How to Talk to Your Partner About Drinking

Helping your loved one while taking care of yourself

If the amount of alcohol your partner drinks worries you, you may want to talk to them about it but not know what to say. It can be hard to know how to bring it up without making them too upset or offended. 

If this sounds like you, know you’re not the only one. In England, there are an estimated 602,391 dependent drinkers. 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines. 

This article gives you some ideas on how to talk to your partner about their drinking problem and some signs that they might have a problem. 

Telltale Signs That Your Partner Drinks Too Much

Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), here are some signs that your partner may have an alcohol problem:

  • People who are addicted to alcohol have strong urges to drink, drink more alcohol, or stay drunk longer than they planned, spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • choose to drink over other activities or miss out on things because they’re recovering from the effects of alcohol, try to stop drinking or cut down on their alcohol intake but fail, and need more alcohol to get the same effects.
  • Putting themselves in dangerous situations while or after drinking, like driving drunk
  • Experiencing depression, anxiety, memory loss, or other health problems because of drinking
  • Going through withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, like shaking, trouble sleeping, headaches, restlessness, anxiety, or nausea
  • Continuing to drink even though it hurts their family, friends, or work

Criteria for Diagnosis

A doctor can tell if your partner has an alcohol use disorder and how bad it is by looking at how many of these symptoms they have had in the last year:

• Mild alcohol use disorder: two to three signs

• Moderate alcohol use disorder: four to five signs

• Difficulty with alcohol: 6 or more symptoms

How Can You Talk to Your Partner About Their Drinking? 

Here are some ideas:

Practise what you’re going to say: Before you talk to your partner about their drinking, it can help to write down what you want to say and practise it with a friend or by yourself.

Pick the right time: When you’re not stressed or upset. It’s important that neither of you is drunk or high when you have this conversation. Electronics like TVs and cell phones should be turned off or removed so they don’t get in the way.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Talk about your worries: Talk to your partner about what you have seen. These observations need to be recent and clear. Please explain why you’re worried. Pay attention to what your partner has to say.

You should expect resistance: If your partner has been thinking the same things, they might be willing to listen to you and try to change how they act. If you don’t, they might get defensive and refuse to talk to you. A study from 2021 says that people often don’t realise how much they drink and don’t see it as a problem. Tell your partner you care about them and will be there for them if they need you.

Put together a plan: Make a plan with your partner. The plan needs to be clear and easy to measure. One example is making plans with your partner about how many days a week they will drink or how many drinks they will have on each occasion.

Plan activities that involve alcohol: Once you and your partner have talked about it, try to stick to the plan you made together. Making plans can be helpful, especially around holidays or other events where alcohol might be present. 

Instead of drinking, look for other things to do: Do things with your friends that don’t involve drinking, like going to the movies, having a game night or cooking dinner together.

Take alcohol out of the house: This can also help your partner drink less.

Avoid making assumptions: It’s important not to be rude or critical during this conversation. Labels like “alcoholic” can be hurtful and make them feel bad about their drinking, so try not to use them.

The last and most important thing you can do is encourage your partner to talk to an addiction treatment specialist about their drinking.

Seeing your partner have difficulty can make you feel frustrated or hopeless. Being positive and helpful can help people talk to each other in a way that leads to change.

How to Look After Yourself

It can be hard and stressful to be with a partner who might have an alcohol use disorder. According to several studies and as observed by therapists at AddictionsUK, partners of people who have an alcohol use disorder often go through a lot of physical, mental, and social trauma.

There may be times when you feel like there are two people in your partner: the sober and the drunk version. You might enjoy being with your partner when they’re not drunk, but when they are, you might feel stressed, worried, scared, or angry.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You might even find that you have to take on more and more responsibility because they can’t. You might get mad and upset at your partner because of this.

Now is the time to think about your health and emotional well-being.

A mental health professional can be a great way to get support and figure out how to handle tough situations. If your partner or family member drinks too much, joining a support group can help you deal with this difficult situation. These groups offer understanding, advice, and other tools. 

A home service for withdrawal management is a good step toward your partner’s recovery.

Also, it’s important to reach out and get help if you ever feel unsafe.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction issue, call Freephone at 0800 140 4044

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