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Signs of Alcoholism

by Landmark Recovery

June 14, 2018
A doctor writing down symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

The signs of alcoholism is very tough to diagnose, especially because in United States, many adults consume alcohol in one form or another at parties, bars, restaurants, or at home. This recurring action is referred to as social drinking. However, drinking alcohol excessively can become a slippery slope that could ultimately lead to alcoholism. Alcoholism is defined as the physical or mental dependence on alcohol. Because casual drinking is so prevalent in our society, it makes it hard to diagnose an alcohol addiction. Despite this, many friends and loved ones can begin to see the warning signs of alcoholism in someone they care about before they do.

A new study found that approximately 30 million Americans are addicted to alcohol, which is little over 12.7% of Americans. Unfortunately, most alcoholics fail to get treatment. Sometimes, it is because they do not recognize the symptoms of alcoholism in their life or they do and are in denial. It is important to know these signs so that you or a loved one can be aware of an emerging problem.

How do you know if a couple of drinks at a party could turn into an addiction? How do you know that you are addicted to alcohol? When does it become a problem in your life? These are some signs of alcoholism to watch out for in yourself or loved ones.


Signs of Alcoholism

A man standing and looking out at nature thinking about his alcoholism


Interference with Work, School, or Family Life

When alcohol becomes the number one priority in someone’s life, all other responsibilities fall by the wayside. It is important to remember that alcohol impairs a person’s cognitive functions and physical capabilities. When this practice begins to happen on a regular basis, a person will neglect their obligations. Whether it’s work, school, or family life, something will give way to the burden of alcoholism. Many will abandon the valuable things in their life for alcohol. Completing tasks at work or merely finishing a school assignment may become almost impossible to do because of alcoholism.


Feeling Guilty about Drinking

Alcoholics frequently feel guilty about their alcohol consumption. Deep down inside, alcoholics know that they have a problem with alcohol but may feel trapped by it. Because of this, many alcoholics hide their drinking habits or outright lie to family members or friends. They do this to make it seem like it is less of an issue than it is. There are many reasons why a person’s alcoholism will make them feel guilty. For example, they may have hurt loved ones as a result of their addictive behavior.


Drinking More than Before

As the body builds a tolerance for alcohol over time, it needs more to become intoxicated. So, if a person finds that they need more alcohol to get the same results as before, this may be an indication of alcoholism. Moderate drinking can quickly transform into heavy drinking. Overall, when the body becomes exposed and adapted to alcohol, it will require more and more as time goes on.


Drinking Alone

Isolating oneself to drink is a symptom of alcoholism. Drinking heavily when alone is worse than drinking heavily with friends. Those who do not have a problem with alcohol rarely drink alone. Furthermore, getting drunk alone for no reason can become a dangerous habit because there is no accountability for any actions. Also hiding alcohol and how much you are actually drinking can contribute to drinking alone and your alcohol problem.


Risky Behavior

When someone is dealing with alcoholism, they may exhibit signs of risky behavior. This means that they may take significant risks with alcohol. For example, they might try to drive while intoxicated or might drink in inappropriate places such as work or school. While under the influence, a person might engage in risky behavior such as fighting, unprotected sex, or just poor decision making. This may result in injury, jail time, or worse. With this dangerous behavior, a person jeopardizes their relationships, career, and life in general.


Blacking Out

Drinking alcohol until you blackout is a sign of alcoholism. Temporary amnesia or “blackout drunk” is a dangerous side effect of drinking beyond excess. Now, blackout drunk does not mean that someone becomes unconscious. Instead, people continue to interact with others without remembering these interactions. This temporary memory loss can progress into permanent memory loss if there is persistent drinking over the years. This is a demonstration of the dangers of alcoholism, and when you black out, you are vulnerable. When you are out of control, anything can happen.


Affected Relationships

An alcoholic may find that as their relationship with alcohol grows, their relationships with others around them begin to suffer. You may have a significant other who notices your problem and tries to get you to quit drinking. It may be a strained relationship with a parent who believes that you need help to stop. Drinking alcohol can cause one to become more aggressive and irritated which can put pressure on relationships. If your drinking begins to affect your relationships with others, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol.


Drinking Everyday

If you or your loved one is drinking every day, chances are they suffer from alcoholism. Many times people drink to de-stress. However, this can lead to an emotional and physical dependence on alcohol. The “relief” that alcohol provides to help you feel better is temporary, unhealthy, and is not a permanent solution. Now, if a person is not merely drinking, but getting drunk every day, there is an issue present. Many alcoholics will even start their morning with a drink.


Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

A doctor writing down symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

When the body becomes so used to alcohol and begins to crave it, addiction occurs. When you don’t give in to these cravings and drink, you start to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some physical withdrawal symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, depression, fatigue, nightmares, and irritability. One serious physical sign is if you wake up feeling hungover when you did not drink the night before. When you stop drinking, your body immediately goes into withdrawal mode. Alcoholics will drink to curb the symptoms of withdrawal.



You may read some of these symptoms and recognize them in either yourself or a loved one. Although it can be difficult to realize, this realization is the first step to recovery. There are also several different self-assessments that you can take that can give you insight into whether are not there is an alcohol addiction present.


CAGE Assessment

The first assessment is called the CAGE assessment, and it is only four questions long. Medical professionals have used this particular assessment for years. It was developed in 1968 and gets its name from an acronym by pulling one letter from each of the questions.”C” is for cut. “A” is for annoyed. “G” is for guilty. “E” is for eye-opener. Although the assessment is brief, it has been proven to identify an alcoholic 90% of the time.

The four CAGE questions that you can ask yourself are:

  1. Have you ever felt that you should cut back on your drinking?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you felt guilty or bad about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to calm your nerves or to cure a hangover?

If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, it may be time to seek professional help.


How Much is Too Much?

A woman thinking about how much alcohol is too much to drink

For those who are unsure of how much alcohol is too much, it is also essential to understand what a serving of alcohol is. By knowing the serving sizes, you can determine what a safe amount of alcohol for you is versus what constitutes crossing the line. A serving can be:

  • 12 oz of regular beer
  • 8-9 oz of malt liquor
  • 5 oz of wine
  • 3-4 oz of fortified wine
  • 2-3 oz of cordial or liqueur
  • 1.5 oz of brandy cognac, or 80-proof distilled spirits

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.”


Heavy Drinking vs. Binge Drinking

There is a difference between heavy drinking and binge drinking. Heavy drinking is defined by more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week for women and men older than 65. For men 65 and younger, heavy drinking is defined as more than four drinks a day or more than fourteen drinks per week. On the other hand, binge drinking for women is four or more drinks within two hours while binge drinking for men is five or more drinks within two hours.

Multiple servings of alcohol can result in intoxication and drinking these multiple servings regularly can result in alcohol abuse. However, alcoholism isn’t necessarily about how much you drink, but how often and what the effects are. For example, getting blackout drunk is one of the extreme effects of alcoholism that indicates that the body could not process the amount of alcohol consumed.

You may have tried to cut back your drinking and found it very difficult. You may have even promised yourself or someone else that you would not drink as much or at all. However, you could not keep this promise. Not being able to stop without professional help is a massive indication that a person has become reliant on alcohol. Both physical and mental withdrawal are what makes it difficult to cut back on drinking or stop drinking entirely. It may take a few hours to a few days for someone to begin to feel the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen when a heavy drinker stops all alcohol use. If the withdrawal symptoms become too severe, it is easy to simply continue drinking in order to stop them.


Alcoholism and Depression

One primary symptom of alcoholism is depression. Feeling depressed due to not drinking alcohol is a significant warning sign of alcohol abuse. The brain is malfunctioning from withdrawal. Because addiction can be isolating and can lead to poor to decision making, depression can follow. In turn, a person may look back to alcohol to self-medicate their depression. Ultimately, alcohol abuse can lead to depression.



A woman sitting near a lake wondering if alcohol is a drug

Despite these negative symptoms of alcoholism, millions of people fail to seek treatment for their alcohol problem. One of the main reasons is because of denial. Many alcoholics try to rationalize their problem with drinking or downplay their drinking behaviors. People may blame others or their circumstances for the reason that they drink. They can become defensive when others point out their drinking habits.

They may even be so in denial, that a serious consequence of their alcoholism is not enough to change them. For example, losing a job or getting a DUI may be so in denial that it would not be the wake-up call that they need. As time goes on, they may lose control of their lives and perspective on what is going on. Or, a person may be aware of their issues but have no idea how to solve them. It is important to remember that no matter how severe the symptoms become, there is always the possibility to heal.

By recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, more people who suffer from it can find treatment. Individuals who suffer from long-term effects of drinking may be in more denial than others who were short-term drinkers. When left untreated, alcohol abuse can spiral out of control. Even if a drinking problem seems minor, it should not be ignored. Over time, it can cause problems in virtually every aspect of your life. You don’t think about the consequences of drinking to intoxication. Do not find yourself trapped in the cycle of addiction. Take the first steps to recovery.


What Next?

Where should you start? At Landmark Recovery, we help alcoholics overcome their addiction with a multi-faceted process of rehabilitation. Our alcohol rehab program is based on each individual person who seeks treatment. We are equipped with experienced staff and the latest treatment techniques and methods to help you or your loved one overcome alcoholism.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.