Ten Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Empty Bottles

There are various ways to determine whether you or someone else has a drinking problem. Knowing the warning signs listed below can help you determine when it is time to seek help.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

There are several signs that may indicate a drinking problem. Alcohol abuse is defined in the DSM-IV-TR as "A maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress." In order to achieve clinical diagnosis for alcohol dependence, the patient must display three symptoms of dependence, which are listed below.

Sign 1: Inability to Limit Alcohol Intake

According to the Mayo Clinic, a significant warning sign for alcoholism is one's inability to limit his or her alcohol intake. When someone knows he or she should stop drinking but continues consuming alcohol anyway, it is cause for concern. Other symptoms associated with the inability to limit alcohol intake include:

  • A strong compulsion to drink
  • The inability to differentiate between needing and wanting a drink

Sign 2: Increased Tolerance to Alcohol's Effects

The University of Rochester notes heavy drinkers with a possible drinking problem develop a tolerance for alcohol during prolonged periods of heavy drinking. Developing such a tolerance drives individuals to consume progressively greater amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the same effects. Increased tolerance manifests as a decreased sensitivity to alcohol, as well as faster alcohol metabolism.

Sign 3: Drinking Alone

For casual drinkers, consuming alcoholic beverages is often a social activity engaged in with friends, acquaintances, and family. The National Institutes of Health's Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse Fact Sheet lists drinking alone as a warning sign of alcoholism.

Sign 4: Hiding Alcohol Intake

The National Institutes of Health also lists hiding alcohol use as a warning sign. Behaviors associated with this symptom may include hiding bottles of alcohol around the house, minimizing the amount of alcohol consumed, or drinking in secret.

Sign 5: Spending Increasing Time Obtaining, Consuming, or Recovering from Alcohol

Drinking can take a toll on activities. According to the DSM-IV-TR, people who continue to expand their drinking so that activities surrounding alcohol, ranging from obtaining it to recovering from it, may be showing signs of a drinking problem.

Sign 6: Engaging in Violent Behavior when Drinking

If someone is only violent when they drink, then they could have a drinking problem. According to an Alcohol Alert issued by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and violent behavior. This likely occurs because alcohol lowers inhibitions and distorts interpretation of social cues.

Sign 7: Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is a sign of addiction. Alcohol, like many other drugs, is a physically addictive substance. Quitting cold turkey or missing drinks, according to WebMD, can trigger withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness, particularly in the morning after going all night without a drink
  • Sweating

The British Journal of Addiction completed a research report on alcohol withdrawal that also included the following:

  • Auditory disturbances
  • Visual disturbances
  • Tactile disturbances
  • Agitation
  • Headache

Sign 8: Experiencing Changes in Activities and Lifestyle

The National Institutes of Health lists a number of lifestyle changes that may occur when drinking becomes a problem.

  • Neglecting proper nutrition and physical appearance
  • Missing work, school, or other activities
  • Experiencing a decline in performance at work, school, etc.

Sign 9: Making Excuses to Drink

A person with a drinking problem may make excuses to drink, according to the New York Times Health Guide to Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. For example, someone with a drinking problem may decide they need a drink because they had a bad day or deserve one because they accomplished something worth celebrating. While many people have a drink after a bad day or in celebration, habitually finding excuses to drink may signal a problem.

Sign 10: Experiencing Physical Symptoms

Alcoholism may also manifest physical symptoms, according to LiveStrong. These may include:

  • Blackouts after drinking
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Trembling hands
  • Weight gain
  • Skin changes
  • Bad breath

Finding Help

If you feel you or someone you care about has an alcohol addiction, help is available. The US Department of Health and Human Services has a free information and referral line that can help you find help in your area. To contact the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Ten Warning Signs of Alcoholism