How Can You Tell If Someone Is An Alcoholic

signs of alcoholism

How can we really know if someone is a habitual substance abuser? What are the signs of alcoholism? If they drink every day does that make them an alcoholic? If the obvious signs aren’t present, how will I know if there’s a problem? We invite you to share your knowledge, experience, strength and hope with Deb in the comment area below the article.  Here’s her story…

Guest Post: Deb
How do you tell if the person in your life is truly an alcoholic?

I have read all the advice and messages from everyone here and the alcoholic that was in my life did not match most of everyone’s stories so how do you tell? Here are my details that seem to go against it being alcohol & then I struggle with what caused his behavior.

  1. Never saw him drunk.
  2. Never saw excessive drinking just every day moderate drinking except when we had an argument.
  3. Saw loving person to others but not to me, his wife.
  4. Plotting & planning for years to perform acts of revenge against me for things I don’t know why.
  5. Very intelligent but told me he could not read or write, was color blind and I found out later I was the only one he told this lie to for 20 years.
  6. Would never help me,  but always helped his siblings, mother and always showed respect to them while not to me.
  7. Very cunning-even his outbursts to me seemed pre-planned when I now look back.
  8. Played the role of victim so well he convinced other women to have affairs with him while married to me (I guess I was the awful wife) but also convinced them to mistreat me, put my job in jeopardy and even these women continue to harass me even though I am no longer married to him.

I am so struggling to just have this one answer–was it alcohol that caused all this? Or was I dealing with someone who was just plain abusive or has a mental disorder? Just hoping someone here can relate to a similar set of circumstances and shed some light on this for me.

JC:  Thanks for submitting your story Deb. If your ex was drinking every day, then it appears that he has an addiction. I have to wonder if  he has ever been arrested as a result of his drinking, getting a DUI or for domestic violence?  Is he capable of holding down a steady job? Do you feel that his drinking causes difficulty in his relationships? Does he have car accidents often? Does he borrow money from others?  Have you ever asked him if he is an alcoholic? There are many things that can factor into whether someone is an alcoholic or not, especially when there are not the blatant signs present that we hear people share about  on our website.



27 comments to How Can You Tell If Someone Is An Alcoholic

  • Debbi


    Thank you for the response but to all your questions the answer was no: except he told me once he got one DUI before he knew me but: no arrest, no domestic violence (his only physical to me was shoving me once, shoving things in my face and stringing a wire across front porch to trip me or using weapons as intimidation). He’s been in the same union 29 years and at current employer 17 years so okay with holding down a job making good money but works in construction & able to come & go as he pleases on job sites. I’m not sure if his drinking caused problems in our relationship or was something else. He had previous marriage & I can’t believe any story on what happened because he never tells the truth. What I did see was: probably 2 beers before I arrived home every evening and 2 more that he would keep beside him and not swallow from them if he saw I was looking, then 2-3 mixed drinks 8-12 oz glass mixed with soda. I saw empty cans hidden in garage cabinets. Bottles of whiskey hidden behind cabinets in garage. Does this hiding indicate it for sure or does it take more than that?

    I saw gambling addiction, pornography addiction all for sure but where the alcohol came in to play I am baffled because he sometimes got nastier when he drank and sometimes not.

    So my post was just reaching out to see / get answer from someone maybe in similar situation as confused as me.

    Thanks for your input & wonderful website.

  • Bruce

    Debbi: Is your other half bi-polar ? Mine is. That has a lot of impact on the mood swings. Some times I think the meds they give her don’t help for the bi-polar. Hope that helps

  • Debbi


    Thanks for your suggestion but my ex was never diagnosed as bi-polar. . .never checked for things like that. I sometimes wonder if he was narcissistic or again was that the alcohol? I guess I’m just trying to put closure on this and no one but him will ever know. I just hope that he continues this behavior so I see it wasn’t me–I am taking on the blame and so that’s why I am seeking the final answers to close this chapter of my life.

  • suzanne

    From what I am reading, it sure sounds like he is an alcoholic. I was married to one for 26 years who also worked in construction. He went to work everyday, worked his way up the ladder, never got a DUI(but did get arrested once for a bar fight). So to him he didn’t have a problem. He is a functioning alcoholic. But living with him, we saw a different person. Mood swings, angry all the time, blaming others, we walked on eggshells, lying when he came home late, hiding beer cans,then the hard alcohol, freaking out anytime we brought up his drinking, did not want to be controlled,and on and on and on. Complete chaos. Smoked marijuana and had slight porn addiction off and on throughout our early marriage. I think he has some narcissistic tendencies and depression as well. Is it all alcohol related? who knows! i wonder the same thing…is he just a mean SOB w/ alcohol issues or does the alcohol make him do these things. I’ve come to realize that I may never get answers. We are now divorced and al-anon and therapy have saved me! Have you looked into al-anon? you need to get help for yourself instead of obsessing over him (which I know is hard to stop doing). Good luck. Take care of yourself.

  • Debbi


    Thank you for speaking up and helping me to shed some light on this. Our situations sound somewhat similar except the chaos & freaking out part.

    Al Anon was absolutely a waste of time. . .we only have one group in my area that fits my schedule and it was a tight knit group of 6 women who sat & discussed gossip at the church & others in town. I quit going.

    No other support groups in my area & even tried an abuse group 2 counties away that did not give me a good “fit”. These were all young girls with physical abuse & there I sat-the old lady so I gave that up as well. All friends have bailed on me because of ex spreading around such horrible lies that I stay at home, go nowhere except work & necessary errands. No family what so ever in the area. So too much time on my hands I guess to obsess.

  • Madeleine

    My husband behaved in the same way as yours for twenty five years. He quit drinking about 15 years ago (after I moved out), but it only lessened the intensity of the lying, slandering, martyrdom, fantasies, and denials of responsibility. So, my take is that it’s a personality disorder that’s exacerbated by daily drinking.

  • Karen

    I had the same experience with Al-Anon. It is wonderful for those who it works for, but just wasn’t the answer for me. My only consolation is a Bible Study I have attended for the past 10 years. It’s called BSF (Bible Study Fellowship International) I promise you, my son and I would never be able to make it through without this, or something very similar. I was married to a guy like your ex and I finally got myself out of that abuse. But the post trauma left me vulnerable and I married an awesome man who has become a sad alcoholic. I have been with him since I was sixteen.

  • C

    Madeline: Great post. Alcohol loosens people up supposedly – it does not make them into something they aren’t! They have all kinds of excuses for their lying, laziness, finger pointing, etc., but it boils down to their character. Bad character to begin with and then add alcohol – watch out!

  • Debbi

    To Madeleine Karen & C

    Thanks so much for your input but I guess there are no answers because everyone seems to have a different one. After being on this site for awhile I had myself convinced it was the alcohol. . .now I’m not so sure, again. So sad.

  • Bruce

    Debbi: Hang in there and do what is best for you. Not him. Are you able to go away and visit a relative or friend ? Give yourself some me time. It will be worth it. I’m praying for you. 🙂

  • Lauren

    I don’t understand why my husband has to be so mean when he drinks? I don’t think he is an alcoholic, but lately he’s been acting really weird around me. I asked him if he has been drinking after work because he’s not treating me very nice and he said no and got angry at me for bringing it up. I know he is because I can smell it on him sometimes. He has also started coming home later than usual. Sometimes he goes out back in his work shed and comes in and I can smell alcohol. What should I do. He’s never been like this.

  • Debbi

    I have no family in the area what so ever and the few close friends I had were all chased away by my ex with his lies. Only one is talking to me who now lives 6 hours from me. I cannot go to visit her because I have become the owner of ex’s horse which needs fed twice a day. At divorce ex requested of the judge to have the horse destroyed. . .well I couldn’t let that happen so Jack & I ride a couple times a week now, weather permitting. This is my one love–I’ve always had horses in my life until 3 years ago. My ex out of meanness overfed my horse repeatedly and caused an illness which ultimately took her life. I had my horse longer than my husband–28 years.

    So visitng friends is out of the question but I open my doors to anyone on this site in NJ who needs a listening ear & maybe a free horseback ride. My home & barn are open & would love to put some faces to all you wonderful people. You all have been the only support I’ve had through my 5-year ordeal.

    God bless all ofyou.

  • Debbi


    I read your post–what makes you think your husband is not an alcoholic? I struggle with the same question because of his cunningness but like you I saw him hiding & sneaking drinks.

    Mine was mean whether he drank or not. It started 5 years ago even though he had been drinking much longer. I sometimes think that maybe years of drinking finally causes that meanness to catch up with them. . .something affecting the brain that they wouldn’t have done in earlier days of their drinking. Could this be so?

    I too am searching for the same answers as you. Does your husband treat other family members, friends or co-workers better and reserve this meanness for you? Mine did. So I know he was also unfaithful and had several women just waiting in the wings for him to “throw me out” (they keep calling for him). So was that the reason.

    I hope you find your cause & closure just like I hope for me.
    ((HUGS TO YOU))

  • Lauren

    Debbi, my husband has only been drinking more in the past 6 months, more in the past two. We have been really struggling financially and I think he’s just under tremendous pressure. How long does someone have to drink in excess before they are considered to be an alcoholic?

    I have noticed that he’s meaner to me than friends.

  • Bruce

    Debbi what part of N.J. do you live in? I’m a retired truck driver. Just curious as to the part of the state you live in. I’m in Mich..I loved running the east coast. Jump in your car one afternoon and find a nice quiet place to stop and think. Enjoy what Mother Nature gave us. Works for me when I do it. SMILE!

