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How to Help an Alcoholic You’re Dating

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Dating an alcoholic is challenging, and if you realize that your significant other started drinking again, there could be an issue. Or, perhaps, you’ve met someone recently that you’re into, but notice alcohol is always present. You might start to wonder if you’re dating an alcoholic. 

Although alcohol is consumed globally without issue, there are some signs of alcohol addiction worth knowing. There are various ways that dating an alcoholic can take a severe toll on your well-being and emotional health. Even if the relationship is going well and without conflict, the constant worry about alcohol consumption can lead to long-term health issues, such as anxiety

If you’re worried you’re dating an alcoholic and you want to help them, it’ll be in your best interest to look out for the signs and challenges you might face. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself and your partner. 

How to Know If You’re Dating an Alcoholic

If you’re unfamiliar with addiction, it may be challenging to spot the difference between a social drinker or someone who has an issue with alcohol abuse. This is especially true to start when a person might be starting to consume too much alcohol. You should always trust your gut instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. The following are some questions you must ask yourself about your partner. 

  • Do you notice a difference in their personality when they drink?
  • Do they drink more than they intended?
  • Have you noticed them trying to cut back and finding it to be difficult?
  • How often are they hungover?
  • When faced with stress or other negative emotions, does it cause them to drink?
  • Has their drinking caused issues with their family, career, or the law?
  • Do they have a higher tolerance than their friends?
  • Does their social life strictly revolve around drinking?
  • Does alcoholism run in their family?
  • Do they go out of their way to find alcohol even in an inappropriate situation?
  • Do they exhibit withdrawal symptoms or irritability if they can’t get alcohol?

If you found yourself answering “yes” to a majority of these questions, you’re likely dating an alcoholic. Although this list doesn’t warrant an accurate diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can serve as an important warning and signs to take into consideration. 

The only way to get an official diagnosis is to speak with a medical expert or addiction specialist before it causes too much damage. 

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How Alcoholism Affects Relationships

Just because someone drinks excessively doesn’t mean they aren’t a loving person or that your current relationship is bad. However, you need to be honest with yourself. Eventually, problems can arise if you’re dating an alcoholic. If not now, eventually. These are the most common issues you should look out for.

Reciprocal Drinking

A study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors highlighted that drinking has a strong influence on their partner. The risk factors increase early in a relationship and maybe more significant for younger people. It’s always vital to be aware of your own habits and watch how your significant other’s behavior affects you. 

If you have your own history of drinking or alcoholism runs in your family, it can affect you even more. However, drinking heavily, on occasion, with your partner doesn’t seem like a problem in the short-term. Once you establish a pattern of consumption together, it will stick with you two for the duration of your relationship. Eventually, it’ll adversely affect the health of both you and your significant other. 

Codependency

If you and your partner don’t have shared habits, it may lead to an opposite problem. As you watch their drinking increase, you’ll start worrying about their well-being, which may lead to you prioritizing care for them over your own needs. Although it won’t happen all at once, it will happen gradually and can happen quickly if you’ve experienced a similar dynamic in a previous relationship. Either way, dating an alcoholic may push you into a cycle of codependency that may be difficult to break. 

Codependency is problematic, and it commonly extends beyond the issues surrounding alcohol addiction. These are the questions you must ask yourself:

  • Are you managing the same issues constantly without much reward?
  • Is meeting your partner’s needs more important than your own?
  • By looking out for them, are you compromising your personal life?
  • Do you fear the worst for yourself or them if you were to leave?
  • Do you depend on them for your own self-esteem?

By answering yes to any of these questions, it could indicate you’re trapped in an unhealthy relationship riddled with codependency. Despite the various reasons this may occur, having an alcoholic as a partner is the most common reason. You may feel noble in your actions to support those you care about, but take yourself into consideration. 

Long-Term Relationships With Alcoholics

Alcoholism can undermine a long-term relationship. Studies show that higher divorce rates in marriages are linked to partners who drink heavily. It also causes lower relationship satisfaction levels and higher stress. Although alcohol is the root cause here, domestic violence occurs more frequently in partners who drink excessively. 

Finally, there are impacts alcohol use disorder has on families, and children with alcoholic parents are at an elevated risk of psychological problems and experience instability in their upbringing. 

Things You Can Do If You’re Dating an Alcoholic

It’s possible none of the above will happen in your relationship, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proceed with caution when dating an alcoholic. If you find yourself dating an alcoholic, you must deal with the problems before it gets worse. 

Talk to Them About Your Concerns

Approach your significant other about their drinking when they’re receptive to it, ideally when they’re sober. Be empathetic, and don’t judge, but discuss your concerns. If they react negatively, it can be a bad sign, especially if it’s early in the relationship.

Offer Them Help

Empathy goes a long way, and understanding that addiction is a disease is a good start. If you’re concerned and want them to stop drinking, direct them to the right resources, and get help. 

Prioritize Yourself

At the end of the day, you should always focus on yourself. You must be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which is they may not seek help. Despite your love and adoration for them, you must take action if the situation is causing you harm. Ensure you have a proper support system around you, and make room for activities that make you happy. Above all, remember that you have a choice and can move on if you see necessary.

Sources

NCBI (May 2014) Alcohol Dependence and Marital Dissolution. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4002864/

CDC (January 2021) Alcohol and Public Health. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/index.htm

Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. (March 2013) Episodic Drinking Among Dating Partners. from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22149955/

NIMH (January 2021) Anxiety Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

MedlinePlus (January 2021) Drug Use and Addiction. from https://medlineplus.gov/druguseandaddiction.html

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