Health

Signs of Alcoholism

Young man with a bottle. Alcoholism concept.
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Are you worried that someone you love may be developing an unhealthy relationship to alcohol? 

People suffering from “Alcohol-use disorder” (as it’s known among healthcare professionals) are unable to control their drinking despite painful physical, emotional, and interpersonal consequences. AUD covers the spectrum of alcohol-related problems, from early abuse through to dependence and finally addiction (alcoholism). 

AUD affects every aspect of a person’s being. Left untreated, symptoms often worsen over time.

AUD can’t be diagnosed using a checklist, as it produces different combinations of symptoms in different individuals. That said, here are some common signs of alcoholism that you may notice:

Early Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Most alcoholics start out as problem-drinkers. They damage their own lives and relationships through drinking, though they may not yet be physically addicted. Early warning signs of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Habitual lateness and/or “sick” days.
  • Hangovers
  • Continuing to drink despite the problems it causes 

Behavioral Symptoms

These are actions that an alcoholic may perform (or fail to perform) as a result of their drinking.

  • Showing poor physical coordination
  • Slurring speech
  • Drinking alone
  • Developing tolerance (That is, they need to drink more than they once did to get the same effect.) 
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school because of their drinking
  • Putting themselves into physically dangerous situations (like driving) when intoxicated
  • Becoming secretive about their drinking (They may hide alcohol or lie about how many drinks they’ve had.)
  • Having trouble maintaining relationships, both personal and professional
  • Continuing to drink despite the problems it causes in their life

Psychological Symptoms

Here are some of the mental and emotional effects often experienced by problem-drinkers. 

  • Craving alcohol
  • Suffering blackouts or impaired memory
  • Showing poor judgement
  • Struggling with depression and anxiety
  • Feeling unable to cut back or stop drinking even though they want to.

Physical Symptoms

Alcohol abuse has both immediate and long-term effects on the body. Visible signs of alcoholism may include:

  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and upset stomach
  • Flushed face
  • Frequent, unexplained bruises and other injuries (These happen because alcohol affects balance, coordination, and spatial awareness.) 
  • Repeated infections and illnesses
  • Poor hygiene and grooming

If some of these symptoms sound familiar, consult a medical professional who is qualified to diagnose and treat substance abuse disorders. 

Some families delay this step because of the stigma that our culture attaches to alcoholism. In reality, alcoholism, like other addictions, is a brain-based illness. Recovery is much more likely if the alcoholic is supported by a dedicated and compassionate team of specialists.