How to Spot if Your Partner is an Alcohol Dependent
Alcohol can wreck relationships as the dependent person’s personality and behaviour change with prolonged use.
As alcohol dependence progresses, so they lose friendships and relationships thanks to the effects of alcohol on their outlook and the way they manage everyday situations.
There are opportunities for them to stop and hopefully enable you as a couple to remain together.
Let’s look at the symptoms and make suggestions as to what help your partner curb or stop their alcohol problem.
A note on personal safety. We suggest that you are supportive to your partner in this piece but this has limits.
If you feel at risk of harm by them or their actions then you need to get out and protect yourself. Do not put your own health or welfare before them stopping.
Definitions – Harmful Drinking, Alcohol Dependence and Addiction
For the purpose of this article we use three essential levels of problematic relationships with alcohol:
- Harmful drinking is where the person has occasional falls and arguments with other people. Simply, they are a ‘bad drinker’ and should stop.
- Alcohol dependence comes when the person starts using drink to handle or relieve problems they face. This could be self-medicating for anxiety or when stressed. We will look at this in detail later
- Alcohol addiction is when they suffer physical withdrawal symptoms from stopping drinking over a prolonged time such as sweating, shaking and even fitting (seizures)
As you can imagine, it gets harder and harder to stop as their slide gets further down the slope. Early intervention is important.
12 Signs of Alcohol Dependence
Let’s now look at 12 major signs of alcohol dependence. Not everyone will have all of them but some will have many to some extent.
These are the signs where the act of drinking is becoming an issue:
- They drink more often than they should. This might be a move from a few too many at the weekend to weekday evenings for example.
- The person’s tolerance for alcohol goes up. If they appear lucid and sober after five large drinks, while others might joke they ‘have hollow legs’, being a ‘lightweight’ with alcohol is actually no bad thing.
- Never saying no to an invite for a drink and a social life that involves a lot of drinking to the exclusion of other healthier past times.
- If challenged, not stopping drinking for a period of time when they say they can
Physical and Mental Signs
As well as drinking too much too often the alcohol dependant will often have physical and psychological signs:
- They may have mood swings and become irritable, especially when cutting back their intake
- Anxiety and depression may become a problem
- Paranoia and the belief that they may be being victimised
- Their facial skin may become puffy and they may have dark rings around their eyes
- They may take care of their personal hygiene less
Early Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Should your partner listen to you and stop for a period, here are three examples where you might need to get medical help quickly:
- Excessive sweating after stopping. Night sweats are common but they can sweat when awake
- Vomiting or an irritable bowel
- Uncontrollable shaking and even fits (seizures). If they do have a seizure, call the emergency services immediately.
If any of these appear then it may be time to offer them support to stop consuming alcohol.
Withdrawal and Relapse
As a first step, you should try to work with your partner. There is an old saying, “I can’t – we can”.
If they supported and there is no direct threat that you will leave them, then they should respond to your offer of support.
As a tip, speak to them when they are not drinking or getting drunk. They are more likely to listen to you and take you more seriously.
Recovery is a process and the first step is to see if they can stop on their own without support.
A major sign that someone is alcohol dependent is that they cannot successfully stop for a long period.
They may be triggered back onto drink by a variety of things like:
- Poor sleep
- Anxiety and minor mental health issues
- Family problems and problems at work
- Simply being invited out for a drink by friends
When they do return to drink after even a few months, another sign that they shouldn’t is that all the psychological, social and physical problems come back.
They may manage just one pint in their first outing with friends for example, but the next few sessions their consumption increases as they let go again.
If this happens then it might be time to ask for support. In the next section, we will signpost you to ways that you can get your alcohol-dependent partner help.
Helping Your Partner Get Support
If your partner is still struggling, then it may well be time to seek professional help. In the UK, speak to your family doctor (GP). If possible, arrange to see the doctor with them and discuss frankly what you see the issues are.
The doctor will ask a series of questions about their drinking habits, including
- Can the person stop drinking for a period of time
- How much it takes them to feel intoxicated
- Whether the person is doing things involving drinking instead of healthier past times
- If they plan to have a small amount and this consistently becomes more than they planned
- Their urge to drink when between drinks is overwhelming
- Whether they suffer withdrawal symptoms when they stop
- They continue to drink even with the risk of harmful consequences such as you leaving them or health problems
If the person says they experience three or more of these issues then the GP is likely to make a referral to specialist support. Resources are limited so it could well pay to get private and social support.
There are community organisations out there such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that offer support. AA can help in many cases but not everyone.
It is worth trying just to see how it feels. There are also family support organisations like Al-Anon for those who are related to someone who is struggling with alcohol.
There are organisations that for a fee, can help someone in the community. They offer things like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that gives someone the tools to use to recover.
Therapies like CBT can also work on the underlying issues that may have led your partner to self-medicate. In examining what’s under the shell, so the therapist can get to the root cause of the dependency.
Finally, there are private residential detox units that offer a period of abstinence and support in the unit.
This can include medical support such as Librium detox and even medical interventions like Antabuse (disulfiram) to help them with recovery.
Recovery is Possible
Everyone has problems and scrapes in their lives. We go down the wrong path in life and make mistakes. If your partner becomes dependent on alcohol, there is every chance that they can recover. With the right support and the love of their family, it is far easier than doing it on their own.
With this in mind, you could well do them the best favour they have ever had by helping them stop their drinking. For you, as a couple, it could be the making of you!