Are You Dating Substance User or Alcoholic?

Early warning signs to look for while dating.

Posted Jan 13, 2020

It is not uncommon for people who marry a substance abuser or alcoholic to look back over their first few dates and, with hindsight, be able to pick out some key indicators that there was an addiction problem. However, during the initial phase of dating, especially when the relationship is intense, it can be easy to willfully overlook or to rationalize the behaviors that will eventually lead to the breakup of the relationship. 

For many people who have limited experience with alcoholism and addiction, the subtle signs can be difficult to spot. This is made even more problematic if the alcoholic or user is considered to be high functioning, which means she or he is able to maintain a job, go to school, and have relationships without manifesting the full-blown signs of addiction or alcoholism. 

Often, high-functioning users utilize their ability to operate in society as proof that they do not have a problem. These people are also savvy in hiding their addiction; they often use drugs or alcohol in secret, limit their use around partners to more socially acceptable levels to avoid detection. 

Some of the key signs to look for in the early stages of a relationship that may signal alcohol or drug abuse include:

  • Physical changes: People with addiction problems have physical or physiological changes that can be identified as part of a pattern. This can include unexpected fatigue, sweating, headaches, nausea, red eyes, signs of a "cold" that seem to occur on a regular basis, lack of appetite, or changes in appetite. People also tend to have less interest in their physical appearance when using or recovering after a binge. 
  • Emotional changes: During both the high and the aftermath of the use of alcohol and drugs, emotional and mood changes are common. This can include irritability, anxiety, emotional outbursts, anger, blame, defensiveness, and denial, or unwillingness to discuss concerns or to talk about the issue. 
  • Hot and cold responses to the relationship: It is not uncommon for users to have times when they focus their attention on their partner, and then times when they focus on the addictive behavior. This can result in a hot and cold type of relationship, often include periods when the person is out of contact and offers excuses or refuses to talk about the absence. 
  • Leading a double life: They may drink or use drugs on their own, but they may also have a separate group of people they use with. Typically, he or she is careful to keep their partner away from this group, often leading a double life. 

Other signs to watch for include secretive behavior, lying, and becoming angry when caught, paranoid types of behaviors at times, or the constant need to find activities and things to do that include drinking or the use of drugs. 

If you are concerned about a partner, an honest discussion about your concerns is often the best choice. How the partner responds is often an indication of their willingness to make changes or their desire to continue on with their addictive pattern of behavior. 


American Addiction Centers. (2019, December 10). The Functioning Alcoholic/Addict: How to Help and What to Look For. Retrieved from American Addiction Centers:

Felman, A. (2018, October 25). What are the symptoms of addiction?Retrieved from MedicalNewsToday: