Dear Sherlock: How much does my boyfriend drink?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on April 1st, 2011 - Last updated: January 31st, 2014
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Further Reading

Dear Stanton:

Please could you give me your view regarding the following:

I have recently discovered that my partner is drinking a lot “differently” to how he has ever described his drinking habits — for instance, he has always stated that he has a whiskey after work (we don’t stay together all the time — we keep separate homes partially, so he has time alone at his house after work). I always smell alcohol on his breath when he arrives at my house approx 7.30pm and have always ascribed that to the whiskey after work.

Over the weekend, we were packing up his house (renting it out) so that we can both live at my address and I needed some carrier bags. He gave some to me and I shook them out in order to use them. Both bags had cash slips (till slips) in them which came fluttering out. I looked to see whether I could throw these pieces of paper away and then realized what they were at which point I looked to see what was bought. I actually got quite a fright as the till slips were dated 8 days apart from each other. The first one was date 29th July when 2 x 750ml Gin was purchased and then again 8th August when a further 2 x 750ml Gin was purchased with a lot of beer.

I would like to know whether this amount of Gin is usual for a person to consume on his own. He has never indicated to me that he even enjoys Gin so you can imagine what a surprise it was to discover these purchases. There is also never a bottle of Gin anywhere around his house!!

I would love it if you could give me an honest opinion as to the amount being drunken — is this social or problematic. The fact that he is drinking alone, is a problem for me —- also that he is drinking very differently to how he has always intimated.

Your view would be most appreciated.

Kindest regards,

Dear Camille:

You express things in a reserved way, almost formally, that I enjoy. And you approach this question — that your partner is probably secretly drinking large amounts of alcohol which he is concealing from you — in a likewise almost formal way (you seem a bit like Sherlock Homes). Your question is how much alcohol is too much, and perhaps requires mathematical calculation of the amount of alcohol he has consumed based on his liquor purchasing habits.

But I’m not going to play that game — I am particularly bad at converting metric measures.

But here’s what I can discuss with you — why is your partner drinking secretly, how are you communicating with him, how does all this add up considering you are now to live together (or, as you put it, “both live at my address”)?

As you recognize, it is bad when someone you are intimate with lies to you about an important behavior. It suggests that you don’t know him as well as you thought, and that you can’t trust him, and that perhaps this behavior is a problem for him and will become one for you.

So, for starters, there is the communication issue. Some people in your position might confront your partner (“What’s this?”) immediately upon finding the untoward gin purchases. You don’t seem to be that sort, and that may be a positive thing. But you still might find a way to present your discovery directly to your partner (might I call him your lover?) and ask him how much he drinks, and whether gin or whiskey, and other essential questions.

Of course, the next question is, “Why did you feel you needed to hide this from me?” Perhaps the answer will be that he knows you disapprove of drinking, or don’t drink yourself, or something else. These things may be untrue, or partly true, or may cause you to re-evaluate attitudes you have — in other words, communication is a two-way street, and you may have to face issues yourself.

I guess the overarching question for me is — if your boyfriend is a secret drinker, how does he expect to handle this now that you will apparently be living together? Does this signal that he expects you to accept behavior he has been lying about? Or does he anticipate drinking less around you (and in this way he is actually relying on you to change his behavior)? This says a lot about him and about you and about your relationship. I guess the goal should be that, in coming to you, he respects who you are and how you live, does not plan on imposing his behaviors — especially those you dislike — upon you, and, perhaps, even looks to you for help and support. I cannot answer whether any or all of these things is true. But perhaps these questions I have can guide your thinking and action.


I’d like to say that I really and truly appreciate your response to me. When I first came along your web page, I thought I would get an automated response telling me to dial your clinic or so!!! I feel that having someone (knowledgeable) to discuss this with is incredible because otherwise, I’m not sure who I would have felt comfortable talking about this with!

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Worried girlfriend says:


    I am quite worried that my boyfriend, who I live with, is presenting behaviors of an alcoholic. Before we lived together I never knew just how prevalent alcohol was in his life. He claims he can’t fall asleep without it and has 3-4 drinks a night- usually beer or wine.

    We have almost talked the issue to death and it is really the only obstacle in our relationship- but it’s a big one. He senses my discomfort and feels he is being judged and I feel like I have to bite my tongue or risk getting into a fight about it just for being concerned about him.

    He has admitted before that it’s a problem but he doesn’t feel comfortable forcing himself to have any kind of “revolution” in life… I don’t really know where to go with this.

    He has twice been so drunk the he wet the bed on two separate occasions. I know for a fact that these were not isolated incidents and that he did this before we lived together too. He drinks alone almost every night after I have fallen asleep and then hides the beer cans/ wine bottles. It’s hard to watch him wake up one morning hungover and feeling a wreck and then the same day later on to guzzle down more alcohol, essentially reaching back for the hand that hurts you.

    I don’t want to carry on like this in a relationship with someone who seems to be headed down a path of alcoholism/ dependency but I also can’t fathom the thought of losing him. He is my best friend and my family. I feel very helpless.

    What can I do?

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