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12 Signs Your Partner is an Alcoholic

Patricia Williams By Patricia Williams, PhD on October 10, 2017

Is your partner an alcoholic?

This can be a surprisingly difficult question for many people to answer, as signs of an alcoholic are often hidden or overlooked. For one thing, most people don’t understand enough about alcohol use disorder to know if a person is suffering from this chronic health condition. Even if you know all about alcohol addiction and signs of alcohol abuse, your partner could be a high-functioning user who is very good at hiding their affliction.

This article will provide you with further insight into the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction 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

Alcohol use in the U.S. is widespread. An estimated 86.4% of Americans over the age of 18 report drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. Roughly 70.1% report drinking during the past year, and 56% report drinking during the past month.

Binge drinking is also problematic in the U.S., where nearly 27% of American adults report engaging in binge drinking during the past month. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women within the span of a few hours, and five or more drinks for men within the same time frame. Roughly 7% of Americans report heavy alcohol use, which is defined as engaging in binge drinking on five or more days during the past month.

Previous evidence has suggested that moderate drinking is harmless. However, new evidence says that no amount of drinking is safe, and that alcohol use can lead to life-threatening problems including cancer, traffic accidents, and alcohol addiction.

In 2015, 15.1 million American adults were reported to suffer from alcohol use disorder. Of those 15-plus million individuals, only 6.7% received professional addiction treatment.

Alcohol use is taking a major economic toll on the U.S., and continues to contribute to a rising death rate. In 2010, about $249 billion was spent on problems related to alcohol misuse. Alcohol-related fatalities remain the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. today, where 31% of fatal car accidents are caused by alcohol. Every 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 users, or addicts. These individuals are well-educated, have successful careers and stable family lives, and are expert at concealing signs of alcohol addiction.

High-functioning addicts frequently use alcohol in secret and tend to hide how much they drink. These individuals can often “hold their liquor” well, meaning they can go about their normal daily lives without appearing to be intoxicated. On the outside, these individuals seem 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 from a serious addiction.

Some high-functioning addicts eventually start to slip when they become overwhelmed by symptoms of alcohol addiction in a way that is apparent to everyone. Others escape unnoticed until their senior citizens when alcohol has already caused extensive and debilitating damage to their brains, livers, and hearts.

However, the ability to hide drinking habits does not protect high-functioning addicts from negative consequences. Eventually, these individuals will get a DUI, suffer an accident, or develop serious health issues including mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

In a way, the term high-functioning is a misnomer because it implies a steady state of being. Chronic misuse of alcohol in all its forms has negative consequences. A better term might be “currently-functioning alcoholic,” because the high level of functioning may only be temporary.

A person who suffers from alcohol addiction may not necessarily display all 12 signs of an alcoholic below. However, it can be easier for you to detect whether someone has a problem if they exhibit several of these signs.

12 Signs that Your Partner is an Alcoholic

1. Physical signs of an alcoholic.

No matter how good your partner may be at hiding behaviors of alcohol misuse, physical signs and symptoms are often more difficult to hide. These signs may include unexplained weight loss or weight gain, broken facial capillaries, flushed skin, premature aging, dry skin, brittle hair and fingernails, unexplained bruises, and jaundice. Hand tremors are also a common sign of alcohol abuse, particularly early in the morning upon waking.

2. Drinking to celebrate, grieve, relieve stress, and feel happy.

Healthy people may occasionally drink in response to emotions, but have a range of alternative responses as well, such as calling a friend, exercising, and expressing themselves creatively. People with alcohol use disorder tend to have a narrow range of coping mechanisms, all of which hinge on drinking.

3. Memory loss and blackouts.

It’s never 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 alcohol abuse.

4. Drinking interferes with responsibilities.

Sooner or later, all alcoholics will experience a decline in 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 an alcoholic is when someone drinks despite knowing they have to drive a car, go rock climbing, operate machinery, or sail a boat. These individuals tend to 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 is often unable to sip on a single drink for an hour before switching to water. They may drink excessively and to intoxication, possibly while hiding how many drinks they have and how drunk they are. These individuals may have a frightening high tolerance and drink to feel normal and to stop withdrawal symptoms as opposed to drinking to get drunk.

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 drink alone than spend time with loved ones in a sober state.

