Discerning the Signs of Alcoholism in a Loved One

What are the tell-tale signs of alcoholism? I'm worried about my husband, but I'm not sure if I have grounds for insisting that he do something about his drinking. When football season comes around, it's five months of him and his friends sitting in front of the TV drinking beer. That doesn't happen every night, of course. In fact, one of his key defenses is that they only drink on weekends and during the games. He says it's just "guy time" – a chance to take a break from work, get together with friends, and show loyalty to their favorite team. He also maintains that they never really get drunk – just "buzzed." As he sees it, it's just part of being a fan to have a few drinks with the game. What do you think?

It’s commonly believed that to be an alcoholic you have to drink excessively and consume alcohol almost every day. But this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, it’s possible to be an alcoholic without even knowing it. There are many people who consume alcohol the way your husband does. They don’t appear to be drinking to excess and have never had a DUI. From their perspective, they use alcohol simply to relax, have fun, enjoy “guy time” with friends, or get themselves through a trying day. But the fact of the matter is that many of them have a problem that needs serious attention.

As of October 1, 2015, the criteria for diagnosing alcoholism have changed. So has the relevant nomenclature. Clinicians now refer to alcoholism as Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD. Think about your husband’s behavior in terms of the following list of questions. If you can respond positively to at least two of the queries below, your husband meets the criteria for having Alcohol Use Disorder.

Has your spouse within the past year:

    1. Had times when he ended up drinking more, or longer, than he intended?


    1. More than once desired or tried to stop drinking but couldn’t?


    1. Spent a lot of time drinking, getting over the after-effects of drinking, or being sick as a result of alcohol consumption?


    1. Wanted a drink so badly that he couldn’t think of anything else?


    1. Found that drinking – or being sick from drinking – often interfered with his work or his responsibilities to home and family?


    1. Continued to drink even though his habit was causing trouble with family or friends?


    1. Given up or cut back on activities that were important, interesting, or pleasurable to him in order to drink?


    1. More than once become involved in situations during or after drinking that increased his chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, of having unsafe sex)?


    1. Had memory blackouts?


    1. Continued to drink even though it caused blackouts, made him feel depressed or anxious, or aggravated some other health problem?


    1. Found that he had to drink much more than he once did in order to get the effect he wanted, or that the usual number of drinks had much less effect than in the past?


  1. Sensed things that were not there or experienced withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol were wearing off (for example, trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, heart racing, or seizure)?

As you consider the responses to each of these questions in view of your husband’s situation, it’s important to bear in mind that problematic drinking may not necessarily rise to the level of a physical dependency. It can be episodic, chronic, and habitual, or simply an inappropriate and maladaptive means to medicate and manage one’s emotional pain. Because the struggle is not always a clear-cut, black-and-white issue, we would recommend that you encourage your husband to seek a professional evaluation.

If you and your husband come to the conclusion that he is experiencing Alcohol Use Disorder, we urge you to seek help right away. One helpful resource is the
Lighthouse Network, a clearing house for substance abuse referrals. They can help you locate a facility in your area that will help your husband take some positive steps in the direction of recovery. They can also provide information about insurance companies who are prepared to work with these facilities.

You should also think about enlisting the help of a qualified Christian counselor. Weekly one-on-one counseling is not sufficient to deal with serious addictions, but a substance abuse counselor could be tremendously helpful in setting up an effective intervention. This involves arranging a specific treatment option prior to the actual intervention. The objective would be to persuade your husband to agree to a program of in-patient treatment. Once this treatment is complete the counselor could also participate in the follow-up plan.

Even if your husband is not found to be chemically dependent upon alcohol, we would encourage you both to give careful consideration to the impact his habit may be having on your marriage. Drinking of this sort can have a negative effect upon personal relationships, as you’ve already indicated is the case in your home, and as a result should be regarded as a family issue. For this reason we strongly recommend that you and your spouse seek out the assistance of a professional marriage-and-family therapist.

Call our Counseling department to discuss your situation and get a list of Christian counselors in your area.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The Last Addiction: Why Self-Help Is Not Enough

When Someone You Love Abuses Drugs or Alcohol

Putting Your Past Behind You: Finding Hope for Life’s Deepest Hurts

Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis

Substance Abuse (resource list)

Celebrate Recovery

Lighthouse Network

The Salvation Army

Alcoholics Anonymous

Walter Hoving Home

His Mansion Ministries


Battling Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Substance Abuse

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