Signs You're Dating an Alcoholic

Early Indicators of Alcohol Use Disorder

Disclaimer

We at Verywell Mind believe people are not defined by their challenges, and all deserve to be addressed respectfully. In keeping with the language of "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition," and in Verywell Mind's people-first approach, we have replaced the term "alcoholic" with "person who has alcohol use disorder" or similar language wherever possible.

Spotting alcohol use disorder (AUD) in its early stages can be tricky. If you're asking "Is my boyfriend/girlfriend an alcoholic?," you've probably noticed one or more worrisome behaviors or intuitively picked up on a subtle clue. Here are eight signs of alcohol use disorder to watch for in someone you're dating.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

The DSM-V defines alcohol use disorder as “a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress." A diagnosis requires that the person meet two of the 11 diagnostic criteria within a 12-month period.

Early Signs of AUD

AUD is a progressive disease that develops over time. Contrary to stereotypes, the signs can be subtle. When someone at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder continues to drink, the signs become more apparent and numerous until the problem finally becomes obvious.

Here's what to look for if you're questioning whether your significant other is developing alcohol use disorder.

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 Social Life Revolves Around Alcohol

Beer bottles at bar

mediaphotos / iStock

Attending events held only where alcohol is available or spending time only with others who drink alcohol could be an early sign of alcohol use disorder. For example, someone who is developing a problem with alcohol would forgo a Little League game in favor of a college game and tailgate parties. They might go see an occasional movie with you, but they'd suggest going to a bar afterward.

2

They Drink to Relieve Stress

A person with alcohol use disorder relies on alcohol to cope with everyday life. Alcohol becomes the chief tool with which they deal with emotions and becomes a disproportionally important part of their life .

3

They Don't Seem Intoxicated

Because they've developed a tolerance for alcohol, the person might not seem intoxicated until they've consumed many drinks. They need increasingly more alcohol to make them feel the way one or two drinks used to.

4

Their Personality Changes

Although they might not appear intoxicated after a few drinks, their mood might change. A quiet, reserved person, for example, might become confrontational or verbally abusive. Someone who usually doesn't express their feelings might become overly emotional after drinking.

5

They Get Irritable When Not Drinking

A person who's typically pleasant when sober can become irritable and inappropriately angry after drinking. This instability affects personal relationships negatively.

6

They Drink Even When They Don't Plan To

They might not plan to drink but can't resist when around others who are drinking, They might tell you they're going to drink one or two but end up having more.

7

They Don't Stick to One Brand

Most social drinkers stick to a few favorite kinds of alcohol. A person who is developing alcohol use disorder will drink whatever they can obtain. The types and brands may change, but the drinking will not stop.

8

Drinking Has Caused Problems

They might miss time at work, have trouble with the law, lose relationships with family and friends, lose their driving license, or face other challenges because of their behavior. Frequently, a person with AUD will swear off alcohol given negative repercussions but ultimately will be unable to stop.

9

They're Resourceful

Alcohol shuffles the person's priorities. For example, they might not have enough money for a dinner date but somehow manage to buy alcohol. They might put off a necessary purchase or neglect financial obligations in favor of buying alcohol, causing a cascade of difficult consequences.

10

They Have a Family History of AUD

A family history of alcohol use disorder puts a person at greater risk for the disease than the general population. As you become acquainted with their family, you might notice signs of AUD among them.

A Word From Verywell

If your boyfriend or girlfriend is exhibiting a few of these signs, they might be at risk for AUD. Learn all you can about AUD, how to help someone with the disease—and what not to do. Remember that AUD is a disease, not a moral failing.

Although you cannot directly change another person's behavior, you can control your own attitude and actions. For example, caring but firm detachment can be difficult but can help you maintain your own mental health.

Being aware of self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) might help you steer your person to appropriate resources when they're ready to accept them. Such groups sometimes offer support groups for friends and family, as well. There, you'll find others who are going through similar experiences.

6 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.
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  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].

  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. 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

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Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.