A diagnosis of alcoholism involves answering “yes” to at least two of 12 diagnostic questions. The questions aren’t about how much or how often someone drinks, but what consequences stem from their drinking. Alcoholics may maintain their responsibilities in the short run, but eventually, the drinking catches up with them.
What’s the definition of alcoholism?
Alcoholism (now known as alcohol use disorder) is a disease in which a person has a desire or physical need to consume alcohol, even though drinking is causing negative consequences in their life.
What classifies a person as an alcoholic?
According to the latest diagnostic standard, the disease is diagnosed using the following eleven questions. If the answer is “yes” to more than two of these in the last 12 months, your husband meets the clinical diagnosis for Alcohol Use Disorder.
- Have there been times when he drank more or longer than he intended to?
- Has he tried more than once to cut down or stop drinking, but couldn’t?
- Does he spend a lot of time drinking or being sick from drinking?
- Has he wanted a drink so badly that he couldn’t think of anything else?
- Does drinking (or being sick from drinking) often interfere with the family? Or, cause problems at work or school?
- Does he continue to drink even though it’s causing trouble with you, or other family or friends?
- Has he given up or cut back on activities that were previously important in order to drink?
- More than once, has he gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased his chances of getting hurt (such as drunk driving)?
- Has he continued to drink even though it was making him feel depressed or anxious or adds to another health problem? Or, after having had a memory blackout?
- Does his usual number of drinks have much less effect than before?
- When the effects of alcohol wear off, does he have withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart or a seizure?
Again, he only needs to check two of these boxes to meet the criteria. You’ll see more and more signs the longer the problem drinking continues.
What are other warning signs of alcoholism?
While not included in the formal diagnosis, there are other behaviors I see that differentiate normal drinking from problem drinking, including:
- Drinking alone, in secret or at inappropriate times
- Having legal problems related to drinking, including a DUI
- Needing alcohol to relax or feel confident
- Feeling urges to drink or anxiety without alcohol
- Storing alcohol in odd places
- Denying drinking, hiding alcohol or getting angry when confronted about drinking
Does drinking every day make you an alcoholic?
Neither the amount nor the frequency of drinking is part of the diagnosis. But, most people like to have some type of quantity measure. (See the Is binge drinking alcoholism? article).
For men, low-risk drinking is considered no more than four drinks per day OR 14 drinks in a week. (For women, it’s less than three drinks a day, no more than seven in a week).
What counts as a standard drink:
That means your husband doesn’t have to get drunk every day to be an alcoholic. He can also still have a job and be an alcoholic family member.
The fact that you’re asking about his drinking is already a red flag that there’s an issue, regardless of the amount he says he drinks.
How do I deal with an alcoholic husband?
Alcoholism is a family disease. It doesn’t only affect the person who is drinking, but anyone they interact with, and especially those who live in the same household.
Remember that you aren’t alone. There is help available specifically for spouses and family members of alcoholics, regardless of whether the alcoholic themselves chooses to accept help.
Al-Anon is a worldwide support group for anyone who loves an alcoholic.
- Al-anon is completely free and open to anyone who is impacted by someone else’s drinking. Spouses, children, parents and friends of alcoholics are welcomed.
- There are no dues to attend a meeting or become a group member.
- Al-anon is not religious, although there are some spiritual elements. Anyone can attend regardless of religious affiliations.
- The program is completely anonymous. You don’t have to share your name or any details about your loved one.
- It works regardless of if your spouse is still drinking or struggling to get sober.
Through sharing experience, strength and hope with others, al-anon teaches you how to set boundaries, help without enabling, and find inner peace.
Al-anon members often refer to the analogy of oxygen masks on airplanes. When oxygen masks are deployed during an emergency on an airplane, you put on your own mask before helping other people with theirs. In the same way, you cannot help your loved one unless you first help yourself.
To find a local Al-anon meeting near you, visit https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/find-an-al-anon-meeting/ and enter your location.
Who goes to Al-Anon meetings?
Al-anon meetings are for anyone affected by a loved one’s alcoholism. Spouses, children, parents and even friends of alcoholics are welcome in Al-anon meetings, regardless of whether or not they still are in contact with their loved one.
Does it matter if they go to AA?
No. Al-anon can help you even if your loved one refuses to attend AA meetings. The Al-anon program is about you and your serenity.
Can you go to Al-Anon if your loved one passed away?
Yes. Al-anon meetings are extremely helpful for those who lost a loved one to addiction.
Like support groups, family therapists are a great way to find support and gain coping skills that you can put to good use in your home. If your husband is willing to go to the counselor, they can help you work through issues and address their alcoholism head-on.
If he refuses to attend, you can go by yourself, and the counseling will focus on you and your healing.
I recommend finding a therapist that specializes in family therapy and has experience with addiction.
What can I do about my husband’s drinking?
Denial is a normal psychological response that is frustrating and difficult to overcome. The more consequences he experiences from his drinking, the more likely he is to accept the fact that his drinking is a problem.
Talk to Him
See how he reacts when you express your concerns in a caring way when he’s sober. If it doesn’t go well, you need to get others involved in the conversion through marriage counseling or a constructive intervention.
No matter how frustrated you are, try to talk to him from a place of love. Outline the facts and how the situation made you feel. Talking about physical consequences can be helpful. (See What is wet brain? and early signs of liver damage from alcohol articles).
Being an enabler means taking on the consequences of the drinking. That can mean lying for him or covering bills or other responsibilities because he’s too drunk or hungover. Read the What is an enabler? article for more on how to spot and stop your enabling.
Always advocate for professional help. He’s not going to be able to control this on his own, even though he wants to. We spend years in the cycle of “I relapsed again, but I still think I can control it this time.” (See How does Alcoholics Anonymous help people deal with alcoholism and finding alcohol rehabs near me articles).
In terms of where, consider:
JourneyPure.com doctors follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, count records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and their own expertise with decades in the fields and their own personal recovery.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Alcohol Use Disorder.”
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Drinking Levels Defined.”
All content is for informational purposes only. No material on this site, whether from our doctors or the community, is a substitute for seeking personalized professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard advice from a qualified healthcare professional or delay seeking advice because of something you read on this website.
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