Is my husband an alcoholic?

Is My Husband An Alcoholic Graphic - Man passed out on couch while woman is distressed

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 will catch 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 twelve 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.

  1. Have there been times when he drank more or longer than he intended to?
  2. Has he tried more than once to cut down or stop drinking, but couldn’t?
  3. Does he spend a lot of time drinking or being sick from drinking?
  4. Has he wanted a drink so badly that he couldn’t think of anything else?
  5. Does drinking (or being sick from drinking) often interfere with the family? Or, cause problems at work or school?
  6. Does he continue to drink even though it’s causing trouble with you, or other family or friends?
  7. Has he given up or cut back on activities that were previously important in order to drink?
  8. More than once, has he gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased his chances of getting hurt (such as drunk driving)?
  9. 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?
  10. Does his usual number of drinks have much less effect than before?
  11. 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 get angry when confronted about drinking

Supporting Graphic - Even a mild alcohol use disorder can escalate and lead to serious problems, so early treatment is important.

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.

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:
Beer 10-12oz, Wine 5oz, Shot 1.5oz, Mixed Drink varies

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. The fact that you’re asking about your his drinking is already a red flag that there’s an issue, regardless of the amount he says he drinks.

What can I do about my husband’s drinking?

Denial is a normal psychological response that can be frustratingly difficult to overcome. The more consequences he experiences from his drinking, the more likely he is to accept alcohol is a problem.

See how he reacts when you express your concerns in a caring way when he’s sober. If it doesn’t go well, try getting others involved through marriage counseling or an intervention.

Sources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Alcohol Use Disorder.”
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Drinking Levels Defined.”

Responses

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  1. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. I hate to be negative, but it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. (And, he may never get better).

    Be supportive, but support treatment NOT the addiction. Don’t let him lie to you. Don’t let him make you feel like you’re overreacting. Don’t cover for him if he’s drunk or hungover.

    Instead, express your love and concern for him. Hold him accountable for things you’d expect from him if he wasn’t drinking. And, most importantly, maintain your own life and interests outside of him. Get support in the form of free Al-anon meetings or private therapy. Spend quality time with your friends and keep up with your hobbies.

    Addiction can be all-consuming for spouses. React in ways that respect yourself and the fact that you will never be able to change him. Only he can choose to make a change, and he may not choose to do that.

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