Signs You're Dating an Alcoholic

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, yet they are currently exhibiting few of the recognized symptoms of an alcohol use disorder.

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.

While it may be easy to recognize the stereotypical alcoholic, alcoholism is often not so obvious in the early stages. Before the disease has progressed, it is not always apparent that someone has a drinking problem. But there can be some tell-tale early signs that someone might be 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.

1

Their Entire Social Life Revolves Around Alcohol

Beer bottles at bar

mediaphotos / iStock

Only attending events where alcohol is available or allowed could be an early sign of alcoholism. So could hanging out with others who drink and shunning those who do not. This person won't go to a Little League game, but will definitely go to a college game where there will be tailgating. They may take you to an occasional movie, but can't wait to get out of there and go to a bar.

2

They Drink to Relieve Stress

They drink when they're happy and when they're mad. They drink when they are celebrating (and they will celebrate anything) and when they're depressed. They use alcohol to cope with life, whether life brings ups or downs. Alcohol is a crutch. They rely on alcohol to deal with their emotions. Alcohol simply means more to them than it does to other people.

3

They Don't Seem to Be Intoxicated

An early sign of alcoholism is an ability to "hold their liquor." This person can have several drinks and not exhibit any signs of being intoxicated. They have developed a tolerance for alcohol, which means it takes more alcohol to make them feel the way one or two drinks used to make them feel. If you try to drink along with them, you will feel the effects long before they even think about slowing down.

4

Their Personality Changes When They Are Drinking

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

5

They Get Irritable When Not Drinking

They're fine when they have a drink in hand, but if they are in a situation in which they cannot drink for any significant period of time, they can become irritable. They may become angry at the slightest provocation, or no provocation at all. This means that when they're sober they become unpredictable and difficult to communicate with.

6

They Drink Even When They Didn't Plan To

They may say that they are not going to drink today, but as soon as they get around others who are drinking, they change their mind. Or they may tell you that they are only going to drink one or two, but ends up having much more. They may start out not drinking and then create a situation, like an argument, that gives them an excuse to start drinking.

7

They Don't Stick to One Brand

Most social drinkers have a type of alcohol or a brand that they prefer, and they stick to drinking their preferred beverage. For some, if their drink is unavailable, they will simply decline to consume at all. Alcoholics will drink whatever they can get their hands on. When they have plenty of money, they may drink 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.

8

Drinking Has Caused Problems in Their Life

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

9

They Always Find a Way to Obtain Alcohol

They may not have enough money to take you out, but they always have enough to buy alcohol. They may even put off buying something they need or put off other financial obligations if it means they can't buy alcohol also. If they are out of money entirely, they will go to a friend's house and drink their booze.

10

They Have a Family History of Alcoholism

Those who have a family history of alcoholism have a much higher risk of becoming alcoholics, compared to the general population. When you are dating someone, get to know their family. If they have any blood relatives—parents, siblings, aunts or uncles—who have drinking problems, and are beginning to show signs of developing alcohol use disorders themselves, it could be a sign that they will become an alcoholic.

A Word From Verywell

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 whether anything that you are currently doing might be enabling the alcoholic to continue their downward spiral.

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Article Sources
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