December 9, 2021 Alcohol

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Sometimes life hits you with a problem with no warning at all. Other times, you may have hints of a problem, but you may not know exactly where to look for confirmation or assistance. When it comes to alcoholism, every person’s situation is different. However, alcohol addiction is a chronic illness, and it does come along with some cardinal warning signs.

Here’s what you need to know about the warning signs of alcoholism and what you can do if you are struggling with alcoholism.

Classifying Alcoholism

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is a common condition affecting more than 14 million Americans each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). That means that if you are worried that you may have signs of alcohol addiction, you are not alone. When a person has alcohol addiction, it’s different from drinking alcohol excessively. Excessive alcohol use can have health problems and consequences that go along with it; however, it does not include a physical or mental dependency on alcohol.

In alcoholism, a person’s physical state or mental state—or a combination of both—is intertwined with their alcohol intake. They may be starting to notice that once they start drinking, they cannot stop. The NIAAA defines alcoholism as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupation, or health consequences.” As alcoholism takes hold, it generally has some warning signs.

Identifying Signs of Alcoholism

warning signs of alcoholism.

While each individual who suffers from alcoholism has their personal story and history that has led to their addiction, alcoholism as a disease has certain universal characteristics. Here are some warning signs to look out for that might indicate that you are heading down a road toward alcoholism.

You’re Drinking Alcohol at Untraditional Times of the Day

If you find yourself beginning your day with alcohol—for example, pouring a shot into your coffee or taking a swig of hard liquor—it might be a warning sign that you are developing an alcohol use disorder. This behavior can sometimes help people overcome a hangover or manage the anxiety of the day in front of them. However, drinking first thing in the morning, or at the beginning of your day, is a phenomenon known by medical professionals as an “eye-opener,” and it is common in substance abuse conditions. It is also part of the four-part survey known as a CAGE Substance Abuse Screening Tool that health professionals use to help patients identify alcoholism.

Alcohol Use Is Impacting Your Mental Health

If you have started feeling like alcohol dictates your mental state, it may be a warning sign of alcoholism. Sometimes, people will feel depressed because they are beginning to lose control of their drinking behavior. They may feel bad or guilty about their drinking, so they start to retreat from social or professional contacts. Other times, people may feel like the only way to get their anxiety under control is by taking a drink. The mere thought of not having alcohol nearby makes them anxious. Whether it is fueling anxiety or depression, alcohol can play a role in mental health.

Your Alcohol Use Is Contributing to Other Health Problems

If you have begun to develop other medical conditions because of your alcohol use, it may be a warning sign of alcoholism. Drinking alcohol can make you lose weight if you start losing track of when and how much you are eating. Alcohol can also contribute to conditions like high blood pressure and liver inflammation. When you are drinking, you may also be more vulnerable to getting injured, getting into fights, or contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If any of these scenarios sound familiar, it may be because your alcohol use is affecting your overall health.

You’ve Wondered if You May Be Abusing Alcohol

If you’re concerned that you may be addicted to alcohol, that worry may itself be a warning sign of alcoholism. Health professionals can investigate a person’s problematic relationship with alcohol by simply asking a patient if they have ever felt they should cut down on their drinking. If you are asking yourself this question or have asked it in the past, it may be for a good reason.

The Effects of Alcohol Are Waning

People often drink alcohol for the sensation that it provides. As a depressant substance, alcohol can “take the edge off” and help you relax. For people who generally have a great deal of anxiety, the effects of alcohol can feel freeing. It can make them feel uninhibited, like they are a better version of themselves. One warning sign that you may have a problem with alcoholism is taking more alcohol to get these same effects. Two drinks may have gotten you to that care-free state of inhibition in the past, but now you may need to have at least four drinks to feel like the life of the party. That is a phenomenon called tolerance, and it means that your body has adapted and requires more of a substance to get the same desired effect.

You Have Gone Into Alcohol Withdrawal When You Stopped Drinking

If you are veering toward alcoholism, you may find that you keep drinking just because you don’t like the side effects of not drinking. Going through alcohol withdrawal can be highly uncomfortable, and it is common for people to experience withdrawal symptoms like depression, anxiety, tiredness, irritability, headaches, shaking, appetite loss, sleep disturbances, headaches, and even nausea and vomiting. Alcohol withdrawal can be severe for some people, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, confusion, and even fatal seizures. To avoid these symptoms, people find themselves trapped in a cycle in which they just keep drinking.

You’ve Gotten Into Binge Drinking

You may begin to suspect that you are venturing toward alcoholism if your drinking behavior has changed. Many people find that they begin selecting for the strongest forms of alcohol—hard liquor—instead of drinking beverages with a lower concentration, like beer or wine. It could also be a sign that you are developing an alcohol use disorder if you regularly consume a large number of drinks during each session. According to the CDC, this is generally five or more drinks in one binge. Binge drinking can lead to blackouts or periods of a lack of memory—another potential sign of an alcohol use disorder.

You’re Dabbling With Other Forms of Substance Abuse

If you find that your drinking is opening the door to other forms of substance abuse that you wouldn’t normally engage with unless you were drinking, then it may be another warning sign of alcoholism. Drinking and then using other substances can lower your inhibitions, and you may drink even more. Such behavior can also open you up to more of the negative consequences associated with alcoholism.

You’ve Continued to Drink Even When You Know You Shouldn’t

Maybe you’ve noticed that your drinking is simply affecting everything in your life. Many people with alcoholism find they cannot stop drinking even though they are aware that their alcohol intake is affecting their job performance, their daily functioning, and their general interactions with the world. Feeling like you know you should cut back but can’t be a sign of alcoholism.

You’ve Stopped Talking to Friends Who Don’t Go Drinking With You

One sign of an alcohol use disorder is a complete shift in a person’s social network. If you no longer hang out with people in non-alcohol settings (like at a coffee shop or the movies) and exclusively socialize in places where you can drink, this may be a warning sign. You may have also noticed that the only friends you talk to anymore are the people you drink with because the other relationships in your life have dropped off. If this is the case, it may be a warning sign of alcoholism.

A Loved One Has Told You They’re Worried About Your Drinking

If you have had a loved one criticize your drinking or flat out encourage you to get medical advice or professional help, it may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder. Being annoyed that someone was talking to you about your alcohol intake or asking questions about your drinking patterns might be another signal.

You Are Only Focused on the Short Term

If everything you do daily revolves around getting and then drinking alcohol, this may be a warning sign of alcoholism. People who are becoming addicted to alcohol find it hard to focus on any long-term goals. Instead, they get bogged down in the immediate short-term gratification of seeking and consuming alcohol.