Signs You're Dating an Alcoholic

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

You may know someone or be dating someone who is in the beginning stages of alcoholism. Something tells you that they may have a problem with alcohol, but there is nothing that you can really put your finger on because the person is currently exhibiting few of the recognized symptoms of an alcohol use disorder.

The experts say that alcoholism is a progressive disease. When someone with an alcohol use disorder continues to drink, the symptoms become more apparent and more numerous, until it is finally obvious to almost everyone that they have a drinking problem.

It is easy to recognize as alcoholics the homeless person in the gutter or the wino begging for change to buy a bottle. But, they did not always display all the obvious symptoms. They were alcoholics long before they lost everything and ended up in the street. Their drinking problems developed over a long period of time. They did not wake up one day and suddenly "become" an alcoholic.

What that means, however, is it's not so obvious in the early stages of the disease. In the early stages of alcoholism, it is not always apparent that the person has a drinking problem, but there can be some tell-tale signs.

So, how can you tell if someone you are dating is an alcoholic? Here are some things to look for.


His Entire Social Life Revolves Around Alcohol

Beer bottles at bar

mediaphotos / iStock

He only attends events where alcohol is available or allowed. He hangs out with others who drink and shuns those who do not. He won't go to a Little League game, but he will definitely go to a college game where there will be tailgating. He may take you to an occasional movie, but he can't wait to get out of there and go to a bar.


She Drinks to Relieve Stress

Depressed Woman With Wine

CaroleGomez / Getty Images

She drinks when she's happy and when she's mad. She drinks when she celebrating (and she will celebrate anything!) and drinks when she's depressed. She uses alcohol to cope with life, whether life brings ups or downs. For her, alcohol is a crutch. She relies on it to deal with her emotions. Alcohol simply means more to her than it does other people.


He Doesn't Seem to Be Intoxicated

Couple Drinking Wine

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

He can "hold his liquor." He can have several drinks and not exhibit any signs of being intoxicated. He has developed a tolerance for alcohol, which means it takes more alcohol to make him feel the way one or two drinks used to make him feel. If you try to drink along with him, you will feel the effects long before he even thinks about slowing down.


Her Personality Changes When She's Drinking

Woman With Wine Glass

JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Although she may not appear intoxicated after a few drinks, her mood or personality may change. She may go from being a kind, sweet person to being mean and verbally abusive after just a couple of drinks. Or, she could change from being shy and quiet to being loud and aggressive. Or, she could become overly emotional while she is drinking, when sober she rarely expresses any emotions.


He Gets Irritable When Not Drinking

Frustrated Couple Sitting on Couch

PeopleImages / Getty Images

He's fine when he has a drink in his hand, but if he's in a situation in which he cannot drink for any significant period of time, he can become irritable. He may become angry with the slightest provocation, or no provocation at all. When he's sober he becomes more unpredictable and difficult to communicate with.


She Drinks When She Did Not Plan To

Young woman cooking in loft apartment
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

She may say that she is not going to drink today, but as soon as she gets around others who are drinking, she changes her mind. Or, she may tell you that she is only going to drink one or two, but ends up having much more. She may start out not drinking during the evening but soon creates a situation, like starting an argument, that gives her an excuse to start drinking.


He Doesn't Stick to One Brand

Bottles Arranged In Liquor Store
Cornelia Scherer / EyeEm / Getty Images

Most social drinkers have a type of alcohol or a brand that they prefer and they stick to drinking their preferred beverage. If their brand is unavailable, they will simply decline to drink. Alcoholics will drink whatever they can get their hands on. When they have plenty of money, they may drink the finer spirits, but if they are low on money, they will drink the cheapest beer. The type and brands may change, but the drinking will not stop.


Drinking Has Caused Problems in Her Life

Woman in Handcuffs

Kazuhiro Nakamura / AFLO / Getty Images

She may have lost a job over missing work due to her drinking habits. Or, she may have had trouble with the law while drinking. Many people whose drinking has caused them problems, or who have simply embarrassed themselves while intoxicated, will simply swear off and never drink again. But, she continues to drink in spite of the continued problems.


He Always Finds a Way to Obtain Alcohol

Man Buying Cheap Beer

Patrick Lane / Getty Images

He may not have enough money to take you out, but he's always got enough to buy alcohol. He may even put off buying something he needs for himself if it means he can't buy his alcohol also. He'll put off other financial obligations, to make sure he can get alcohol. If he's out of money entirely, he'll go to a friend's house and drink their booze.


She Has a Family History of Alcoholism

Elderly Man Drinking Whisky

Fertnig / Getty Images

Those who have a family history of alcoholism have a much higher risk of becoming alcoholics, compared to the general population. Get to know her family. If she has any blood relatives—parents, siblings, aunts or uncles—who have drinking problems, and she is beginning to show signs of developing alcohol use disorders, it could be a sign she "will become" an alcoholic herself.

Sound Familiar?

If any of this sounds familiar, the person you know just might be a budding alcoholic. You may want to find out more about what it is like to have a loved one who is an alcoholic.

You may also want to find out more about what you can and cannot do to help an alcoholic, and find out if anything that you are currently doing might be enabling the alcoholic to continue their downward spiral.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Broadening the Base of Treatment for Alcohol Problems Report of a Study. International Review of Treatment and Rehabilitation Services for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 1990.

  2. Hammer RR, Dingel MJ, Ostergren JE, Nowakowski KE, Koenig BA. The experience of addiction as told by the addicted: incorporating biological understandings into self-storyCult Med Psychiatry. 2012;36(4):712–734. doi:10.1007/s11013-012-9283-x

  3. (US) NIof H. Information about Alcohol. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. Published 2007.

  4. Lasebikan VO, Ayinde O, Odunleye M. Assessment of the alcohol consumption among outdoor bar drinkers in Nigeria by qualitative methodsBMC Public Health. 2018;18(1):318. Published 2018 Mar 6. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5250-y

  5. Steele CM, Southwick L. Alcohol and social behavior I: The psychology of drunken excess. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1985;48(1):18-34. doi 10.1037/0022-3514.48.1.18

  6. Chartier KG, Thomas NS, Kendler KS. Interrelationship between family history of alcoholism and generational status in the prediction of alcohol dependence in US Hispanics. Psychol Med. 2017;47(1):137–147. doi:10.1017/S0033291716002105

Additional Reading