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Updated on November 18, 2021

Dating an Alcoholic

Signs You’re Dating an Alcoholic

Sometimes it’s obvious you’re involved with an alcoholic. But this isn’t always the case. There are instances in which you might suspect there is a problem with alcohol, but you aren’t sure of its severity. 

A few of the signs you are dating an alcoholic include:

  • Every social activity and occasion includes drinking
  • Your partner is angry, upset, or irritable when not consuming alcohol
  • Alcohol has negatively impacted your relationship or your partner’s life before you came into the picture
  • Alcohol is a crutch and is used to numb feelings or avoid aspects of life
  • Your partner tries to hide alcohol consumption from you

Everyone is different and signs of alcohol abuse vary from person to person. But if one or more of these things has occurred in your relationship, you might want to consider whether or not there is a problem with alcohol or if your partner has an alcohol addiction.

What it's Like to Date a Functional Alcoholic vs. Closet Alcoholic

Functional alcoholics maintain their life despite their misuse of alcohol. It takes years for their drinking to affect relationships, careers, and other aspects of their life if it ever does.

But this doesn’t mean that dating a functioning alcoholic is easy. The same is true for a closet alcoholic who hides his or her problem and maintains an outer appearance of doing just fine.

People in relationships with non-traditional alcoholics struggle with:

  • Denial
  • Reluctance to get treatment
  • Living a lie
  • Having a subpar romantic relationship
  • Poor communication

The trouble with dating a functional or closet alcoholic is that despite the world not seeing a problem, you deal with one every day. Functional or closeted doesn’t mean the disorder doesn’t exist.

In many cases, the problem is worse for someone dating a functioning alcoholic because they feel isolated and alone as if they are the only person who believes there is a problem.

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I Think I’m Dating an Alcoholic, What Should I Do?

One of the most difficult aspects of dating an alcoholic is that there might be nothing you can do to help the person. There are several things you can try, but until your significant other is ready to accept help, you could be fighting a losing battle.

To make it easier to cope with a romantic partner who has a drinking problem, you can:

  • Learn more about alcohol use disorder (AUD) and understand that drinking is not a weakness but a health disorder
  • Attend Al-Anon meetings or a similar support group designed for loved ones of alcoholics
  • Confront your partner, if you haven’t done so already, in a non-accusatory manner about his or her drinking and discuss the issues that alcohol has caused

If speaking to your partner gets you nowhere and you are not sure what to do next, the CRAFT method might help. It is used in place of a traditional intervention and many mental health experts consider it a more productive option. 

CRAFT stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training. Studies show the CRAFT approach to be up to 70% effective at getting a loved one to participate in treatment. CRAFT gives loved ones the tools to:

  • Identify the triggers that cause alcohol use
  • Break enabling patterns 
  • Improve communication
  • Reconnect with values and practice self-care
  • Identify violence triggers
  • Develop a plan to keep you and your other family members safe

The best thing you can do to help your partner and yourself is present options, be supportive, and follow through on any consequences you present.

What Should I Not Do?

In addition to what you can do when a loved one has a drinking problem, there are also some things you should avoid doing.

The most important is becoming codependent. Codependency occurs when your focus is on your partner’s life more so than your own safety and well-being. It involves being overly focused on his or her behavior or actions and obsessively worrying to the point that it interferes in your life.

It’s also important to remember you cannot force your significant other to get treatment. The only thing you can truly control is your own life, so it does no good to obsess over helping a partner that doesn’t want help.

Risks of Dating an Alcoholic (Codependency)

Codependency is the greatest risk of romantic involvement with an alcoholic. It creates an unbalanced relationship in which you enable disordered alcohol use by cleaning up your partner’s messes.

Being a codependent partner gives you a higher risk of addiction, especially to food, gambling, sex, and substances. It’s isolating and often results in the loss of other close relationships. It’s a mental health condition that interferes with your ability to maintain responsibilities outside of the relationship. Your career could suffer because of your partner’s drinking problem.

Ultimately, someone who is codependent works so hard to care for his or her partner that they neglect their own needs. They tend to experience:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor health

Codependency also doesn’t do the drinking partner any favors. In a way, codependency supports the problem with alcohol. Both people in the relationship are dependent on the addiction. 

Dealing with issues of codependency is just as important as dealing with any other co-occurring disorder during recovery. 

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatment options for alcohol use disorder (AUD):

Inpatient programs 

Inpatient treatment is an option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days. However, they can be longer in some instances.

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs are also called intensive outpatient programs or IOPs. They're like inpatient programs, but you return home after each session.

Outpatient programs

Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They're best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety.

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)

Certain people qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detox, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions.

MAT is most effective when combined with other treatment therapies.

Support groups

Support groups are peer-led groups that help people stay sober. They can be a first step in overcoming alcoholism or a component of an aftercare plan.

Many of them follow the 12-step approach. However, there are also secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach.

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Resources

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  1. “Are You A Functioning Alcoholic?” HuffPost, 28 Mar. 2008, www.huffpost.com/entry/are-you-a-functioning-alc_n_91909. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
  2. “Co-Dependency.” Mental Health America, www.mhanational.org/issues/co-dependency.

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