25 Signs Your Partner is an Alcoholic
You probably found this page because you were trying to find a reliable answer to whether or not your partner is an alcoholic. You have tried to discuss it, or more likely you have voiced your fears, only to be told in no uncertain terms that he/she does NOT have a problem. How could you possibly think such a thing? I mean, fair enough, he likes a drink, maybe, just maybe, she drinks too much, occasionally. But look at what Mary, Jake, whoever drinks, clearly, he/she doesn’t drink nearly as much or as often as them.
So, you would like a bit more information before raising the subject again. You would like to better understand the nature of drinking problems. You feel that if you had a better grasp of what alcoholism is, and what it isn’t, then you would be in a better position to judge for yourself if there is a problem. But you would also be in a better position to discuss the issue with your drinker. You would not get fobbed off with the usual excuses and comparisons with others. After all you are not really interested in what other people drink, its what your drinker drinks that concerns you!
To help you be better prepared, here are 25 signs that usually suggest that there is a drinking problem. It is important to note that the drinker does not need to be showing all 25 signs, just a couple would suggest a problem. And, obviously the more of these signs your drinker shows, the more likely they are to have a problem and the more serious it is likely to be. In no particular order, she/he probably has an alcohol problem if s/he:-
Smells of alcohol, all or much of the time.
People who have a problem with their drinking often smell of alcohol. Depending on how severe the problem is, they can smell of fresh or stale alcohol. The fresh alcohol smell usually means that they have been drinking recently, ie the last few hours. Many drinkers try to cover this smell by chewing gum or sucking mints. As you probably already know, this doesn’t usually cover the smell, it just changes it slightly, but the alcohol smell is usually still easily recognisable. In fact, what some drinkers don’t seem to realise is that since they don’t chew gum or eat mints at any other time, it’s a real giveaway.
The other alcohol smell is a stale one that builds up over days and weeks with heavy drinkers. Alcohol is metabolised (broken down) in a number of ways. One of them is through the lungs, that is we breathe it out and that’s when we smell it on the breath. However, it also enters the bloodstream and is carried round all the major organs. Most of the alcohol is broken down in the liver but some of it leaves the body as sweat so after time a heavy drinker’s skin often smells of stale booze. If their personal hygiene is not too good, which is all too common in heavy drinkers, then the drinker’s clothes can become impregnated and, even if they have not been drinking that day, they can still smell of alcohol. Usually it takes a considerable amount of alcohol over a long period to have this affect. This is often regarded as a tell-tale sign of a drinking problem in alcohol rehabs.
Hides alcohol around the house
Again, this is often viewed by professionals as an indication of an alcohol problem. People who are dependent on alcohol (that is they need alcohol to stop them having withdrawal symptoms) need to have alcohol around. When all the alcohol leaves the body of a dependent drinker (we used to call them alcoholics) many of them experience withdrawal symptoms. These can be fairly minor like tremors, usually of the hands, to severe conditions such as convulsions and the DT’s (Delirium Tremens, where the drinker can experience severe agitation, trembling and hallucinations. It is important to note that DT’s can be fatal if not treated).
Drinkers who know that they experience withdrawals, will often stash some alcohol around so that they can take the edge of the worst of these unpleasant symptoms. They hide the alcohol so that no one will be aware of their need and they won’t have to admit having a problem – often that includes admitting to themselves.
They Sneak Extra Drinks in Social Situations
Someone with a drinking problem usually develops alcohol tolerance. What this means is that the same amount of alcohol has less effect, or they need to consume an increased amount of alcohol to get the effect that they used to get. When they are in a drinking situation in the company of non-problem drinkers who drink slower and less than they do, they will not be getting the effect they want or need.
The answer, as they see it, is to increase the amount they drink, but this is difficult to do without attracting awkward questions about their drinking. The ‘simplest’ way to get the amount they need, without the difficult questions, is to sneak drinks when they go to the bar, to the toilet, to speak to someone at another table etc.
In many instances, this is a very badly kept secret and friends often collude in the pretence by looking the other way. Although friends may do this out of kindness or fear of losing the friendship, it does not help the drinker.
Lies about how much s/he drinks
Quite simply, drinkers lie about how much they drink to avoid having to admit that they may have a problem. By this stage, they may be becoming aware that there is an issue. Alternately they are almost certainly aware that other people believe they have a problem. Either way they do not want their drinking examined too closely.
Sometimes, if pushed to discuss the problem, they can become aggressive, again as a way of closing down any discussion that may lead to uncomfortable conclusions.
When I lied about my drinking, I was trying to avoid arguments, as I was no good at confrontations, especially when I knew I was in the wrong. And I did it, especially when I knew I had been drinking more than I should, or more than I had agreed. I knew I was lying, but I justified it by casting my wife in the role of the unreasonable woman. Often these incidents spiralled into full-blown arguments, ending in me storming out and going drinking again.
Is drinking more than s/he used to
As a drinker becomes more alcohol dependent, they need more alcohol for two reasons. The first one we touched on above, tolerance. Tolerance means that they need more alcohol to get the same effect, this is both a physical and psychological phenomenon.
The second reason is the withdrawals, or hangovers. Many problem drinkers drink to change how they feel, for example alcohol may increase their confidence if they have low self-esteem. But when the alcohol wears off, they don’t return to the same level of self-esteem. Instead, their self-esteem is even lower than before. So just to get back to the level of self-belief or confidence that they started with before, takes more alcohol. And that is before they try and boost the way they feel by drinking.
