7 Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder, commonly as alcoholism, affects some 5.3 percent of the American population. That means 14.5 million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. At the same time, this disorder, which is characterized by seeking behavior, inability to quit, and uncontrollable drinking, results in over 95,000 deaths in the United States each year. While most of these are indirect, with alcohol resulting in road accidents, liver failure, and heart disease – others are direct, with an average of 6 people dying of alcohol poisoning every single day.
Alcohol is accepted, sometimes expected, and extremely common in social situations. It’s also an intoxicant which can cause addiction, mental health problems, and physical health problems. If you or a loved one is drinking too much, their life could depend on getting help. While the signs and symptoms of alcoholism can vary depending on the person, their health, their personality, weight, etc., alcohol is always bad for you and your health.
1. Tolerance Forces You to Drink More
Whether you’re drinking to have fun, drinking for stress relief, or drinking to be sociable, it’s important to pay attention to how much you have to drink. For example, if you find yourself having to drink more to achieve the same results, you might want to cut back. Tolerance happens when you have alcohol at a frequent enough pace that your body adjusts. If you keep having to escalate how much you drink to achieve a desired effect, you’re drinking too much. Of course, some tolerance is normal. Nearly everyone likely remembers the first time they had a beer and were tipsy. But, if you find yourself consistently adding more alcohol into drinks, you’re likely setting yourself up for addiction and physical health problems.
If you’re drinking regularly during the week, it’s probably a bad idea. Most adults should have more than half to a full beer a day depending on gender, age, and weight. If you’re drinking more than four servings of alcohol in as many hours, you’re binge drinking. And, if you’re doing so regularly, you’re definitely causing yourself health problems.
2. You Hide Alcohol Usage
Almost everyone in the United States drinks. It’s accepted, it’s common, and some people find it shocking when you don’t drink. So, if you find yourself hiding drinking, you’re probably drinking in ways outside the norm. That is always a bad sign for yourself and for your ability to put alcohol down.
For example, if you drink in the morning or during the day. If you drink and drive. Or, if you hide alcohol at work and drink to cope with stress there. You also likely have a problem if you find yourself engaging in behavior like refilling bottles, hiding bottles, or switching to cheaper brands of alcohol so you can continue affording your habit. The more you feel ashamed of drinking, the more likely it is that there is a very real reason for that – and the more likely it is you should reevaluate your drinking habits and consider quitting.
That also holds true if your loved one is hiding drinking. Drinking and then hiding the bottles is not part of normal alcohol use. That holds true whether it’s refilling bottles, so alcohol use goes unnoticed, if it’s hiding bottles behind a couch or another obstacle, or secretly purchasing alcohol and sneaking it into the house. This is not normal or healthy behavior and is almost always indicative of a problem.
3. You Can’t Quit
If you’ve tried and failed to quit, you have a problem. If you’ve considered quitting and keep putting it off, you probably have a problem. And, if you realize that your alcohol use is harmful to you or your relationships but keep finding excuses to keep drinking, you probably have a problem. Alcoholism normally means developing symptoms of substance seeking, compulsive drinking, and cravings. If you stop, you’ll find yourself picking up alcohol out of habit. You’ll experience cravings. Or you’ll keep finding reasons not to quit just yet – even if they’re trivial. E.g., you’ve’ been invited to an office party and you don’t want your coworkers to know you want to quit.
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4. You Drink More than Intended
1 in 6 Americans regularly binge drinks. That’s inherently unhealthy. However, if you frequently find yourself binge drinking when you didn’t intend to, you likely have a problem. This is best exemplified by the idea that you go into a bar or into drinking with the intention to have a few beers or drinks and then go home. You eventually do not and drink significantly more than intended. You might black out or have memory gaps. If you do this consistently when drinking, it’s a very big sign that you want to get help.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally drinking too much. But those incidents should be once or twice a year at most.
5. You’re Preoccupied with Drinking
It’s normal to occasionally look forward to going out drinking with friends. But the alcohol should never be the primary attraction of doing so. If you spend significant amounts of time planning to drink, thinking about drinking, or craving alcohol, it likely means you have a problem. Normally, people will spend some attention on alcohol, especially if they are into craft or other special alcohol, and then will enjoy it, typically with friends. If you’re set on drinking, no matter what it is, that is a completely different story. For example, if you skip meals so you can drink more without impacting your diet or so that you get drunk faster. If you spend significantly more on alcohol than intended. Or, if you drive out of your way to acquire alcohol.
People with alcohol use disorders spend time thinking about alcohol when stressed, when at work, when in social situations, etc. People without alcohol use disorders will rarely think about alcohol during these situations.
6. You Allow Alcohol to Harm Your Life
Drinking is a social activity, and it should be a way to have fun or to relax when used correctly. If you find yourself drinking to the point where you’re experiencing negative consequences, that is unlikely to be the case. For example, if you drink to the point of having a hangover that impacts performance at work. If you drink at work or before driving. If you drink to the point where family and friends are upset at you. If drinking causes your mood to change, which impacts your relationship with family members.
Eventually, if you realize alcohol is negatively affecting your life and you continue drinking anyway, you have a problem.
7. You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
If you fee hungover, sick, or down when you don’t drink, it’s likely withdrawal symptoms. People who drink regularly often confuse these symptoms with a hangover. Then, they drink more alcohol too quickly for symptoms to escalate or for them to notice the symptoms don’t go away. But, if you consistently experience general malaise, cold and flu symptoms, tremors, and anxiety when you don’t drink for any period of time – you have a problem. These symptoms require medical evaluation and often medically supervised alcohol detox. In fact, if there is a case in which you find it unusual that you don’t drink for any period of time, you likely have a problem.
Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. Millions more abuse alcohol regularly. If you’re struggling, there is help and it is accessible, covered by insurance, and available in formats designed to fit into your lifestyle. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism ruin lives, they ruin your health, and they create risks for you and your family. Getting help works – allowing you to get treatment for underlying problems, to build coping mechanisms, and to build a better and healthier life for yourself.