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She’s Sneaking Drinks and Claims There’s No Problem

wine glass pouring

RCAVictor sees their significant other sneaking alcohol and feels like the warning signs are clear. When can you consider your Loved One is "alcoholic" or has AUD? Dominique Simone-Levine suggests one strategy to bring problem drinking gently into the light.

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"I’ve been living with my s.o. X2 years. To me alcohol has become a problem. While dating we both drank alcohol. But, on more than one occasion when I called her to talk she was too drunk to hold a meaningful conversation. She was living alone. This was a red flag for me. She denied having alcohol problems at the time. She did not start drinking until she was in her 40’s being raised in a strict Christian environment where alcohol was forbidden. Now, while she does not drink everyday and can go a month without it, she has been sneaking her drinks alone or when I’m not ‘paying attention’’. She has been drunk while cooking – she likes her wine while cooking. Her personality changes, slurs her words so it’s obvious. She has become deceptive with it and blames me because I get mad/disappointed. There’s no abuse or violence but disappointment and hurt. I was raised around alcohol and know what a problem it can be down the road and if this is not nipped in the bud. While not a daily occurrence it’s enough to create a problem. I do not want to control her or her feel she is being controlled. She is still in some denial because she doesn’t do it ‘all the time’. When does a person drinking alcohol become an “alcoholic” or have AUD? Thanks."


When can you consider that they're an “alcoholic” or have AUD?

Excellent question: when does drinking become “alcoholic” drinking. You will find many answers to this question in the popular and academic literature. The most telling behavior is not how much or how often your girlfriend takes a drink, it is the fact that she is seeking and sneaking her alcohol. Also notable is that you see an emerging personality — that is, your girlfriend under the influence.

Over 90% of addiction starts in the teen-age years (ref). This makes your Loved One an outlier. Perhaps she has used other things throughout her life as “objects” of use, like food or shopping before discovering alcohol in her 40's (maybe not).

I can see why you'd be confused, though. The rigidity of orthodox upbringings could make someone behaving outside an extremely narrow set of cultural boundaries and rules turn quickly to sneaking, perhaps like a woman who drinks a bit much.

So I hope you are right and that what you're seeing is a quick escalation of early-stage problematic drinking in your Loved One who started to drink only recently (in her 40's).

There's a possibility she may be sneaking out of habit, but that the alcohol consumption is actually moderate and steady. It may just look worse for the sneaking.

One approach to sneaking is moderation : agree together to bring it out in the light

Let’s say her drinking is moderate. What would you both say to opening up around what is being sneaked. What if you could both put down sneaking and just lived without judgment of your girlfriend’s drinking. Your girlfriend would be openly moderating her drinking.

You would both openly talk about your fears/issues around drinking (for example, your experience growing up). You would use negotiation and communication skills from Module 4 to influence and adjust, so that you can be comfortable during this experiment . . . you could give it, say, 8 weeks.

You are, in effect, meeting your Loved One where she is, which is a stated desire to continue to drink unproblematically. See the Introductory Module for a brief discussion on moderation and our page on moderating in the Resource Supplement.

Please commit to listening to each other over these 8 weeks. You promise to withhold judgment; she promises to get out from underground with her drinking. You decide together how many drinks are acceptable for your Loved One to have. Anything more than, say, 2 drinks, and you quietly apply the approach from Module 6, My Loved One is Using, Now What?

If this 8-week experiment doesn’t work, the size of the alcohol problem will be clearer to both of you.

And you hope, and she agrees (now, before you start the 8-week experiment) that she will get X or Y help. It will now have been said and agreed to verbally. This could help down the road.

Let us know how it goes. We're rooting for you both.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I would like to add that my s.o. has said no one ever before has mentioned to her she has a drinking problem. I sometimes feel like the “bad guy” and feel blamed for her AUD. How common is it that the person who brings the issue to the forefront becomes the “bad guy” and the affected AUD person leaves the relationship? I really appreciate this site and your responses. Thank you!

    1. Hello, and thanks for writing in. We’re so glad you are finding help through this site and our resources!

      As far as how common it is for a Loved One with AUD/OUD/SUD to leave a relationship because a family member/partner is pointing to the substance use, I couldn’t tell you.

      However, I think it’s fair to say that blaming is one of the most common weapons in the arsenal of a person with AUD/OUD/SUD… it goes hand in hand with the resistance that is so common. If the Loved One is not ready to face their substance misuse, and someone is trying to make them look at it, they will need to deflect what they’re hearing, somehow. Resistance/denial take many forms, but redirecting the blame onto the person who’s provoking you is a really handy, and common phenomenon. You sting me, I’ll sting you back.

      Speaking from my personal experience, I was married to someone whose alcohol use was ever-increasing and becoming more and more problematic. At the time, I hadn’t heard of CRAFT and I just kept trying to be rational and empirical about things, figuring, “he’s a sensible guy, he can certainly admit that there’s a problem here.” But absolutely nothing I said was received gracefully or without defensiveness. In the end, it wasn’t he, but I, who left the relationship, despite loving him deeply. I had come to the end of my rope, and I didn’t yet understand that confronting him was simply not going to be fruitful in any way.

      CRAFT could have helped us a lot, had I known about its precious tenets at the time. By now I hope you are moving towards the CRAFT stance, with the knowledge that it’s not your Significant Other who will directly confirm, “yes, my drinking is becoming problematic” — but you know, in your gut and from your personal experience, what is happening. Trying to convince her or reason with her is pointless now.

      As you immerse yourself in CRAFT, rewatching the modules and doing the Key Observations Exercises as often as possible and coming back to the Discussion Blog, you will be moving towards something much more subtle, more respectful of your LO’s psychology, more conscious of how motivation works (and doesn’t work), and much less conflict.

      I’m not saying the frustration will disappear. But it should lessen, and you should start feeling less crazy. I say “crazy” because I remember vividly the feeling in my body of “smacking my head up against a wall” every day, wanting change — or, simply, acknowledgement from him — and never, ever getting it. I kept going down the same dead end, because I didn’t know there was another way.

      Keep the faith! Keep us posted.