​​How to Talk to Your Partner About Their Alcohol Use

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If you or a loved one are struggling with substance dependence 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.

If your partner’s drinking habits are concerning you, you may be feeling the need to discuss it with them but may not know what to say. It can be difficult to figure out the right way to broach the subject without upsetting them or offending them. 

If you’re in this predicament, you’re not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that there is an increasing trend toward high-intensity drinking. In a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2019, approximately 25% of adults over the age of 18 reported binge drinking in the previous month.

This article lists some signs that your partner has a problem with alcohol use and suggests some strategies that can help you discuss the issue with them. Verywell Mind interviewed MacKenzie Peltier, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine who specializes in substance use, for her expertise.

Signs Your Partner Has a Problem With Alcohol Use

Dr. Peltier says these are some of the signs that your partner may have a problem with alcohol use according to the mental health diagnostic manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5):

  • Having strong urges or cravings to drink 
  • Drinking more alcohol or for longer periods of time than they intended
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Choosing to drink over other activities or missing out on things because they're recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Trying but failing to stop drinking or cut down their alcohol intake
  • Needing more alcohol to achieve the same effects
  • Getting into risky situations while drinking or after drinking, such as drinking and driving
  • Experiencing depression, anxiety, memory blackouts, or other health conditions due to alcohol consumption
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms following alcohol use, such as shakiness, trouble sleeping, headaches, restlessness, anxiety, or nausea
  • Finding that their alcohol use interferes with their family life, social life, or responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Continuing to drink despite negative effects on their family, friends, or work

Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnostic Criteria

Depending on how many of these symptoms your partner has experienced in the past year, a healthcare provider can determine whether they have alcohol use disorder and how severe it is:

  • Mild alcohol use disorder: 2 to 3 symptoms
  • Moderate alcohol use disorder: 4 to 5 symptoms
  • Severe alcohol use disorder: 6 or more symptoms

How to Talk to Your Partner About Their Alcohol Use

Below, Dr. Peltier shares some strategies that can help you talk to your partner about their alcohol use:

  • Prepare what you want to say: If you are talking to your partner about their alcohol use, it can be helpful to first prepare what you want to say and practice the conversation either by yourself or with a friend.
  • Find the right time: Find a time when you are both calm and relaxed. It’s important that neither of you are under the influence of alcohol or other substances when you have this conversation. Switch off or put away electronic devices, such as the television or cell phones, so there are no distractions.
  • Share your concerns: Start by explaining to your partner what you have been observing. These observations should be recent and specific. Explain why you’re feeling concerned. Listen to your partner’s perspective.
  • Expect resistance: If your partner has also been thinking along the same lines, they may be open to your thoughts and willing to try to change their behavior. Otherwise, they may get defensive and refuse to engage in the conversation. A 2021 study notes that people often underestimate their drinking habits and fail to see them as problematic. Let your partner know that you’re worried about them and there for them if they need your support.
  • Work on a plan: Work with your partner to develop a plan. The plan should be specific and easily measured. Examples can include setting goals for how many days per week your partner will drink or how many drinks they will consume per occasion.
  • Plan ahead for activities involving alcohol: After you have the discussion with your partner, try to follow through with the plan you both discussed. It can be helpful to plan ahead, especially around holidays or other events that might involve alcohol. 
  • Look for alternatives that don’t involve alcohol: Work on finding activities that do not center around alcohol, such as going to the movies, hosting a game night with friends, or cooking dinner together.
  • Remove alcohol from your home: It can also be helpful to remove alcohol from your home, so your partner is less tempted to drink.
  • Avoid passing judgment: It’s important not to be confrontational or judgmental during this conversation. Try not to use labels such as “alcoholic” when you are talking about their drinking, as they can be hurtful and stigmatizing.
  • Encourage them to get help: Finally, and most importantly, encourage your partner to discuss their drinking with a healthcare provider.

MacKenzie Peltier, PhD

It can often feel frustrating or hopeless when you see your partner struggling. Being positive and supportive can help foster helpful conversation and promote change.

— MacKenzie Peltier, PhD

How to Take Care of Yourself

Being with a partner who may have an alcohol use disorder can be difficult and stressful. A 2016 study notes that partners of people with alcohol use disorder often experience intense physical, psychological, and social trauma.

You may sometimes feel like there are two versions of your partner: the sober version and the inebriated version. You may enjoy spending time with your partner when they are sober but feel stressed, anxious, scared, or upset when they are drinking.

You may even find that you’re shouldering more and more responsibility because they are unable to do so. This can make you feel angry and frustrated with your partner.

MacKenzie Peltier, PhD

It’s important to evaluate your own health and emotional well-being at this time.

— MacKenzie Peltier, PhD

A mental health provider can be a great source of support and help you navigate stressful situations, says Dr. Peltier. Additionally, she says it can be helpful to join a support group for partners or family members of substance users, as they offer understanding, advice, and other resources to navigate this difficult situation.

Furthermore, if you ever feel unsafe, it is important to reach out and seek help, says Dr. Peltier.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

A Word From Verywell

If your partner has been drinking a lot, it can be helpful to talk to them about their alcohol use. It’s important to be patient and supportive during this conversation, rather than critical or judgmental. Work with them to help them reduce their drinking and get the help they need.

5 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. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use in the United States.

  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2019 national survey on drug use and health.

  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding alcohol use disorder.

  4. Schuckit MA, Clarke DF, Smith TL, Mendoza LA. Characteristics associated with denial of problem drinking among two generations of individuals with alcohol use disorders. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020;217:108274. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108274

  5. Sharma N, Sharma S, Ghai S, et al. Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients. Ind Psychiatry J. 2016;25(1):65-71. doi:10.4103/0972-6748.196053

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.