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Updated on November 24, 2022

Dating an Alcoholic

Signs You’re Dating an Alcoholic

Everyone is different, and signs of alcohol abuse vary from person to person. However, some signs are more obvious than others.

A few of the signs that you’re dating an alcoholic include:

  • Every social activity and occasion includes drinking
  • Their personality changes when they’re drinking
  • They become aggressive or irritable when not consuming alcohol
  • Alcohol has negatively impacted their life or your relationship 
  • Using alcohol to escape their problems
  • Your partner tries to hide alcohol consumption from you
  • They have a family history of alcoholism
  • Experienced trouble with the law due to alcohol
  • Unable to meet social obligations because of drinking

If your significant other shows one or more of these signs, there might be a problem. Carefully speak to your partner about their addiction and encourage them to seek help.

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What it's Like to Date a Functional Alcoholic

Functional alcoholics maintain their life despite their misuse of alcohol. It can take years for their drinking to affect relationships, careers, and other aspects of their life.

But this doesn’t mean that dating a functioning alcoholic is easy. Although they might seem to be doing just fun on the outside, they are still struggling with an addiction.

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 alcoholic is that despite the world not seeing a problem, you deal with one every day. Functional 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.

What Should I Do?

Dating an alcoholic can be difficult, especially if your partner doesn't want to accept help. You can try several things to help them, but there's nothing you can do if they refuse to acknowledge the problem.

However, there are a few things you can do to deal with an alcoholic partner

Understand Alcohol Use Disorder

Learning more about alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a good step in the right direction. Knowing that drinking is not a weakness, but a health disorder can help you better understand, support, and empathize with your partner.

Taking the time to understand the disorder can also help you manage the stress related to your relationship. You can learn healthy coping skills, breathing exercises, meditation, therapy, and more.

Communicate Your Concerns

Confronting your partner about their addiction is a necessary first step in helping them. However, it would help if you avoided accusatory language. Try to form your concerns with I statements and show them how their drinking has caused issues.

It would be best to approach your partner with empathy and support. Express your feelings calmly and give them time to process the conversation.

Attend a Support Group

Support groups like Al-Anon or SMART recovery are effective at helping people recover from AUD. These programs provide the tools and techniques necessary to help people maintain sobriety. Their free, long-term support is an essential part of recovery.

However, the most important aspect of support groups is providing a sense of community. It can be hard to convince a loved one that they have a problem. These groups can help your partner connect and empathize with people with similar struggles.

Set Boundaries and Take Care of Yourself

It may be hard to set boundaries when it comes to people you love. However, your physical, mental, and emotional health should be your number 1 priority. Consider stepping back and giving yourself space from their problem.

It can also be easy to lose track of time when caring for an alcoholic partner. Take the time to work on yourself and your needs to have a sense of normalcy. Maintaining your health and happiness is also important to your partner's recovery.

Consider Seeking A Doctor or Therapist

A medical professional can help provide counseling and insight into the more difficult parts of recovery. They can further assess the situation for other mental health concerns and provide necessary medications. Getting therapy for yourself is also a good idea.

You can also explore couples therapy, which can help you both understand your relationship. This can help you both understand the nuances of your relationship as well as your personal feelings about the situation.

The CRAFT Method

CRAFT stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training. It is used in place of a traditional intervention, and many mental health experts consider it a more productive option. This can be a viable option if you don't know what to do with your partner.

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.

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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 than your own. It involves being so obsessed with their behavior that it interferes with your life.

You should also avoid:

  • Enabling their behavior
  • Giving them easy access to alcohol
  • Giving them access to your money
  • Staying in an abusive situation
  • Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for their behavior

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

Dating an alcoholic can be physically and mentally taxing. It can create a toxic environment that can cause many problems. Depending on the severity of the abuse, the relationship can become dangerous.

The risks of dating an alcoholic include:

  • Codependency: Creates an unbalanced relationship in which you enable disordered alcohol use by cleaning up your partner’s messes
  • Domestic violence and emotional abuse: Alcohol affects a person's rationality and personality, which can lead to domestic violence and emotional abuse
  • Mental problems: Dealing with an alcoholic partner can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, depression, and suicidal thoughts
  • Financial problems: Your significant other can end up draining your finances to fund their drinking
  • Legal problems: Alcoholism can lead to legal troubles such as drinking under the influence, public intoxication, and other crimes
  • Social isolation: Alcoholics tend to isolate themselves from social circles to drink. This isolation can also extend to you by taking time away from you to watch over them
  • Sleeping problems: Due to the stress of dealing with your loved one, you may have a hard time sleeping
  • Misplaced frustrations: You may end up misplacing your anger and frustrations on everything around you. This includes children, pets, family, and friends
  • Safety concerns: An alcoholic person can be a danger to themselves and others

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a mental health condition that interferes with your ability to maintain responsibilities outside of the relationship. 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. A codependent relationship can affect other aspects of your life.

Ultimately, codependent people work so hard to care for their partners 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. 

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Resources

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  1. Are You A Functioning Alcoholic?” HuffPost, 2008.
  2. Co-Dependency.” Mental Health America.
  3. Lee K. "An underappreciated intervention." American Psychology Association, 2017.
  4. Roozen, H., et al. “Community reinforcement and family training: an effective option to engage treatment-resistant substance-abusing individuals in treatment.” Addiction (Abingdon, England), 2010.
  5. Sharma, N., et al. “Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients.” Industrial psychiatry journal, 2016.
  6. Hellum, R., et al. “How concerned significant others experience Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) - a qualitative study.” BMC family practice, 2021.
  7. Kathlene, T. and Wallace, S . “Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction.” Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 2016.

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