Understanding and Dealing with an Alcoholic Boyfriend

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Last Updated - 06/10/2024

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Updated 06/10/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition involving difficulty in controlling drinking habits.
  • Genetic predisposition, mental health disorders, and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing AUD.
  • Recognizing AUD symptoms is crucial for early intervention; these can include physical signs, behavioral patterns, and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Alcoholism in relationships can lead to intimacy issues, mistrust, and communication breakdowns, potentially escalating to abuse and financial strain.
  • Partners of alcoholics may experience emotional turmoil, including frustration, resentment, and codependency, leading to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.
  • Physical risks of being with an alcoholic can include exposure to violence and unintentional injuries.
  • Set boundaries, avoid enabling behavior, and seek help from a professional and through support groups.
  • Supporting a partner through alcohol recovery involves promoting sober activities, helping avoid triggers, and encouraging professional help.
  • Comprehensive therapy options for AUD treatment include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and 12-step facilitation.
  • Support groups like Al-Anon and SMART Recovery provide support and coping strategies for partners of alcoholics.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder: Definitions, Causes, and Indicators

Alcohol use disorder, commonly known as alcoholism, is a medical condition characterized by an inability to manage drinking habits despite the potential negative consequences. The common pattern of alcohol use among people with AUD includes issues with controlling drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, and persisting in its use despite harmful repercussions.

Several factors contribute to the risk of developing AUD. A family history of alcoholism can increase the likelihood of the condition. Mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression are also linked to higher rates of alcohol abuse, sometimes as a form of self-medication. Environmental influences and early exposure to alcohol consumption play significant roles as well.

Recognizing the symptoms of AUD is crucial for early intervention. 

Health professionals employ criteria from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to assess and diagnose the severity of AUD. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism emphasizes the importance of early intervention and the availability of FDA-approved medications to aid in recovery.

AUD’s emotional and social impact is significant. It often leads to strained relationships and isolation. As such, individuals and their loved ones need to recognize the signs of alcoholism and seek appropriate help, which may include therapy and support groups.

Alcoholism’s Biological and Psychological Underpinnings

Alcoholism is a complex condition influenced by various biological and psychological factors. Understanding the science behind alcoholism is crucial for developing effective prevention and treatment strategies.

The biological basis of addiction means that overcoming addiction requires more than willpower. It is a chronic disease that needs comprehensive treatment. According to Dr. George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), addiction physically changes and even destroys regions of the brain. Returning the brain to a healthy state takes time and effort. 

Research from the NIAAA and other institutions reveals that the neurobiological processes involved in addiction are related to the brain’s reward system. This system is hijacked by alcohol consumption, leading to a cycle of cravings and dependence. Studies have shown that alcohol can disrupt critical brain development patterns, particularly in adolescents, potentially causing lasting effects on cognitive functions and increasing the risk of developing AUD in adulthood.

The genetic makeup of an individual can make them more prone to developing AUD than others. Environmental factors such as peer pressure, availability of alcohol, and stress levels can significantly increase the likelihood of addiction. 

Identifying Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Recognizing the signs of alcohol addiction is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Symptoms of alcoholism manifest in various behavioral, physical, and psychological aspects. They can include, but are not limited to, the following:

Behavioral signs

  • A persistent desire to drink
  • Inability to control alcohol intake
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, consuming, or recovering from alcohol effects

Physical symptoms

  • Flushed, red face
  • Yellow or otherwise unhealthy-looking skin
  • Change in weight
  • Poor balance
  • Unexplained bruises and other injuries
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night

Psychological symptoms

  • Cravings
  • Preoccupation with alcohol
  • Continued use despite clear harm to personal, social, or occupational responsibilities

Withdrawal symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations and seizures (in severe cases)

Heavy and binge drinking patterns are strong indicators of alcohol misuse, which can progress to addiction. Binge drinking is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08% or higher.

Those concerned about themselves or a loved one should consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and to discuss potential treatment options, including therapy and support groups. Recognizing the above symptoms is a step toward addressing alcoholism and seeking help.

Alcohol Dependence vs Alcohol Addiction

It is important to differentiate between alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction. While dependence can lead to addiction, they are not synonymous. Dependence refers to the physical adaptation to alcohol, whereas addiction includes a psychological component where drinking becomes a compulsion.

We offer physician-led treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in Colorado. Call us today to speak with a Recovery Advocate for free about your treatment options.

Navigating Alcoholism in Romantic Relationships

Alcoholism can profoundly shake the foundation of romantic relationships, leading to emotional turbulence and even physical harm. Negative outcomes may include intimacy issues, mistrust, and a breakdown in communication. These problems may escalate to more severe consequences, such as emotional, financial, and physical abuse.

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Studies indicate that heavy alcohol use can impact relationship functioning, potentially leading to conflict, separation, or divorce.

Alcohol’s Role in Your Relationship

Daily alcohol use has been reported to affect relationship dynamics positively and negatively. Alcohol’s impact depends in large part on the volume consumed and differences between partners.

It is crucial for couples to identify and address the role alcohol plays in their relationship. Effective communication is key. Discussing issues when sober can foster better understanding and conflict resolution. 

