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Dating an Alcoholic

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What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) includes alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism.

People who abuse alcohol are one step beyond heavy drinkers. They continue to drink alcohol despite the toll it takes on their physical and mental health. They also drink despite knowing the harmful effects it has on their relationships. 

People who abuse alcohol often drink to:

  • Cope
  • Destress
  • Escape reality
  • Numb emotional pain

Alcoholism is defined as an addiction to alcohol. Because alcoholics are addicted, they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms while not drinking (e.g., tremors, sweating, shaking). This can make cutting back or quitting even harder. Alcoholics first drink for pleasure until they start drinking to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

About one-third of American adults are excessive drinkers. Only 10 percent of these drinkers are actually considered alcoholics. Alcoholics develop a dependency on alcohol that inhibits their ability to cut back or stop altogether.


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10 Signs You’re Dating an Alcoholic

If you’re dating an alcoholic, you may be aware of certain risks in their family history or notice some red flags. Your partner may have alcoholic family members or abuse alcohol to cope with a mental health condition (like depression). 

There are many reasons people drink. There are also a lot of signs to be aware of if you’re worried that you’re dating an alcoholic. 

Unfortunately, alcoholism isn’t an uncommon disease. About 15 million people in the United States struggle with it. But, contrary to popular belief, not everyone who has a drinking problem is an alcoholic.

If you can answer yes to the following questions, the person you are dating might be an alcoholic. Here are 10 major red flags that could point to alcoholism:

  1. Does your partner experience an inability to limit their drinking or quit drinking altogether?
  2. Have you noticed that your partner continues to consume even more alcohol at a given time or drink more frequently?
  3. Has your partner developed a high tolerance for alcohol that requires them to drink more to achieve the same drunk effect?
  4. Do you find that your partner neglects their self-care, like their hygiene or nutrition?
  5. Does your partner often drink alone?
  6. Do you find that your partner lets their obligations and responsibilities like work, school, and family fall to the wayside?
  7. Have you caught your partner lying or making excuses about their drinking habits?
  8. Does your partner continue to consume alcohol despite alcohol-induced issues?
  9. Has your partner told you about any cravings they may have for alcohol?
  10. Has your partner experienced any alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, or tremors?

How Alcoholism Negatively Impacts Relationships

Dating an alcoholic isn’t easy for anyone. 

Alcoholism doesn’t only affect the person who is battling it. It also affects the well-being of the people in their lives.

Research suggests that alcoholism is linked to severe anxiety, depression, and neuroticism. These issues can cause domestic and emotional violence in relationships. 

Personality changes, mood swings, and violent behaviors can certainly affect you if you’re dating an alcoholic. Even if your partner does not seem to be physically dangerous, an alcoholic partner could take a toll on your mental health and self-esteem.

Similarly, alcoholics may lie about their drinking behaviors, which can create distrust in a relationship. And because trust is key to the foundation of any relationship, this can be difficult to manage. No relationship survives on secrecy.

Alcoholics also have a tendency of putting drinking before all else in their lives. This means that the person you are dating may prioritize drinking over quality time with you. Their drink habits may come in the way of your needs and wants from the relationship. If you care for pets or children with the person you are dating, you may find yourself carrying the weight of these responsibilities.

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What to Do if You’re Dating an Alcoholic

If you are dating an alcoholic, you should first consider whether or not the relationship is worth it. Do their behaviors take a toll on your own physical and mental health? Are they aggressive or violent? Are you generally unhappy? These are all things to consider. 

If you are not in harm’s way and do not want to leave your partner, reaching out for professional help is still advisable. There are support groups available for people with alcoholic loved ones, such as Al-Anon. Support groups can help you be a better supporter and cope with your partner’s alcohol addiction.

Here are some quick tips for dating someone who is an alcoholic:

  1. Be aware of their drinking behaviors
  2. Be supportive of them in their path to recovery
  3. Do social activities that do not involve drinking alcohol
  4. Hold your partner accountable for their actions and inactions due to alcohol abuse
  5. Set boundaries
  6. Reach out for professional help

If you are in physical danger, call the Domestic Violence Support National Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate, confidential, free help. 

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How to Help the Person You Are Dating Stop Drinking

Your partner needs a support system during their recovery journey. So do your best to be present, communicative, and supportive.

The most helpful thing you can do is reach out for professional help so that they don’t have to endure the road to recovery alone. 

Loved ones are important in helping an alcoholic start recovery but aren't expected to be the only source of support. Often times loved ones are responsible for the alcoholic to self-assess and begin to ask themselves, "Am I an Alcoholic?"

Various treatment options are available, including inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation treatment facilities, holistic treatment centers, and traditional therapy methods for substance use and alcohol addiction. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the 12-step program are also great places to start. 

As a couple, you may even seek out couple’s therapy to work out the relationship problems that their alcohol addiction is causing.

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Updated on March 25, 2022
14 sources cited
  1. “Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020,
  2. “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020,
  3. “Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020,
  4. “Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Mar. 2020,
  5. “Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2020,
  6. “Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019,
  7. “Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education,
  8. “Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?” Department of Mental Health,
  9. “How Alcohol Use Disorder Can Affect Romantic Relationships.” Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program, 5 Feb. 2019,
  10. “Preventing Chronic Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  11. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health,
  12. Sharma, Nitasha, et al. “Living with an Alcoholic Partner: Problems Faced and Coping Strategies Used by Wives of Alcoholic Clients.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016,
  13. Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020,
  14. “What Is AA?”,

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