When you love someone deeply and unconditionally it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that they might struggle with an alcohol abuse disorder. Maybe you’ve noticed several warning signs and tried hard to ignore them. Maybe you were in denial for some time, convincing yourself it was just a phase that your spouse was going through. Maybe you consistently brush bad behavior under the rug in order to avoid conflict. At a certain point, the symptoms of alcohol abuse will become impossible to ignore. There is a major distinction between normal, social drinking and an alcohol abuse disorder. Alcohol abuse has negative effects on the entire family, and results in ongoing conflict and serious interpersonal issues. If you believe that your husband or wife is struggling with a serious alcohol-related problem, bringing your concerns to his or her attention is a good idea. However, there are very specific ways to go about having this very difficult conversation. We at Princeton Detox have extensive experience working with those who suffer from alcohol abuse disorders of varying severities. We know just how hard it can be to come to terms with the fact that your husband or wife is struggling with something that is completely out of your control. Not only do we offer step-by-step alcohol addiction treatment, but we can help offer you the guidance and support you need to help get your spouse started on his or her personal journey of recovery.

Alcohol Abuse Symptoms and Warning Signs

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists 17 symptoms of alcoholism. In order for an individual to be considered an alcoholic he or she must exhibit two or more of these listed symptoms. In short, if your spouse has been drinking in a way that is causing problems at home, at work, financially or physically then it is very likely that he or she is struggling with an alcohol-related disorder. If consequences continue to accumulate and your husband or wife either tries to cut back and finds him or herself unable, or constantly makes excuses for his or her drinking, then professional help is probably necessary. Below we have listed several signs and symptoms that could indicate that your spouse has a drinking problem, separated categorically:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • A lack of interest in activities that were previously prioritized and enjoyed

You’ll notice that your spouse is spending less time doing what he or she used to do, and spending significantly more time drinking and engaging in activities that revolve around drinking.

  • Increased secrecy

Your spouse might become unwilling to have open and honest conversations. He or she might request more privacy and spend more time away from the house.

  • Increased arguments and violent outbursts

In one way or another, behavior will change – this can look like increased agitation or increased indifference. If your spouse was opinionated about certain things beforehand he or she might seem to stop caring entirely. More commonly, alcohol abuse disorders will be marked by mood swings and angry outbursts that seem to come out of nowhere.

  • Declined performance at work

A good indication that your spouse is struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder is faltering work performance. Maybe he or she has been sleeping in more than normal and has been late to work several times, or has even been demoted or let go entirely.

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Psychological/emotional symptoms:

  • Loss of inhibitions or compromised judgment

Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol lowers inhibitions and prevents the brain from properly processing information. If your spouse is engaging in risk-taking behavior or acting erratically, an alcohol abuse disorder may be to blame.

  • Symptoms of depression

Alcohol is a depressant, and those that drink a lot tend to feel the long-term effects rather quickly. Long-term effects of alcohol abuse include depression, and the symptoms of depression include lethargy, a lack of motivation and changes in weight and sleep patterns (lost weight and an excessive amount of sleep).

  • Symptoms of anxiety

Those who abuse alcohol will tend to feel extremely anxious, usually when they are too hungover to properly function or when more alcohol isn’t immediately available. If you go to a party with your spouse and there is no alcohol available, take note of how he or she reacts. Is it “no big deal,” or does it quickly become a major issue? Feelings of anxiety are also common during hangovers which is why many alcoholics will continue drinking from the moment they wake up. Take note of when your spouse begins drinking – if he or she continuously drinks earlier in the day (and makes excuses to do so), an alcohol abuse disorder is likely.

  • Acting differently when drunk than when sober

In most cases, demeanor will completely change when alcohol is involved. Is your husband usually shy and reserved, but loud and outgoing when intoxicated? Is your wife normally outgoing and chatty but quiet and reclusive after she’s had a few? Pay attention to how significantly and drastically character traits change.

  • Crying spells

If your spouse has been abusing alcohol he or she is likely to exhibit extreme emotional behavior, which is often characterized by seemingly unprovoked crying spells (this is more common amongst women).

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  • Unexplained bouts of hysterical behavior

If your spouse begins acting erratically out of (seemingly) nowhere, it could be because he or she is intoxicated. Those who abuse alcohol will often drink in private, so you may not even be aware of when your husband or wife is drunk. Hysterical behavior at random times is a good indication of an alcohol-related problem.

  • Verbal abuse

Even if your spouse is the most non-violent person you’ve ever meant, many alcoholics resort to verbal abuse when they feel angry or attacked. Some of the things your husband or wife yells at you during a heated argument might be extremely hurtful – remember that alcoholism causes people to say and do things that they don’t mean.

Physical Symptoms:

  • A lack of attention paid to personal hygiene

If your spouse starts neglecting personal hygiene (showering less, forgetting to brush his or her teeth, etc.), this is a good indicator of a drinking problem.

  • Stumbling and a lack of coordination

Continuously falling down or having “accidents” is also a good indicator of a serious issue with alcohol.
Gastrointestinal issues. Heavy drinking is linked to stomach problems. Those experiencing a hangover will notoriously feel nauseous and sometimes throw up. Ongoing gastrointestinal issues could be linked to alcohol abuse.

  • A lack of sex drive

Because more time will be spent obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol and recovery from excessive alcohol use, things like sexual intimacy will fall by the wayside.

  • Serious health complications like liver cirrhosis

If your spouse has been advised to stop drinking by a medical professional yet has been unable to do so, professional intervention will be necessary.

  • Blacking out

If your spouse drinks so much that he or she blacks out, unexplained bruises and forgotten injuries might be common. Your wife might wake up with a big bruise on her thigh and say, “Huh, I have no idea how that happened.” Your husband might sprain his wrist and have no recollection of doing so. Pay attention to injuries resulting from black outs.

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    Alcohol abuse and symptoms pertaining to the disease of alcoholism is extremely difficult to see – especially when your loved ones are directly involved. Watching the effects of alcohol abuse on your husband or wife is heart wrenching. You may feel lost and alone; feel as if you have nowhere to turn and no one to look to for support. The truth is that alcohol abuse devastates the entire family – but the family can recover. That’s where we come into play. Our comprehensive program of alcohol abuse recovery is geared towards helping your loved ones get sober as quickly as possible and go on to lead the happy and fulfilled lives they deserve. For more information give us a call. We will gladly offer support in any way that we can, and help to guide you towards taking the first step – getting your husband or wife into medical alcohol detox.

    Amanda Hilzer

    Clinically reviewed for accuracy by our Executive Director:

    Amanda Hilzer M.Ed, CAADC, IADAC, ICCS, LCADC, CCS

    Amanda graduated from Lehigh University with both an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Education degree in Counseling Psychology and has worked in the field of substance use disorder treatment and mental health treatment as a counselor and as a clinical manager for over 14 years.