For some, reducing alcohol consumption or engaging in alternative activities together that do not involve drinking may be beneficial. When alcohol negatively impacts a relationship, seek guidance from healthcare or mental health professionals.

Ultimately, the dynamics between an alcoholic and their partner can be complex and fraught with challenges. Understanding AUD’s effects on relationships is essential for navigating these difficulties and seeking a path toward recovery and relationship stability.

Navigating the Emotional Turmoil of Dating an Alcoholic

The emotional consequences of dating an alcoholic are profound and multifaceted. Individuals involved with an alcoholic often experience a barrage of emotions ranging from frustration and resentment to fear and despair. The constant uncertainty and unpredictability of their partner’s behavior can lead to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion. Codependency is a common challenge, as partners may find themselves enabling the alcoholic’s behavior, further entrenching the cycle of addiction.

AUD can induce drastic changes in a person’s behavior. Partners may face alcohol-induced depression, aggression, and impulsive behavior from their significant other, which can escalate to verbal and physical abuse. The dynamic often becomes one of attempting to manage the chaos rather than engaging in a healthy, supportive relationship.

It’s critical for those dating an alcoholic to set and maintain healthy boundaries, engage in regular self-care, and seek support from loved ones or professionals. In some cases, therapy or joining a support group may help. The emotional toll of dating an alcoholic should not be underestimated, and partners must take proactive steps to protect their well-being while navigating these challenging relationships.

The Physical Risks of Being in a Relationship with an Alcoholic

Being intimately involved with an alcoholic can come with significant physical risks and health concerns.

Individuals in relationships with alcoholics may face heightened stress levels. This can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep disturbances. 

The environment created by an alcoholic partner can be dangerous. Risks include exposure to emotional abuse and physical violence. Alcohol’s impact on decision-making and inhibition can expose the partners of alcoholics to risky behaviors. For example, impaired driving can result in injuries and death, while unprotected sex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.

Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy, regardless of the amount, risk exposing their unborn child to a host of developmental disabilities categorized as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

The emotional strain of dealing with an alcoholic partner can also lead to neglect of one’s own health and well-being, compounding the physical health risks.

Navigating a Relationship with an Alcoholic Partner: Practical Strategies

Being in a relationship with someone who struggles with AUD can be challenging and complex. To maintain a healthy relationship dynamic and support your partner, it’s crucial to adopt practical strategies that prioritize both partners’ well-being. 

One of the first steps is to avoid enabling behavior that might prevent your partner from facing the natural consequences of their actions. Enabling them can delay the realization that their drinking is a problem that requires attention and change.

Open communication is fundamental. Approach the topic with care, ensuring that the conversation happens at a time when your partner is sober and you both are free from distractions. Emphasize your concerns and the impact of their drinking on the relationship while expressing your support for their well-being and recovery.

It’s equally important to set and enforce healthy boundaries. Define what behaviors you will not tolerate and what consequences will follow if those boundaries are crossed. This helps protect your emotional and physical health while also making it clear that your partner’s drinking has serious implications for the relationship.

“Engaged coping” is one method of approaching a relationship with an alcoholic. It involves a balance between supporting your alcoholic partner and attempting to control their problematic behavior. 

However, remember that you cannot change your partner’s drinking habits alone. They must be willing to seek help and commit to recovery themselves. Encouraging treatment and exploring options like therapy or support groups for both the individual struggling with AUD and yourself is a vital step toward recovery.

Lastly, focus on self-care. Living with someone who has AUD can be stressful and dangerous. It’s essential to tend to your own needs through support networks, hobbies, and possibly professional counseling or other services. If you feel like you are in danger, seek professional help, such as a crisis helpline or local authorities. 

Establishing Effective Boundaries with an Alcoholic Partner

Establishing boundaries in a relationship with an alcoholic partner is a critical step toward maintaining one’s own mental and emotional well-being. Boundaries serve as clear lines that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior within the relationship. They are essential for protecting oneself from the chaotic and often unpredictable nature of alcohol addiction.

When it comes to setting boundaries, safety should always be the paramount concern, especially if children are involved. It is important to identify behaviors that are harmful or unacceptable and to communicate these boundaries clearly and assertively to the alcoholic partner. 

Examples of such boundaries might include:

  • Not tolerating any form of abuse
  • Not covering up for your partner’s drinking
  • Refusing to bail them out of legal or financial troubles caused by their addiction

Additionally, setting consequences for boundary violations is crucial. Some potential consequences could be:

  • Refusing to be around your partner when they are drinking
  • Taking time apart
  • Reducing contact or communication with your partner
  • Seeking help from a professional therapist or support group

It is important to remain consistent and follow through with set consequences to reinforce the seriousness of these boundaries. Learning to detach with love when boundaries are not respected can be a healthy approach, allowing partners to support their alcoholic loved one without enabling their addiction or sacrificing their own well-being.

Ultimately, establishing boundaries is not just about creating rules for the alcoholic partner; it is about prioritizing one’s own peace and stability. It provides a framework for interaction that protects both individuals, promoting healthier dynamics and potentially motivating the partner with AUD to recognize the impact of their behavior and seek professional help.

