Dating an Alcoholic: What to Do
Dating an alcoholic can be intensely challenging, especially if you have no personal experience of alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction.
Alcohol use disorder – the clinical term for alcoholism – is a progressive and relapsing brain disease. If you are dating someone in the early stages of alcoholism, you may find that they exhibit few signs of a problem with alcohol. If you are dating someone in the later stages of alcoholism, though, it may be obvious that they have a problem, even if they are not ready to admit it.
Recognizing a stereotypical alcoholic – someone with severe alcohol use disorder – might be straightforward, but how can you establish whether someone you are dating is an alcoholic?
Signs You’re Dating an Alcoholic
Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe according to the number of symptoms present from DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). A person is diagnosed based on their responses to these questions concerning their alcohol use over the previous year.
Look out for the following signs of alcoholism if you are concerned about a new partner’s relationship with alcohol:
- Alcohol is central to the person’s life
- They drink at any time of day or night
- The person uses alcohol as a coping mechanism
- They rarely seem intoxicated
- Drinking is causing problems in their personal and professional life
- They have a family history of alcoholism
Alcohol is central to the person’s life
For most people who adhere to moderate drinking guidelines, social drinking revolves around life events and special occasions. For someone with alcohol use disorder, drinking becomes habitual and is not dependent on events or occasions. Life events will be planned around alcohol rather than alcohol accompanying events. This constant presence of alcohol is also observable in their drinking habits…
They drink at any time of day or night
Most people who do not have a drinking problem set aside specifics times for a drink or two. That might be a glass of wine after dinner, a beer with friends after work, or a couple of cocktails at the weekend.
Alcoholics, though, will drink at any given time. Most people with alcohol use disorder do not use the time of day or life events as a metric for when it is time to drink.
The person uses alcohol as a coping mechanism
Does the person you are dating seem to use alcohol as a coping mechanism? If so, they might be self-medicating the symptoms of an underlying mental health condition like depression or anxiety. This is an ineffective strategy that will inflame both conditions long-term without addressing either problem.
If someone you are dating appears to be relying on alcohol as a crutch, broach the topic with them and voice your concerns.
They rarely seem intoxicated
If someone drinks alcohol long-term, tolerance builds so that they require more to achieve the same effect.
When someone you are dating seems to drink alcohol without appearing intoxicated, this could indicate the presence of a drinking problem.
Drinking is causing problems in their personal and professional life
One of the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism is the continued use of alcohol despite problems in your personal and professional life.
If you are dating someone who is running into trouble at work or who is experiencing alcohol-related legal problems, it is worth starting a dialogue about alcohol abuse and treatment.
They have a family history of alcoholism
If you notice several of the above signs in someone you are dating, inquire about their family history of alcohol abuse and addiction. Research shows that roughly half a person’s risk profile for alcohol use disorder is genetic.
Alcoholic in Denial
Dating an alcoholic in denial can be especially challenging.
In the field of psychology, denial is widely understood as a defense mechanism.
When it comes to alcohol use disorder, denial often occurs as a subconscious process, causing the individual to refuse to acknowledge the existence of a problem with alcohol. Denial related to alcoholism can appear on a spectrum. Some people may acknowledge that they have a problem but downplay its severity. Others may refuse to accept that their behavior needs modifying, even in the face of obvious supporting evidence.
If you are dating someone in denial about an alcohol addiction, immediately stop enabling their behavior. Do not provide them with money for alcohol, do not excuse or rationalize their behaviors, and do not contribute to their denial.
By refraining from these enabling behaviors and taking a step back, you can assess the best approach to take. Consider the following ways of helping someone in denial about alcohol abuse or alcoholism:
- Practice self-care: If you intend to continue dating someone who is an alcoholic, you should prioritize your self-care. By eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated, exercising daily, and getting the right quality and quantity of sleep, you’ll be much better placed to help a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse. Taking care of yourself is not selfish.
- Start an ongoing dialogue with the person about addiction and recovery: When you speak with the person you are dating about addiction, do so without judgment or hostility. Express your concerns with empathy, listen to what they say, and try to understand the situation from their viewpoint. Do not attack the person and do not make them feel guilty or pressured.
- Ask the person how alcohol is affecting their life: Try asking the person questions that do not contain your opinion, but rather invite them to open up about their experiences with alcohol.
- Help the person access professional alcohol addiction treatment: If your loved one admits that they have a problem with alcohol, you should learn as much as possible about the different types of inpatient and outpatient treatment available. Help your loved one to make an informed choice and to connect with the care they need.
What To Do When You’re Dating an Alcoholic?
Perhaps the toughest element of dating an alcoholic is accepting that there is little you can to do help until the person admits they are ready to accept help.
Here are some things to do if you are dating someone with a drinking problem:
- Learn as much as you can about alcohol use disorder.
- Explore the disease model of addiction so you can better understand that addiction is neither a weakness nor a failing. Addiction is a chronic brain condition.
- Attend peer support groups like Al-Anon, designed for family members of those with alcoholism.
- Continue confronting your partner about their alcohol problem and the need for them to engage with treatment.
- Consider staging an intervention if your loved one is in complete denial.
- Connect your partner with alcohol rehab and support them throughout their ongoing recovery.
Get Help Today
If you are dating someone ready to engage with treatment for alcohol use disorder, shortcut your search by contacting Drug Rehab Centers.
Connect your loved one with a licensed clinical detox center near you so they can address the physical component of alcohol addiction while withdrawing as safely and comfortably as possible.
We can also help you find the most appropriate inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab throughout California. Your loved one can access evidence-based treatment and holistic therapy at the right level of intensity.