Top Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism: Signs

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Alcohol has played a significant role in various cultures around the world. Humans have used alcohol to bond, celebrate, relax, and socialize since Antiquity. Alcohol is popular in modern society. In the United States, alcohol is everywhere; virtually every adult has had it. 

Alcohol is a potent drug, but its effects are limited and not dangerous when you drink small amounts. However, drinking too much for years may lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism. AUD is a massive problem in modern society, with millions of patients diagnosed yearly.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is difficult to define. You’ll find similar terms for alcoholism, like alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, or alcohol misuse. They mean the same: it’s the same disease defined in medical books. It’s a chronic condition where you always have the urge to drink alcohol. AUD can lead to significant health problems, like depression, liver damage, heart failure, and cancer. 

Professionals use a system of 11 criteria that must be present for a 12-month time before you are diagnosed with alcoholism. Of course, the more signs or symptoms you have, the more severe your condition is. Here’s what to look for:

  • you can’t control yourself when it comes to drinking; you always think about drinking
  • you avoid social activities, friends, and hobbies and prefer to drink alcohol
  • you want to stop drinking or drink less, but you can’t
  • you drink before doing something that may be dangerous, like driving or having unprotected sex
  • you have problems at work or at school caused by drinking too much
  • you want alcohol, especially when not drinking for several days
  • you can drink a lot before feeling drunk
  • you spend too much time or money on drinking; this affects your personal life
  • you experience withdrawal symptoms – you shake, sweat, feel nauseous or very hungry
  • you have to drink more to feel good
  • you still drink too much, even though you know it’s wrong

Is Alcoholism Common?

Yes, alcoholism is common! In fact, there are more alcoholics than you imagined. According to a report from Psychology Today, 68.5 million Americans went through some type of alcohol use disorder at some point in their lifetime. About 15 million Americans suffer from alcoholism, and millions get diagnosed yearly. 

Alcohol misuse is around us. 28.7 million Americans drove after drinking, according to a 2013 study. Almost 10,000 Americans die in car crashes caused by drinking too much. That’s about 27 deaths per day. Also, 290,000 Americans are injured in car crashes caused by alcohol every year.

Psychological and Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcohol has moderate effects, but they are visible after your first drink. This is what you will feel when drinking too much:

  • your reaction times are slower
  • you won’t be able to move or walk properly or in a straight line
  • you’ll feel dizzy or suffer from blackouts
  • you can’t speak properly, talk gibberish, and tend to repeat yourself
  • you forget even simple, basic things
  • you have impaired judgment and make poor decisions (like drunk driving)
  • you have poor eating habits; you avoid eating good food and prefer drinking instead
  • your appearance may change – you lose too much weight, look gaunt, or have dark circles under the eyes
  • you feel anxious, depressed, have a short attention span, or feel too happy
  • you have cognitive problems – you can’t think straight or experience brain fog

Your Behavioral Changes 

You will notice behavioral changes almost immediately after drinking. They are particularly visible when a person drinks too much. For starters, people who drink too much will be secretive. They will avoid talking about drinking and will drink at home, far from friends or family. This is because they don’t want advice or feel ashamed of drinking too much. 

Drinking too much may lead to accidents. Heavy drinkers will try to hide signs of injury and accidents and avoid talking about their recent negative experiences. Some will try to hide alcohol out of fear of running out of it. They will keep a steady supply nearby. 

Some drinkers may stop caring about hygiene. They may look like they are not showering, shaving, or poorly dressed. Some may stop changing clothes or taking showers. People that are usually calm and happy may become moody, depressed, impatient, or even aggressive. There are more behavioral signs to pay attention to, like:

  • they experience financial issues
  • they have legal problems
  • experience repetitive periods of drinking and stopping
  • overreacting, too much criticism, avoiding friends and family
  • showing up drunk at work, school, or important events

Are These Signs and Symptoms Reversible? 

Yes, they are, but you have to get treatment and support. For example, most drinkers that experience psychological issues may recover with adequate treatment after a year of sobriety. The outcome varies a lot, depending on multiple factors: how much you drink, your age, your support network, your financial situation, and your mental health status. The most important thing is to get help! Call our alcoholism hotline to get support!

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