8. Their lives revolve around drinking.

Those who suffer from alcohol addiction prefer to have friends who drink and attend activities and events where alcohol is easily accessible. They may avoid sober activities, and mistrust or 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 drinking problem, or to prove a point to a worried loved one, some alcoholics attempt to quit drinking on their own. However, without professional help or treatment to counteract withdrawal symptoms, these individuals often relapse and start drinking again within a few months, weeks, or days of quitting.

10. They lie, deny, and conceal.

Some high-functioning addicts are particularly good at deceiving others about their drinking habits. But occasionally from time to time, the people closest to them will catch them lying or hiding their drinking behavior. It’s important to pay attention to these times instead of dismissing them as misunderstandings.

11. Changes in mood, behavior, and energy.

Chronic alcohol abuse can cause mood swings, uncharacteristic behavior, and bursts of energy followed by crashes. 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 changes in brain chemistry and structure that can cause users to behave as if alcohol is essential to survival. Many who suffer from addiction will say or do just about anything to preserve their ability to keep drinking.

Coping with a Partner Addicted to Alcohol

Living with an addicted partner can be traumatic. Alcohol addiction is most often referred to as a family disease because it destroys the lives of more than just the individual suffering directly from the condition. Addiction can also disrupt and destroy everyone within the family unit.

If you’re dealing with an alcoholic partner, the chances are that those on the outside are wondering why you don’t just leave the situation behind you. It’s understandable that you may have children, you love your partner, and that abandoning the situation is simply not your first option, nor may it be an option to you at all. Don’t allow outsiders to make your choices or place the blame on you. At the same time, you must not expect that things will change without any effort.

If you are codependent on your partner, get support for yourself, too. Codependency can be as difficult to deal with as an addiction, and in many ways, is nearly the same. Counseling and support is important for the entire family in most cases and is available at many addiction treatment centers in the form of family therapy.

How to Talk to Your Partner about their Alcohol Addiction

Discussing your concerns about addiction with someone who suffers from alcohol use disorder can be difficult. However, there can be additional challenges when the person in question shares a home and a life with you. In situations such as these, it’s crucial that you approach the conversation carefully after considerable research and preparation.

Find out about addiction treatment near you, and about how you can get your loved one professional help before you initiate the discussion. Even if the conversation goes well, it’s important that your partner acts on their promise to get help. You need to present options as soon as they’re ready and focus on making the next step easy for your loved one.

Discussing signs of alcohol addiction and the need for treatment with your partner may be highly emotional on both sides. To make sure your conversation goes well, make a point of speaking without accusation or blame. How can you do this when you’re trying to help them accept and face their addiction? Try to calmly present problems as you see them and bring up specific examples, using “I” language as much as possible, such as “I notice,” “I feel,” etc. You may want even to practice what you want to say as if preparing for a speech. However, don’t deliver your words all at once like a speech. Remember that this is a conversation and that your partner must be given time to express themselves, too.

Speak with warmth and affection, making it clear that you want your partner to seek help because you love them. But don’t give in to pressure and denials. 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 good. Follow your plan and keep your cool.

Interventions

If you are unable to get through to your loved one on your own, or if you already know you need help, consider staging a formal intervention with a small group of people who truly care about your partner’s well-being. It is especially helpful if one or more of these people are those your partner admires or deeply respects.

An intervention should follow all the advice listed above, especially in regards to preparation. Everyone who is going to be present must educate themselves about signs of alcohol abuse and the nature of addiction. These individuals should prepare to speak firmly, calmly, and warmly. If anyone feels that they are likely to become too emotional to speak, suggest that they express themselves in letters that can be read out loud.

Carefully consider when and where to hold the intervention. Choose a place where everyone involved feels safe, and make sure 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 provided by an addiction treatment program near you.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

There are many different treatment options for alcohol use disorder, but recovery should always 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 form of alcohol withdrawal with dangerous symptoms including agitation, hallucination, and seizures. Receiving treatment at a facility with 24/7 medical monitoring and care will reduce your partner’s suffering in detox, and provide them with immediate emergency care in the event of withdrawal-related complications.

After detox, your loved one will be better able to physically and mentally engage with other therapies included 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 may have prompted your partner’s alcohol addiction and can work with them on issues that continue to fuel it. Attending therapy with your partner may allow you to resolve conflicts and explore issues in a safe space. Therapy can also help improve communication and teach you about changes that can be made at home to support your loved one’s sobriety.