Alcoholism: Signs and Symptoms

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Alcohol is widely accepted in many cultures, it is often present in social situations, and it is a legal substance. This makes it very difficult to accurately spot alcoholism signs and symptoms. We look here at the indicated signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse so that you can identify if you or a loved one is experiencing a problem.

Alcohol use disorders are common across the United States, and given that it is socially acceptable to drink alcohol and easy to obtain, many people use it as their substance of choice. An addiction increases a person’s tolerance for alcohol, so they need more of it to achieve the same effect.

Excessive alcohol consumption can have severe adverse effects, both physical and mental. Once an alcohol addiction has taken hold, it is difficult to put a stop to drinking. If you are concerned about your drinking or think you have an addiction, get in touch with a healthcare provider today.

Why You Need to Know the Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Signs of alcohol addiction will vary from person to person. Some individuals will not display many visible signs at all, until they are in the throes of addiction. Being vigilant of one’s behavior can help recognize indicators of a problem. It’s important to take a step back and look at the overall impact of somebody’s drinking. If somebody drinks a lot in one evening, it does not necessarily mean they have a problem. Likewise, if somebody doesn’t get particularly drunk when they drink, they could still be living with a debilitating addiction.

Important factors that indicate someone is dependent on alcohol are things such as the quantity of alcohol they are drinking and the frequency of alcohol consumption. Additionally, consider their overall life and health quality and how it is affected by alcohol.

This webpage will identify some of the most common warning signs for alcohol addiction, and what you can do if you’re struggling with symptoms.

The Tell-Tale Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, also known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is one of the most common substance abuse problems in the US.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes this problem as an “impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”

Addiction is a serious and complex condition; nobody chooses addiction. Alcohol use disorders usually develop over time. Once you have noticed the warning signs of addiction, it’s often too late.

Admitting to yourself and those around you that you are living with an addiction can be painful, you may be in denial, or afraid of the consequences. But no matter how hard you try to hide it, the signs will eventually become evident to those around you.
Some indicators and signs of alcoholism include:

  • Being consumed with thoughts about how to obtain alcohol
  • Drinking large quantities of alcohol
  • Drinking when you wake up in the morning
  • Seeking out excuses to drink
  • Hiding evidence of alcohol use
  • Behaving secretively, dishonesty around drinking
  • Putting drinking before responsibilities
  • Having school or work impacted by alcohol use
  • Experiencing financial problems due to drinking
  • Becoming isolated from loved ones
  • Drinking despite negative impacts
  • Suffering fluctuating moods
  • Being unable to stop drinking despite attempts
  • Experiencing adverse symptoms if you reduce or stop

Acknowledging these signs is crucial, but even still, it can be hard to accept. There are often big and difficult emotions around addiction such as fear, shame, and regret. But remember – help is available. Addiction is a treatable condition.

Behavioral Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Some of the short-term behavioral signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Reckless driving
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior

In the long term, an alcohol addiction can lead to behaviors such as drinking at unusual times of the day, such as first thing in the morning or afternoon.

Moreover, you may no longer engage in activities you once enjoyed, such as hobbies and parts of the routine. You may also need to have a drink before socializing or other situations that trigger anxiety. Other long-term behaviors include

  • Broken relationships as a result of drinking problems
  • Drinking on your own
  • Facing legal trouble because of your drinking habits

In the long term, some mental health impacts of alcohol use disorder could include:

  • Fluctuating mood
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • depression
  • Impacted confidence levels (overconfident or under confident)
  • Shorter attention span

Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a toxic substance. Drinking in moderation gives the body time to process and get rid of the toxins without it causing us serious harm.

However, if someone has a habit of heavy drinking, it will begin to have physical and psychological effects. Down the line, alcohol abuse can lead to severe health problems such as liver disease and cancer.

Some physical symptoms of alcohol addiction include the following:

  • Exhaustion
  • Weight loss
  • A high alcohol tolerance
  • Clumsiness
  • Forgetfulness or memory problems
  • Sexual disfunction
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Blackouts
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Cardiovascular issues like rapid heartbeat

Down the line, excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to a higher chance of you developing potentially fatal conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver. It can also cause brain damage, specifically among adolescents, an increased risk of cancers, and the development of osteoporosis, which means a higher susceptibility to bone fractures.

Other health conditions that can arise as a result of alcohol addiction include gout, which is when acid builds up in your joints and causes severe swelling and pain. Similarly, you may experience an iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia, and suffer from a weaker immune system.

Some of these symptoms can be explained by other health issues. It’s important to seek the advice of a trained medical professional in order to make an assessment of someone’s drinking.

If some of these symptoms are familiar, it might be time to reach out to a trusted friend, doctor, or addiction professional for support and advice on addiction treatment.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Recognizing when your drinking has crept up into a problem is challenging. The amount you’re drinking can be a good indicator.

The CDC has released updated guidelines on the recommended alcohol allowance for men and women. It suggests that adults over the age of 21 can choose not to drink at all, or drink moderately by limiting consumption to 2 drinks or less per day for men or 1 drink or less per day for women.

