By definition, problem drinking is drinking that causes problems for the drinker, yet they do it anyway.
Non-dependent drinking, that is drinking where the drinker does not show signs of increasing tolerance, withdrawl, clinically significant impairment while drunk, etc, can still create enormous chaos in the lives of the drinker and his or her family, friends, and in other significant relationships.
When a person drinks despite being told over and over, by many people, that they are being unreliable, emotionally unavailable, obnoxious, unpleasant to be around, etc, it does not mean they are dependent on alcohol. But it may mean that they do and/or say things when under the influence that cause them or the important people in their lives, adverse consequences. Sometimes, if someone videos them when drunk, or shows them texts written and sent when drunk, or they wake up in jail after a fight or DUI, or bruised and banged up after an accident, they are shocked to see the objective evidence of what they are doing.
Many of the couples I see in relationship counseling are really there because of a problem with alcohol. It is often not the initial presenting problem; rather, they come in to talk about frequent fighting. When we begin to explore the issues, it is disclosed that one or both parties drinks frequently, and to excess (that is to the point where they are “different”). One partner might relate that fights most often occur when they are drinking because then they are “honest”.
Actually, alcohol consumption lowers inhibitions, so the drinker may say things they think but don’t normally talk about. They may say those things in ways that are not well thought out and are almost certainly going to cause adverse consequences! The drinker may also exhibit behaviors that are reckless and impulsive. None of these actions are likely to contribute to a positive relationship when they happen repeatedly, and some may lead to physical violence.
Sometimes when both partners are drinking heavily they don’t recognize how much alcohol is causing or contributing to the problems in their relationship.
If you wonder whether you or your partner may be a problem drinker, consider seeking professional help, even if only for a one-time consultation to get some education and referrals for further information.
Remember; alcohol, although legal, widely used and often socially acceptable, is a drug! Is the consumption of alcohol always a problem? No! But if you question whether your important relationship is working as well as it should, consider whether drinking may be a problem area.