  • Bruce

    Debbi find a museum, state park, or something else to get out of the house. Life is too short. Enjoy your life! I met a nice lady once at my car dealer while getting work done. She noticed something was bothering me. So I told about my girlfriends drinking problem. She lifted my spirits. So get out and make the best of life. There are good people out there!

  • Debbi

    Atlantic City area & yes it’s a great area despite the high taxes. I’m 5 minutes from the beach but have a wooded 3 acre lot. In winter loved to take the dogs to the beach & have ridden my horse on beach in Atlantic City & Ocean City hundreds of times. Was a member of Atlantic County Search & Rescue Equestrian Team.

    But sadly doing most of that just brings back the old memories so right now no Smiles. I stay close to home on the local trails and walk instead of drive. Nothing seems to help these days.

  • Bruce

    Debbi: Create new memories. Get yourself a clear head. I wonder if this site has a way for people to call each other. Talking works better then typing. Will chat to you folks later. Sinuses are getting to me today. Head is ready to explode. Yuck! Hang in there. You can do it. Again Smile! It’s less work then frowning.

  • Debbi

    I have asked that same question hundreds of times through this–how much, how long do you have to drink to be considered an alcoholic. I have friends who could drink my husband under the table so to quote but they never acted like him. So is there a right answer and that’s what I struggle with–was it just abuse, infidelity, alcohol or mental disorder. Either way, why do I have to be subjected to watching him now treat the next one way better than me. . .the only difference I guess is me & there goes the blame game again! It is so hard.

  • Bruce

    Lauren: NEVER BLAME YOURSELF! You didn’t pour the booze down his throat. He did it to himself.

  • JM

    Thank you all for sharing.
    Debbi: I understand the hardship you are going through. I think it is important to manage current, a day at a time, and let go of the past and move forward, don’t worry about what anybody thinks, do what you have to do, FOR YOU.

    I know someone who recently admitted himself as a functioning alcoholic. Now he has been sober for a little while.

    Here are some of his behaviours that I have observed:
    – highly intellengent;
    – very well read;
    – was a daily drinker,
    – was able stick to moderate amount of alcohol, but only for a few days, then increased volumn. It was a cycle;
    – when his drinking behaviour was reacted to, he drank more, wine, hard liquor, followed by throwing up, unstable. Later he blamed me for the reason he drank!
    – Or when stress at work place, he would drink more, and went for gamble to release the tension;
    – Try to please his drinking mates, nothing can stop him going out with his drinking friends!
    – Rarely helping any house work; Broken things but doesn’t fix them.
    – No budgeting, love spend money, eat out, buying things, useless, unnecessary things, fill up space, doesn’t sort out.
    – Has hobbie.
    – Love watching TV day and night when possible;
    – Not following plan, say go for exercise, but rarly does it. Paid for gyms, never went.
    – Good at manipulating. Good at talk up.
    – Good at play a role as a victim. And at same time, I become the nasty one who try to stop him from drinking, smoking, and gambling!

    Detaching is a good technique for me, and it has helped me not arguing with him, let him be what he want to be.

    And at the same time, I am learning to move forward with my life without being affected by him.

    I’ve found that if I set focus back on myself, mind my own business, my life is easier to manage.

  • Debbi

    Thank you for all your suggestions. Always love to talk to others going through similar things. How about email anytime to

  • Debbi

    Wow, that was a great list of behaviors. My ex had all of those too except not well read (he had dislexyia).

    My problem with moving on is the hurt because at the end added onto his other nasty behaviors were not helping me get to 2 surgeries and infidelity & now moving on with yet another woman.

    My heart is broken! When you think your partner will be there for you if you get sick, it sickens you even more to realize not only would he not be there he went out and did that while you’re laying in a hospital. It is a difficult thing to overcome.

    But thank you for your kind words

  • Bruce

    Spoke to my estranged girlfriend last night. Wanted to tell her about a mutual friend that died in a horrific car accident. Along with his parents. Shen said she had been off her meds for bi-polar. She was in a panic about her case with Social Security. She wants me to take her to the funeral home for the viewing. Should I do the right thing and take her? She does not have a car. Or should I keep my distance for a few days. She doesn’t handle things like this well. I know because came to my Dad’s viewing drunk. I just don’t know what to do. Bruce

  • Debbi


    The choice is yours whether you want to do that for–take her to the viewing. I personally, if I was in contact with her, would offer to take her but tell her your rules (boundaries for her conduct), such as she cannot drink, etc and you will immediately leave if she causes any problems. That would be the way I would handle it but if it is too difficult for you to be near her or have contact then do not feel obligated. What I keep hearing here over & over is TAKE CARE OF YOU. So do what you feel comfortable with but if the decision is to take her–set your boundaries with her up front before you arrive and enforce them if necessary. Good Luck–keep us posted!

  • Larry

    I’m 6years 3months sober today. But felt compelled to tell you that “stealing” is the proper spelling not “steeling”.

  • June

    Always nice to hear from a’s

Leave a Reply