How to handle your partner’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol

Jolene Chait

Falling in love is exciting, right? In the beginning, we tend to focus on the ‘best bits’ with rose-tinted glasses. 

“So, what?  He has a few drinks every now and then.” 

“Yes, it sometimes gets out of hand but he’s a social drinker.  It doesn’t happen often.”

These excuses or blind spots are red flags and it is important to recognise the signs of excessive drinking as early on in the relationship as possible, so that you can look out for your own personal safety.

The same can also be said for a couple whose partner starts to develop an unhealthy addiction to alcohol, even long after you have been together.

Why this is so important for women is because of the strong link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence confirmed by multiple pieces of research and lived experiences.

A study by the World Health Organisation found that 65% of women in South Africa had experienced spousal abuse and that partners either always or sometimes used alcohol before the assault, and one in every four women was physically abused by her partner.

Alcohol consumption, especially at harmful and hazardous levels, is not just a major contributor to the occurrence of intimate partner violence, but also a key source of conflict, which can lead to abuse. It causes problems around money, as alcoholics might use the household income to support their habit. It causes embarrassment because of the way your partner behaves in public when he is drunk. It also puts your safety, and potentially that of your children, into danger if your partner decides to drive drunk., a non-profit organisation focussed on preventing the negative consequences of alcohol says that drinking should be done in moderation. It is important to pace yourself carefully and you should not be consuming more than one drink per hour. Drinking excessively just to get drunk is very dangerous. Your partner may be at risk of developing an alcohol abuse problem when they have more than three drinks on one occasion or when they drink more than seven drinks in a single week.

Alcohol abuse should be one of those Big Fat No Thank You absolute relationship deal breakers but when you are with someone you love and the booze is suffocating your relationship, it’s incredibly difficult to just walk away. Especially if you are dependent on them as a bread winner, you have children together, or they threaten you with violence. So what are your options?

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers some advice on how to recognise the signs of alcohol abuse and how to speak to your partner about their problem.

Recognising the signs of alcohol abuse

As soon as you start to notice these signs, you need to take immediate action and it is important not to make excuses.

For them, you can:

And for yourself:

And finally, when dealing with a problem drinker, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s not always possible to change another person. If you express your concerns about his drinking and they do not respond, you may have to consider leaving the relationship.