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Ask A Grown Up: How Can I Tell If My Boyfriend Is An Alcoholic?

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Happy Tuesday, Broke-Asses! Given the seriousness of today’s question, let me start today with an amusing story: Once upon a time, I lived in San Francisco and was fun. I had lots of friends and a cool job and expendable income and an active social life and was always out doing something (or someone) amusing. In particular, I used to hang out a lot with these two ridiculously fun girls, *Daisy and Amity.

Daisy and Amity are awesome people, except that they are both horrible influences, and when kicking it with them, I regularly would find myself in seedy bars in the Mission drinking unknown, sketchy shots of random obscure liquors.

**One time, at Delirium, Daisy bought the three of us shots of Fernet Branca (which I hate and think tastes like the gross shit you find in a rain gutter might taste) and just as I threw back the shot, I sneezed. Sneeze/snorting the Fernet out my nose caused me to aspirate some of the liquor and sent me into a horrible coughing/gagging fit.

As I sat there, coughing and gagging and sputtering, Fernet Branca dripping out of my nose and mouth, with my two besties laughing their asses off at me, I realized something:

I have a drinking problem.

Inasmuch as when I drink ridiculous things happen to me and I end up making really bad and questionable decisions. Thankfully that is the beginning and end of my drinking problem. I am fortunate (especially given my family history) that I do not also have an addiction problem.


I believe one of those trifling ho’s Daisy or Amity took this drunk-y picture of me in 2007.

There are many for whom a drinking problem represents a serious addiction which compromises relationships, jobs, physical/mental health and can potentially end in a premature death.

Social drinking (and, recreational drug use) seem to be part of the American coming of age story, though. EVERYONE goes through a phase where they drink like crazy people, screw around and do things that may or may not be legal, but for sure are extremely questionable – legally and morally. Or, so it seems.

But, how do you know when that carefree 20s and early 30s behavior has crossed a line and become the stuff of which addictions are made of?

This week’s question comes to us from J.B. in Los Angeles, who asks:

“How can I tell if my boyfriend has a drinking problem, or is an alcoholic?”

One of the curious things about youth culture is that it revolves so heavily around booze. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a Maker’s Mark and ginger on a hot day or a nice glass of wine with dinner, but in the last 5-7 years my alcohol consumption has slowed wayyyy the fuck down from where it was at in my 20s and early 30s.

This happens for a lot of people. They drink like crazy people right after they turn 21 and slow down as they grow up and get jobs, married, children, house payments, etc. And, for some, it continues until it becomes a real, life threatening problem.

Alcoholism and substance dependence are serious serious problems. Overconsumption of alcohol has serious, lasting effects on the heart, liver and brain. It can lead to exacerbation of mental health issues, as well as impairment of cognitive functions (walking, talking, muscle control) and eventually leads to a painful, premature death from disease, overdose or suicide. Overconsumption of alcohol has implications that affect the people around the alcoholic: Alcoholics steal, are verbally and physically abusive, can be a life threatening danger when driving drunk and many other sad sad scenarios. If you suspect a loved one has an addiction problem, it is a very serious thing.

According to the NCADD, seven common signs of alcoholism include:

  1. The person vows to quit drinking, but does not
  2. They are chronically late
  3. Their social life revolves around alcohol
  4. They hold their liquor better than other people
  5. They end up in risky and dangerous situations
  6. Their personality changes while drinking
  7. They have memory loss or “black out” as a result of drinking

New Hope Recovery also states that secret drinking/hiding, making excuses to drink, the preferred drink becoming vodka, drinking at inappropriate times (9am?), missing valuables and increased isolation/lack of interest in everyday life are common symptoms of someone with an addiction to alcohol.


Further, a way to tell if your boyfriend is an alcoholic is to observe the symptoms when he stops drinking or withdrawals from alcohol. cites these symptoms to watch for when your man isn’t drinking:

  • Anxiety or jumpiness
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

Many of these symptoms also happen to be symptoms of a hangover.

The most unfortunate part of this situation is that there is really not much you can do to help your boyfriend if he is an alcoholic. The only person who can change his behavior is him, the only person who can address his disease is him… and, he’s only going to change when he is ready to or hits rock bottom. What you can do, however, is express your concerns to him in a clear, non-judgmental way. You can make your expectations clear and follow through on those expectations if he breaks them. You can offer him help, you can talk to his family and friends and stage an intervention, offering him the choice to go to rehab or face consequences of the personal boundaries that you have set. But, you cannot make him stop drinking. Only he can do that.

It’s a sad, serious situation. And, if your boyfriend is an alcoholic, you don’t have to deal with that alone. Al-Anon is a support group specifically for the spouses and families of alcoholics:

Al-Anon is almost as old as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Al-Anon was started by Lois W., wife of AA cofounder Bill W., and Anne B., a close friend of Lois’. In the formative years of AA, the wives and relatives of AA’s realized that they too could improve their lives by applying the spiritual principles of AA.

While the AA’s were attending their meetings, their loved ones often waited in their cars. Soon they started to come in from the cold and hold their own meetings to discuss their own common problems, while the AA’s were at their meeting.

By 1948 a number of these family groups applied to the A.A. General Service Office to be listed in the A.A. Meeting Directory. Because of AA’s singleness of purpose, these groups could not be included in the directory.

In 1951, Lois and Anne, created a Clearing House Committee to service 87 inquirers and to coordinate and serve them. Through this effort, 56 groups responded. They chose the name of their groups from the first syllables of “Alcoholics Anonymous” and they adopted the name Al-Anon Family Groups. They adopted the Twelve Steps of AA and later the Twelve Traditions, in the slightly modified form we know today.

The best thing you can do is to learn about your boyfriend’s potential disease and seek help/support in learning how to deal with it. I am sorry you are going through this, J.B. — please take care of yourself and let us know how you’re doing.

*Names changed to protect the guilty. You know who you are. Dorks.
**A similar series of events transpired a few years ago at a bar here in Chicago while I was out with my husband. Except that this time I mistook a lit votive candle for a shot of tequila and ended up with hot wax all over my face and cleavage. See? Drinking problem. Who mistakes a votive candle for a shot? Really?!?! I do, I guess.

Got a problem you need a grown up to help you with? Email Kate at and your question might be used in a future column.

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Kate Rice - Supposed Grown Up

Kate Rice - Supposed Grown Up

Kate Rice is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on DollyMix (UK), BitchBuzz (UK), Broke Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, the Chicago RedEye, ChicagoNow, Wired: GeekMom, Bleeding Cool, Wizard World Digital, The Beat and GeekNation, where she also hosted the weekly podcast “ComixChix.” Kate has appeared on Good Morning America, WGN Radio and a slew of geek related podcasts. She writes the daily blog The Adorkable Grrl. Kate lives in LA with her #BritishHusband, her daughter, and dog Max. Follow her on Twitter @AdorkableGrrl or on Facebook or on Instagram @TheAdorkableGrrl

1 Comment

  1. […] are those observed when a person is not drinking. For example, if you are in a relationship and you suspect you boyfriend of being an alcoholic, see if he demonstrates these sober […]