcoholics. These individuals are well-educated, with successful careers and stable family lives, and they are very good at concealing the signs of alcoholism.
High functioning alcoholics frequently drink in secret, and/or hide how much they drink. They can often “hold their liquor” well, which means that they rarely seem to be intoxicated. On the outside, these individuals appear to have their lives together, while on the inside they are dealing with the immense stress of fulfilling responsibilities and keeping up appearances while suffering a serious addiction.
Some high functioning alcoholics eventually start to slip, becoming overwhelmed by their symptoms in a way that is apparent to everyone, while some escape unnoticed until they’re senior citizens, and the extensive damage to their brain, liver, and heart becomes debilitating. Hiding their drinking well does not protect the high functioning alcoholic from negative consequences; eventually they will get a DUI or have an accident, or develop a serious health issue, all the while suffering from depression, anxiety, and chronic stress.
In a way, the term high-functioning is a misnomer, because it implies a steady state of being. All kinds of chronic alcohol misuse has negative consequences. A better term might be “currently-functioning alcoholic,” because the high level of functioning may only be temporary.
12 Signs that Your Partner is an Alcoholic
1. Physical signs of alcoholism.
No matter how good your partner is at hiding their behavior, they may exhibit physical signs of alcohol abuse. These signs can include unexplained weight loss or gain, broken facial capillaries and flushed skin, premature aging, dry skin, brittle hair and fingernails, unexplained bruises, and jaundice.
2. Drinking to celebrate, grieve, relieve stress, and feel happy.
Healthy people might occasionally drink in response to emotions, but they have a range of alternative responses as well, such as calling a friend, exercising, creative expression, and so on. People with alcohol use disorder have a narrow range of coping mechanisms, all of which hinge on drinking.
3. Memory loss and blackouts.
It is not healthy to drink to the point where you forget things, or lose chunks of time. If your partner has shown signs of memory loss and blackouts due to drinking, consider it a sign of alcoholism.
4. Drinking interferes with responsibilities.
Sooner or later, all alcoholics will experience declining performance when it comes to personal or professional responsibilities. These may be as minor as missing a day of work due to a hangover, or as serious as causing a deep rift in the family due to a drunken, holiday fight.
5. Drinking even when impairment is risky.
One of the more dangerous signs of alcoholism is when someone will drink even though they know they have to drive a car, go rock climbing, operate machinery, or sail a boat. They make risky choices while drinking that they probably wouldn’t while sober, and have an unusual number of accidents or injuries.
6. An inability to have just one.
A person with alcohol use disorder can’t sip on a single drink for an hour, then switch to water. They drink excessively, and to intoxication, possibly while hiding how many drinks they have and how drunk they are. They drink to get drunk, and may have a frighteningly high tolerance.
7. Avoiding social occasions where they can’t drink.
Opting to stay home and drink rather than go out to a “dry” event is almost always preferable to someone with alcohol use disorder. They’d rather be alone and drinking than sober with loved ones.
8. Their lives revolve around drinking.
Alcoholics like to have friends who drink, do activities that include drinking, and plan events that center on drinking. They may sneer at sober activities or mistrust and dislike anyone who doesn’t drink. They may take a flask to places that don’t serve alcohol, drink early in the morning, or stay drunk all day.
9. Previously, and continuously trying and failing to quit drinking.
Whether it’s because they realize they have a problem, or to prove a point to a worried loved one, some alcoholics attempt to quit drinking on their own. Without professional help or treatments to counteract withdrawal symptoms, however, they often relapse and start drinking again in a few months, weeks, or days.
10. They lie, deny, and conceal.
Some high functioning alcoholics are particularly good at deception, but from time to time, the people closest to them will catch them lying or hiding their drinking or behavior related to their drinking. It’s important to pay attention to these times instead of dismissing them as a misunderstanding.
11. Changes in mood, behavior, and energy.
Chronic alcohol abuse can result in mood swings, energy that surges then crashes, and uncharacteristic behavior. Your partner may seem very different from day to day or hour to hour, depending on if and how much they’re drinking.
12. They get hostile or defensive when confronted about their drinking.
Addiction makes changes in the chemistry and structure of the brain, which lead the alcoholic to behave as if alcohol is essential to their survival. This means they will say or do just about anything to preserve their ability to keep drinking.
How to Talk to Your Partner about their Alcohol Addiction
Talking about addiction concerns to anyone with alcohol use disorder is difficult, but there are additional challenges when the person in question shares a home and a life with you. It is therefore crucial that you approach the conversation carefully, after considerable research and preparation.
Find out about addiction treatment near you, and what needs to be done to check your partner into a program before you begin the discussion. Even if the conversation goes well, it will do neither of you any good if your partner promises to get help, but never acts. You need to have options to present as soon as they’re ready; you need to make the next step easy.
Discussing the signs of alcoholism and the need for treatment with your partner will be highly emotional on both sides. To make sure it goes well, you need to speak without accusation or blame. How is this possible when you’re trying to make them face their addiction? Well, you need to calmly present the problems as you see them, bringing up examples, which you express using as much “I” language as possible—I notice, I feel, etc. You may want to even practice what you want to say as if preparing for a speech—but don’t deliver your words all at once like a speech. Remember that this is a conversation, and your partner needs to express themselves, too.
Speak with warmth and affection, making it clear that you want them to seek help because you love them, but don’t give in to pressure and denials. You need to remain firm in what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’ve enabled their drinking in the past, now is the time to make it clear that you can’t do that anymore, for their own good. Follow your plan and keep your cool.
If you aren’t able to get through to your loved one on your own, or if you already know you need help, you may want to stage a formal intervention with a group of four or five people who truly care about your partner’s wellbeing. It is especially helpful if one or more of these people could be someone your partner admires or deeply respects.
The intervention should follow all the advice listed above, especially the advice about preparation. Everyone that is going to be present should educate themselves about the signs of alcohol abuse and the nature of addiction. They should be prepared to speak firmly, calmly, and warmly. If anyone feels that they are likely to get too emotional to speak, they can express themselves in a letter that they or someone else can read out loud.
Carefully consider when and where to hold the intervention. You want it to be in a place where everyone involved feels safe, and to make sure that your partner is as sober as possible for the discussion. You may also want to consider enlisting outside help, either by hiring a professional interventionist, or by taking advantage of intervention services that may be provided by an addiction treatment program near you.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
There are many different treatment options for alcohol use disorder, but no matter what sort of rehabilitation program you and your partner choose, recovery will begin with detoxification. Medical detox in a hospital or at a qualified treatment facility is ideal. During detox, heavy and long-term drinkers run a high risk of suffering delirium tremens, a withdrawal syndrome with dangerous symptoms such as agitation, hallucination, and seizures. Starting treatment in a treatment facility with 24/7 medical monitoring and care will reduce your partner’s suffering in detox, and provide them with immediate emergency care if they happen to need it.
After detox, your partner will be more physically and mentally able to engage with other therapies in their treatment plan. Whether they move from detox into residential inpatient treatment, or live at home while undergoing outpatient treatment, counseling will be a huge part of their recovery process. A counselor can help uncover key issues that prompted your partner’s alcoholism, and help work on the issues that continue to fuel it. Committing to attending therapy with your partner may allow you and your partner resolve conflicts and explore issues in a safe space. Therapy is also useful for improving communication, and for learning about changes that can be made at home to support your partner’s sobriety.
Find alcohol addiction treatment for your partner by calling us at 800-654-0987 today!