How To Know If Your Partner's Drinking Is 'Normal' Or Out Of Control

Photo: weheartit​ 
alcohol addiction

It may not have seemed like an issue at the beginning. Maybe because everybody is slightly on their best behavior at the start of a relationship.

Or, maybe because you were both having such an amazing time getting to  know each other that you didn't notice the wine flowing a bit more than it should.

Then, maybe there was the odd concerning episode.

The person you were dating (and falling hard for) got a bit drunk and said something nasty or embarrassing. He insisted on opening another bottle of spirits after you pointed out that you’d both probably had enough. She went for "one drink" after work and ended up staying out drinking the whole evening.

You had "words" and your partner walked out and then later called you and was fairly abusive (and clearly drunk). Maybe you brought up the problem gently and he promised he would reign himself in ... and he did, for a while; but now it's just as bad again. Or maybe she simply told you to back off for worrying too much or being a killjoy.

One thing is certain, if you are here reading this, then something is happening and you're partner's drinking concerns you. 

You're probably feel a bit guilty right now and maybe won't even tell your partner that you're searching online for answers. But you are here. And that's a good thing.

It's right to care, it's right to want to steer your relationship away from troubled waters. It's a great idea to get some knowledge and insight into what constitutes appropriate and non-appropriate drinking.

Your partner is almost certainly exercising some sort of denial of his or her addiction, but you certainly don't have to ignore it the same way!

The first important question that people always seem to ask: Is my partner an alcoholic?

As the term "alcoholic" can cause a bit of controversy, let me suggest the term "problem drinker." It makes answering the question a lot simpler. The short answer is — if your partner’ drinking and behavior is causing issues for you or others, then there clearly IS a problem whether the one you love recognizes it or not.

People with drinking problems often profess that they're just a "social drinker." Generally speaking, there are 3 levels to social drinking. See if you can recognize which of these best represents your partner's drinking habits: 

Level 1: Drinking small amounts of alcohol with no visible change.

Level 2: Having slightly more to drink and feeling chilled and mellow, slightly less inhibited and more relaxed.

Level 3: The drink begins to take over. Words slur, balance goes, interaction becomes less respectful or even hostile, and selfish decisions and actions replace the kindness and concern for each other that is the hallmark of a loving relationship. It doesn't look nice, it doesn't sound nice and it certainly doesn't feel nice. 

The first two levels rarely cause concern within relationships and social interaction (although obviously become concerning if the second level occurs almost daily).

But, if your partner regularly reaches level three, you find yourself increasingly alarmed and quite rightly so.

In an ideal world, you'd tell your partner firmly and lovingly that you can no longer sustain this relationship with the current levels of alcohol he or she consumes, and you would definitely like it to stop, and that you will offer your support in any way you can if your partner needs help. If you hadn't had that conversation with your partner already, then clearly this is the first thing to do.

Please hear me when I say that I am NOT suggesting a heavy-handed ultimatum. For a start, your partner may try to seize the moral high ground and say you are being manipulative and confrontational (which completely derails the process). 

Instead lay down a boundary in a clear and loving way. Your partner might already feel slightly concerned about his or her behavior and this conversation with you becomes a wakeup call to greater health consciousness and self-control.

But, sadly, in some cases, it's not this simple.

People who drink a lot on a regular basis have begun to rely on what alcohol gives them. They have "a need" to drink to get through life or manage stress, and they will meet giving up such a coping mechanism with resistance, denial and avoidance.

The usual ways to achieve relationship resolution, such as entreaty, expression of hurt and pain, and even showing strong hostility rarely achieve the desired result. They merely push the problem underground. The drinking continues along with secrecy and lying to cover it up. This undermines trust and security and escalates conflict.  

If you are committed to staying in the relationship and trying making it work may we suggest a few important ground rules along the way: 

1. Seek advice from an expert. 
A heavy drinker and his or her bottle of choice are notoriously hard to part, so you owe it to yourself to find out, from those who understand the issue, what is likely to help and what is likely to make the situation even worse.

2. Take good care of yourself!
Try not to tolerate with his secret world and crazy thinking. Keep close to your friends and family and ensure that you don't become isolated. And above all, keep yourself and your family safe. It's also vital that you don't get too sucked into your drinker’s world by becoming over focused on his habits and under-focused on your own needs and goals.

For expert advice on dealing with your partner's problem drinking, visit our website: Bottled Up. There you can pick the brain of a chronic alcoholic who got sober and became a Doctor of Psychology and a leading expert in drugs and alcohol. You don't have to do this alone.