How To Tell When You May Have a Drinking Problem

Noticing when somebody’s drinking has become a problem can be complex, but you can look out for signs such as:

  • They intend to drink a small amount, or not at all, but get drunk
  • They are regularly drunk, drinking, or hungover
  • They find it difficult to fulfill their responsibilities or duties
  • They drink despite negative implications
  • They have an increased tolerance, therefore they need more alcohol to feel the same effects
  • They experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety, aggression, DTs (delirium tremens)
  • They become defensive or secretive about drinking

Most people with alcohol abuse disorder have usually tried to quit at some point. Without professional help, quitting drinking can be at best very difficult, and at worst severely dangerous. Unfortunately, those who stop drinking without appropriate treatment will relapse further down the line.

What Is the Difference between Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder is a term used by medical clinicians that describes somebody with an alcohol use problem, whereas alcoholism is a word used in day-to-day conversations. There are a number of medical and colloquial terms used to describe different forms of alcohol abuse. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes individuals with a dependence on alcohol as having an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Criteria for AUD

Alcohol use disorders can be categorized into severity, mild, moderate or severe. There is a range of criteria to decipher whether somebody is living with an AUD. If an individual meets two of the eleven symptoms in the period of a year, they may be diagnosed with an AUD:

  • Drinking more or for a longer period of time than intended
  • Feeling incapable of cutting back on the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Becoming sick for an extended period of time as a result of drinking too much
  • Inability to concentrate due to alcohol cravings
  • Inability to care for a family, hold down a job, or perform in school
  • Continuing to drink despite problems caused with friends or family
  • Decreased participation in activities which were once important
  • Finding oneself in dangerous or harmful situations as a direct result of drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite adding to another health problem, feeling depressed or anxious, or blacking out
  • Drinking more as a result of a tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

The number of these criteria you meet determines whether you are living with a mild, moderate, or severe disorder. If you are living with:

  • 2-3: mild disorder
  • 4-5: moderate disorder
  • 6+: severe disorder

Alcoholism on the other hand, is a term describing someone with severe alcohol dependence. ‘Alcoholism’ is not used to diagnose somebody. The term is sometimes used in colloquial settings and the range of people it describes is varied.

The words, alcoholism and alcoholic, are used in the 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous. For many people, it is used in reference to this recovery path.

Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence

Another term that is regularly used in reference to alcohol use is ‘alcohol dependence’. Understanding the difference between dependence and addiction can be complicated, particularly as they are used in different contexts by different organizations.

We look at some helpful differentiations here. Being dependent usually refers to a physical dependence on a specific substance. Dependence can usually be identified by the presence of symptoms such as increased tolerance and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not consumed. While it does not necessarily mean somebody is addicted, it is a clear indication that the individual is at great risk of developing an addiction.

Addiction refers to behavioral changes caused by the chemical changes in the brain that occur after prolonged alcohol misuse. When somebody is addicted, using the substance is their main priority and all their behaviors are centered on obtaining it, regardless of how it impacts them and those around them.

Somebody with an addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have access to the drug. This can cause physical, psychological, or emotional distress.

Possible Complications from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Alcohol is a toxic substance. Frequently drinking large quantities of it has negative effects on the mind and body. Many of the body’s vital organs are affected by alcohol misuse, including the brain, heart, liver, nervous system, and pancreas.

Other physical effects of excessive drinking include increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, and risk of heart attack.

Individuals who abuse alcohol are likely to have weakened immune systems which leave them susceptible to developing other infections, or taking longer to recover from illness. Living with an alcohol use disorder can also affect reproduction and result in fertility issues.

Studies also show that individuals who drink excessively are more likely to develop mental illness. Vice versa, those who are living with severe mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing an alcohol problem.

Mental illnesses associated with alcohol abuse include the following:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide

Often individuals living with untreated mental illness will use alcohol to self-medicate. For this reason, it can be complex to decipher which disorder came first.

How Does Rehab Take Care of Alcohol Addiction Complications?

An alcohol use disorder is a serious condition. Support from medical professionals is crucial to recovery. Quitting without support can result in some distressing, and dangerous, side effects and reduces the chances of a sustained recovery.


Usually, alcohol treatment will begin with detox. This is a crucial stage in order to rid your body of toxins and allow you to fully focus on recovery. In most cases, it’s the first step towards learning to function without a substance.


Quality rehabilitation centers will provide you with therapy to treat the root causes of your addiction. This will usually be in the form of individual and group therapy. Through these sessions, you will learn about your addiction, how to spot signs of relapse, and ways of coping with difficult emotions or situations.

Treating any underlying mental health issue is crucial for a full recovery. Trauma, depression, and anxiety are often at the core of addictive behaviors.

You may also take part in family therapy from support communities such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other 12-step programs. These can offer invaluable support to guide you through your journey. After all, the logo for Alcoholics Anonymous stands for ‘Unity, Service, Recovery.’