How to Support Your Partner Through Alcohol Recovery

Supporting a partner in recovery from alcohol addiction is a multifaceted process that requires patience, understanding, and active participation. It involves promoting sober activities, helping them recognize and avoid triggers, and participating in their journey without enabling their addiction. Engaging in outdoor activities like hiking or shared interests like arts and crafts can provide healthy, enjoyable ways to spend time together without alcohol.

Encouraging your partner to seek professional help is essential. Offering to connect them with counseling, treatment, or group meetings can be a significant form of support. NAMI suggests that offering non-judgmental support and assistance in setting up appointments can encourage a partner to take that first step toward recovery.

It’s also important to educate yourself on the complexities of alcohol use disorders to better understand and empathize with your partner’s challenges. Resources like Al-Anon meetings, individual therapy, and support groups can help you cope with the situation.

Creating a relapse prevention plan with your partner can be a proactive way to address potential challenges. This plan may include identifying triggers, continuing counseling, and engaging with mutual-help groups or sober living environments. It’s important to realize that recovery is an ongoing process.

Lastly, it’s vital to avoid ‘babysitting’ your partner’s sobriety. This can be detrimental to both your partner’s sense of independence and your relationship. Instead, focus on creating a supportive environment that encourages their progress and autonomy. Remember, while you play a supportive role, your partner is ultimately responsible for their recovery journey.

Navigating the Path to Professional Help for Alcoholism

Recognizing the need for professional help is a critical step for anyone coping with an alcoholic partner. 

Support groups offer a community of individuals facing similar struggles, allowing for the sharing of experiences and coping strategies. Such groups can be instrumental in providing emotional solace and practical advice.

Finding a therapist specializing in addiction or relationship counseling can also be transformative. Licensed mental health professionals can offer tailored therapy, which might include CBT. 

When seeking support, it’s essential to consider the logistics of attending therapy or support groups, such as location, time, and cost. Online platforms provide access to licensed therapists and may help bridge the gap for those unable to attend in-person sessions.

Comprehensive Therapy Options for Alcoholism Treatment

AUD is a complex condition that requires a multifaceted treatment approach. Therapy plays a crucial role in the recovery process, offering various strategies to support individuals in overcoming alcohol dependence. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy is one such method. Initially developed for suicidal behaviors and borderline personality disorder, it is now effectively applied to substance abuse by promoting a balance between change and acceptance.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is another technique designed to increase engagement with recovery efforts and has proven effective in reducing substance use. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy targets the thought patterns that contribute to maladaptive behaviors like excessive drinking. The benefits of CBT often persist well beyond the end of treatment.

12-Step Facilitation

12-step facilitation promotes abstinence through active participation in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Additional Therapy Options

Family therapy addresses not only the addiction but also the associated familial and behavioral issues. Art therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and contingency management (CM) are additional therapeutic modalities that can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Residential Treatment Programs

For those with severe alcohol use disorder, residential treatment programs may be necessary. These programs place alcoholics in an immersive environment with a team of healthcare professionals. The NIAAA provides resources like the Alcohol Treatment Navigator to help individuals find evidence-based care that suits their specific needs.

Navigating Support Groups for Partners of Alcoholics

Support groups play a pivotal role for partners of alcoholics, offering a network of understanding, encouragement, and shared experience. These groups are not just for those battling addiction directly but also for their loved ones, who are also affected by the disease’s ramifications. 

Alcoholics Anonymous is widely recognized for its 12-step program. It extends support to family members through associated groups like Al-Anon. Al-Anon Family Groups are tailored to meet the needs of those with an alcoholic partner, providing a forum to cope with the unique challenges they face.

SMART Recovery is another notable program offering a four-step plan based on CBT principles, which can be incredibly beneficial in managing the psychological stress of living with an alcoholic partner.

Medical experts and recovery communities endorse these support groups for their long-term benefits, which include enhanced quality of life and increased rates of abstinence for the alcoholic partner. 

For those in a dynamic affected by alcoholism, joining a support group like Al-Anon or SMART Recovery provides not just a sense of community but also practical strategies for coping and fostering hope. These groups underscore the principle that recovery is a shared journey and emphasize the importance of each member’s active participation in both their own and their partner’s path to sobriety.

Partners are encouraged to seek out these supportive environments to gain strength from the community and to learn how to effectively support their alcoholic partner while also maintaining their own well-being.


Understanding what makes someone addicted to alcohol can be the first step in helping a person seek treatment. Depending on how bad their alcohol abuse has been or if medically-assisted alcohol detox will be needed for withdrawal symptoms, entering them into a treatment center may be a necessary option. Professional medical staff can assist in the difficult process of withdrawal, making the transition into sobriety less daunting.

Alcohol abuse treatment programs teach people how to move into an alcohol-free lifestyle while teaching them healthy coping strategies. They can simultaneously help treat any co-occurring mental health issues.

Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake if you have questions about treatment or if you’re ready to get on the path to recovery and end your addiction to alcohol.


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