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Is My Husband an Alcoholic or Is He Just a Party Animal?

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Janine sits opposite the counsellor in a warm and welcoming office that belies the seriousness of the topic at hand. As she listens to the counsellor explain the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, she cannot help but wonder whether or not her husband is in serious trouble. After listening to the counsellor for what seems like an endless amount of time, Janine can no longer contain herself. She stops the counsellor and asks, “Is my husband an alcohol or is he just a party animal?”

The scenario we just described is completely fictional. However, it is fairly typical of what counsellors experience trying to help the family members of alcohol abusers and alcoholics. Family members are often the forgotten victims of a condition that affects far too many people in the UK. The husbands, wives, and children of alcoholics need help too.

Thankfully, we can say there are counselling and support services available to the family members of alcoholics. We can help you access them if you are willing to call and talk to us. In the meantime, let's get back to the main question of whether your spouse is an alcoholic or just a party animal.

Problem Drinking, Abuse, and Addiction

The first step in helping families dealing with alcohol problems is to educate them about what constitutes an alcoholic. This is important given the various stages a person goes through on the way to becoming an alcoholic. Simply put, a person does not become an alcoholic overnight. It takes a combination of time and persistent drinking.

Medical science generally accepts three basic categories of drinking that go above and beyond the casual drinking most of us are familiar with. These are:

  • Problem Drinking – Problem drinking starts by occasionally drinking more than is recommended according to government standards. For men, that would mean more than three or four units of alcohol per day; for women, it means more than two or three units. The problem drinker exceeds the recommended limits every now and again, but not necessarily with regularity.
  • Alcohol Abuse – Alcohol abuse is a level of drinking typified by routinely exceeding recommended levels of safe drinking. The alcohol abuser likely drinks several days a week, if not every day, and is known to binge drink more than once every couple of months. The abuser may continue to operate at a high level of functionality, or his/her performance may begin to slip.
  • Alcohol Addiction – Also known as dependence or alcoholism, alcohol addiction is a condition in which the alcohol abuser finds it nearly impossible to exist on a day-to-day basis without drinking. Alcohol is part of almost everything the individual does from the first moments after waking up until bedtime. Furthermore, the alcoholic has developed both physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.

The challenging part about drinking is that it is far too easy to transition from being a casual drinker to a problem drinker. And once a person is a problem drinker, he or she is much more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic in the future. Any form of alcohol abuse, regardless of how minor, has the potential to develop into full-blown alcoholism if it is not dealt with. This is why intervention and treatment are so important.

Observing the Alcoholic's Behaviour

You might be concerned that your husband is an alcoholic. If he's not, you are pretty sure he is still drinking too much. So what do you do? Start by observing his behaviour. If he is an alcoholic, you should be able to identify some very specific signs and symptoms. For example, does your husband drink first thing in the morning and as the last activity before bed? This is very common among alcoholics.

Here are a few more questions to ponder:

  • Does he constantly worry about having access to alcohol?
  • Does he go to unusual lengths to make sure there is always enough alcohol at home?
  • Does he insist that alcohol is part of every social gathering, including family gatherings?
  • Does he routinely complain about having difficulty at work?
  • During the average drinking session, does he drink enough to get drunk?
  • Is he willing to engage in dangerous behaviour, like drink driving?
  • Does he insist that he can stop drinking whenever he wants to?
  • Does he continually and gradually increase the amount of alcohol consumed?

All of these questions are directly related to the reality that persistent alcohol use affects both the mind and body. Psychological dependence is a good example. When a person becomes psychologically dependent on alcohol, a constant fear of not having enough to drink develops. This is why alcoholics are continually talking about getting more alcohol. They never think they have enough because they are terrified of having to live without it.

Observing the Alcoholic's Physical Condition

You might also be able to identify alcoholism in your husband by observing his physical condition. What is his health like? Has he developed any unusual conditions that seem to have no explanation? Has an existing condition been exacerbated for no apparent reason?

The body has an amazing ability to process a moderate amount of alcohol without harm to any vital organs or systems. But that ability is limited. The alcoholic stresses the body's natural systems to the point that physical damage actually occurs. Alcoholics tend to exhibit the following physical symptoms:

  • Considerable weight loss due to poor diet or not eating all.
  • Development of a red skin tone in the cheeks and nose; also redness and swelling in the hands.
  • A pale, almost yellow skin tone in other parts of the body.
  • Regular, consistent gastric distress.
  • Development of kidney and liver problems, especially cirrhosis.

“Is my husband and alcoholic, or am I worrying over nothing?” That is not a question that can be definitively answered apart from professional medical intervention. However, if you have observed any of the signs and symptoms listed in this guide, there is a good chance he is an alcoholic. Get in touch with us or a professional counsellor for further guidance. The sooner you do, the sooner your husband's problem can be addressed.

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