Is drinking more often
Alcoholism is a jealous mistress and demands more and more of the drinker. There are two reasons why the frequency of drinking increases. The first is that the drinker is chasing the good feelings that alcohol gives them, the confidence, courage, high self-esteem etc. All these feelings are very attractive, especially if we don’t normally have them in our lives.
The other reason is to avoid the negative feelings of withdrawal. Heavy drinking can result in negative consequences the day after. It can result in shaking and sweating and anxiety. The anxiety can be even more heightened as the drinker feels that other people, relatives, friends, colleagues and strangers can see these effects and judge the drinker as someone with an alcohol problem.
Initially people tend to drink for positive reasons, but heavy frequent drinking tends to be maintained by the attempt to avoid the negatives, that is they start by drinking to feel good but continue to stop feeling bad. This is the vicious cycle that is often quoted about alcoholism.
Drinks earlier in the day
This change in behaviour is again driven by the negative consequences of drinking. As the negatives get worse, the drinker seeks to feel better by getting a drink, some people call this a ‘straightener’. Others call it an ‘eye opener’ or the ‘hair of the dog’. Whatever we call it, the purpose is the same, to stop feeling bad! And as the level of dependence increases, this may happen more often and earlier.
Its worth saying something about the term dependence here. A couple of decades ago professionals started using the term dependence instead of alcoholism. There are many reasons why this happened, here are a couple of them.
Alcoholism, alcoholic conjures a picture in most people’s head. That picture may differ from person to person, but the main ingredient is of a person who is gripped by alcohol and can’t function normally without it. While there may be some truth in that picture, it was a huge barrier to people seeking or accepting treatment.
No one wanted to be labelled with that term. And since the thinking at that time was that drinkers cannot start to recover until they admit that they are an alcoholic, insisting on the terms alcoholic and alcoholism made it difficult for people to enter treatment. So, drinkers only tended to come to treatment when they had hit rock bottom and could no longer deny the problem. Therefore, people tended to go to rehab when they were very damaged (physically, psychologically, socially) rather than earlier when it would be easier to repair the damage. Changing to the term dependent was an attempt to remove a barrier to earlier treatment.
A second reason was the implication that you are either an alcoholic or not, that you can’t be a bit alcoholic any more than you can be a bit pregnant. This is, of course, completely untrue. There are differing levels of dependence and the drinker tends exhibit fairly predictable behaviours as the level of dependence increases.
Puts drinking before spending time with you
This is always a difficult one. Indeed, some people have compared this aspect of the drinking as having an affair, asking the question, do they love drinking more than they love me? Because it is such a sensitive, and misunderstood, issue we recorded a video to try and answer that question.
You can find much more information in that video but basically the answer to that question is that this is not personal and it’s not a choice between you and alcohol. Yes, we know it certainly appears that way, it certainly feels very personal. However, in the drinker’s mind it is rather a choice between hurting and not hurting. The alcohol can remove, or at least decrease, these feelings. So, they don’t necessarily want to hurt anyone, they just don’t want to hurt.
Takes days off work more often
As someone becomes increasingly dependent on alcohol and their drinking increases, the number of days that they are unfit for work also increases. If they are drinking to get rid of the hangover, this can often spill into the rest of the day and sometimes into the next day and beyond.
Is hung over in the mornings more often
Again, as dependency increases so too does drinking. But although tolerance tends to increase, unfortunately for the drinker, the ability to tolerate the negative physical and psychological consequences of drinking seem to reduce. Many problem drinkers report that the hangovers and negative feelings get worse.
Of course, it could just be that since they are drinking more, the effects are correspondingly worse. But it does appear to be that the drinker’s resilience is reduced which could be a function of them self-medicating constantly.
Has mood swings if s/he is not drinking
Alcohol is a psychoactive drug, which just means that it affects the functioning of our brains. It is also a depressant, which doesn’t mean that it makes us depressed, it means that it has a sedative effect, dampening down the brain activity making us seem calm or relaxed. If we drink enough, it will dampen down the brain enough to put us to sleep, or unconscious or even dead.
If a dependent drinker is using alcohol consistently, they become accustomed to this depressant affect. If they have not been drinking, the brain now free of the drug, can become very active (imagine removing a heavy weight from a spring). They can experience excitability, agitation and irritability, all of which can be displayed as mood swings.
Loses interest in sex
One of the many areas of our body functions that alcohol can affect is our sexuality. Apart from the mood changes and physical incapacity seen in drunkenness, alcohol can have long term effects on males and females.
Shakespeare summed it up beautifully – “It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance”. Alcohol can make us feel sexy and randy, but it can interfere with both the sexual act and the function of the sexual organs.
In both men and women, alcohol can dull the sensitivity that makes sex pleasurable. In men that can mean that they have difficulty in achieving, or maintaining, an erection or that they have problems ejaculating. In females it can cause reduced lubrication which can lead to difficulty orgasming or make intercourse or orgasms painful. For women it can also lead to reduced fertility. For drinkers, then, it can be easier to avoid sex altogether than face the shame that may accompany sexual problems.
Read part 2 of 25 Signs Your Partner is an Alcoholic