Alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder affects more than 17 million people in the United States, and the signs and symptoms aren’t always as clear-cut as what they portray in movies or TV shows. For instance, a person with alcoholism may not see they have a problem and insist that they are still in control of their drinking habit.
As with any type of addiction, however, knowing the warning signs and symptoms is the first step to overcoming alcohol dependency. While getting treatment for addiction is not easy for anyone, including the affected individual and their loved ones, it is a step that should be taken so a person can finally start a happy, healthy, and productive way of life.
Recognizing Alcoholism in Yourself
It can be difficult to tell if your drinking habits have become something apart from a mere social activity. Often, the best way to determine a drinking problem is to be very honest with yourself about the activities and consequences you’ve experienced from alcohol use. Furthermore, if you have asked yourself whether you have a drinking problem, there’s a fair chance that you do.
There is no exact formula to determine if an individual is struggling with alcohol addiction, however, there are several self-assessment quizzes that you can take to help you better understand your relationship with alcohol.
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One of the most popular is the CAGE Assessment, which includes the following four questions:
- Have you ever felt you should CUT down on your drinking?
- Have you ever felt ANNOYED when people criticize your drinking habits?
- Have you ever felt GUILTY about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning? (EYE-OPENER)
Answering yes to 1 of the questions suggests a low risk of problematic drinking.
Answering yes to 2 or 3 questions suggests a high chance of alcoholism.
Answering yes to all 4 questions shows there is indeed a problem and you should consult a medical professional or seek treatment and therapy.
Common Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder
In addition to the insights gained from using the CAGE assessment, you may also check for other symptoms of alcohol addiction, which may vary according to a person’s mental state, pre-existing medical conditions (if any), and other factors.
Below are commonly reported symptoms experienced by individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder.
- A strong craving to drink. The desire to drink alcohol is so strong that it can come in the way of focusing on other things in life.
- Increased tolerance. The individual requires more alcohol to get to the same effects and often ends up drinking more because of it.
- Inability to drop the habit. This is when a person has tried giving up alcohol but was unable to do so, or told themselves they wouldn’t drink but still ended up drinking.
- Drinking and recovery consume a lot of your time. Increasing time spent on activities related to drinking and recovering from drinking is a clear indication that alcohol use is taking a large part of your day.
- The appearance of withdrawal symptoms. When the body gets used to having alcohol in the system, this can cause several physical and psychological responses when drinking suddenly stops. For more details on alcohol withdrawal signs and symptoms, see below.
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
The information used in this section can be used to detect an alcohol problem in another individual. Many of the signs are behavioral and, as such, can be used to determine alcoholism in others.
- It’s common for individuals with alcoholism to downplay the negative consequences of their drinking habits, sometimes even blaming it on others.
- Hiding the drinking problem. The person may drink in secret and may not even show their drinking problems around people at work. However, they may have several bottles stashed around in their home, and even in the car.
- Drinking in dangerous situations. An individual struggling with alcohol addiction may continue to drink while driving, working (especially in high-risk jobs), and put themselves and others at risk.
- Problems with the law. A DUI arrest or any other type of legal problem can be an indicator that the person’s drinking habits require professional medical help.
- Affected relationships with friends and loved ones. Because a person with alcoholism may not see that they have a problem, this can create a rift between friendships and romantic relationships.
- Failure to fulfill major responsibilities. The person has trouble or can’t keep up with expected roles and responsibilities at work, home, or in school.
- Not being aware of actions while intoxicated. As soon as the person is conscious or sober, they may not have any recollection of their actions while drinking. This can also lead them to commit or be the victim of crime.
- Deteriorating health. The development of negative health conditions such as dementia, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, gout, and infectious diseases can also result from excessive drinking.
- Violent or aggressive outbursts. The person is prone to showing aggression or becoming violent, such as when confronted about the drinking.
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and activities. Because the individual with alcoholism spends a lot of his time around getting intoxicated, they may no longer engage in activities or join social gatherings that were once important to them.
- Changes in appearance and peer choices. In some cases, the person may choose to spend more time around others who enable their drinking habits.
Signs of Alcohol Intoxication
Recognizing when someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction is the best way to determine if they need help. If you’re not sure that they have an addiction but would like to monitor their drinking lifestyle, below are common signs of intoxication that can help you find out how often someone is drinking:
- Flushed face
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot eyes
- Lack of coordination
- Rambling or repetitive statements
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Agitation or anxiety
- Glassy eyes
- Blank stare
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcoholism can also become more serious when a person experiences withdrawal symptoms, which often requires medical attention to mitigate the risks.
Mild symptoms may take as early as 6 hours to show, and these may include the following:
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- Shaking or trembling
- Loss of appetite
In more severe cases of withdrawal, which can occur between 12 to 48 hours after the last drink, an individual may experience:
- Vivid hallucinations
- High blood pressure
- Excessive sweating (diaphoresis)
When you notice the above-mentioned symptoms in someone struggling with drinking, seek help immediately. It’s important for treatment to start as early as possible to give the person the best fighting chance against alcohol use disorder.
Other Complications That Can Develop from Alcoholism
Because alcohol is essentially a toxin, the body starts to suffer more lasting and serious health implications from regular and excessive drinking. And they can manifest as different conditions and diseases.
- Heart disease: Alcoholism may lead you to intake higher levels of fat and cholesterol, which also means you have a higher chance of developing heart disease.
- Liver damage: Acute alcohol intoxication may lead you to drink too much too fast. This becomes a problem for your liver if it can’t keep up flushing the toxin out of your body. Alcohol also kills liver cells, and this can lead to cirrhosis.
- Cancer: Because alcohol can damage different cells in your body, including the mouth, throat, and intestines, there’s been an established link between excessive drinking and the development of cancer in the liver, breast, intestines, and more.
- Anemia: A person may not eat properly due to their drinking, which can prevent the body from creating healthy red blood cells that distribute oxygen to the rest of the body.
- Brain and nervous system damage: Research shows that years of heavy drinking can result in alcohol-related brain damage, which in turn causes memory loss and impaired judgment.
- Gout: Alcoholic drinks that are high in purine can trigger elevated levels of uric acid in the bloodstream, which in turn can lead to gout or joint pain for those with alcohol use disorder.
Getting Help with Alcohol Addiction
By reading this guide, you’ve already taken a tremendous first step in learning the different signs and symptoms of alcoholism. If you or your loved one is experiencing any of the effects mentioned above and you suspect the cause is alcohol, then it’s time to get help. The sooner a person struggling with alcoholism can find the right treatment and approach, the sooner they can resume a life that’s free from the bonds of addiction.
Better Addiction Care is here to help everyone who is struggling with addiction to find the right path to recovery. If you would like to seek help for yourself or someone you love, please call us today. We’ll assess your needs and help you find the best treatment so you can begin your journey to personal healing.