10 Signs Of A Drinking Problem

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Identifying a drinking problem in yourself or a loved one can be the first step in getting help. Knowing the signs of alcohol abuse can help you understand whether you or a loved one may need professional help for a drinking problem.

Signs Of A Drinking Problem

Alcohol is a powerful substance that can become addictive. It’s one of the most commonly used substances in the United States, and one of the most frequently abused.

At the same time, a widespread social acceptance of drinking, as well as the stigma surrounding alcohol addiction, can make it difficult for some people to identify a drinking problem.

Here, you’ll find information on common signs of a drinking problem, dangers of alcohol abuse, and the best treatment options for someone with a drinking problem.

What Is A Drinking Problem?

A “drinking problem” is a colloquial term that’s often used to describe a pattern of alcohol abuse, or alcohol use disorder—the clinical diagnosis for alcohol addiction.

A drinking problem can be identified by certain behavioral, physical, and psychological signs of alcohol misuse. This can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

If you’re worried that you or a loved one have a drinking problem, here are 10 common signs of alcohol abuse to watch for:

1. Drinking Excessively

One of the most common signs of a drinking problem is frequent, heavy drinking.

This is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as:

  • For men: drinking four or more drinks in a day, or more than 14 drinks per week.
  • For women: drinking three or more drinks in a day, or more than 7 drinks per week.

Excessive drinking is a sign of a drinking problem in part because it can be a sign of a high tolerance to alcohol. It can also be a sign of physical or psychological dependence.

A high tolerance to alcohol can develop over time, with frequent and excessive alcohol consumption. This can alter how your body responds to alcohol and its effects.

2. Drinking More Often

People who have a drinking problem may not only increase the amount of alcohol they drink, but also how often they drink over time.

This can be a sign of a mental reliance on alcohol, a compulsive urge to drink, a sign of self-medicating with alcohol, and a sign of alcohol dependence.

For example, this could look like going from drinking only on weekends, to drinking daily. For some, this could turn into drinking throughout the day (i.e. day-drinking) as well as at night.

3. Physical Signs Of Alcohol Abuse

Heavy drinking and alcohol abuse can have mild to severe effects on the body, including both visible, physical side effects and internal damage to vital organs.

Physical signs of a drinking problem include:

  • regularly blacking out
  • dizziness
  • shakiness (tremors)
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • slurred speech
  • impaired balance and coordination
  • slow reflexes
  • jaundice (yellowed skin)
  • liver damage
  • kidney damage
  • malnutrition

4. Poor Mental Health

Alcohol abuse is associated with worsened mental health, in addition to effects on physical health outcomes. This is in part due to its interaction with brain chemicals associated with mood.

Someone with a drinking problem may appear:

  • depressed
  • increasingly anxious
  • stressed
  • moody
  • secretive
  • unmotivated
  • angry or aggressive
  • withdrawn from others

Your mental health can worsen the longer alcohol abuse continues.

This can occur both due to the effects of alcohol and, potentially, its impact on various areas of your life, such as your ability to work or maintain healthy, meaningful relationships.

5. Drinking To Relieve Stress Or Anxiety

Drinking alcohol as a form of stress relief, or to relieve anxiety, can be a sign of a drinking problem if it’s a behavior that occurs regularly and gets worse over time.

This use of alcohol is a form of self-medication, by which a person may attempt to medicate struggles with mental health, or other life problems, with alcohol.

Signs of this might include:

  • joking about drinking very often
  • using stress as an excuse to drink excessively
  • appearing increasingly anxious when sober
  • grabbing a drink when anxious, sad, or stressed
  • refusing or neglecting healthy coping strategies (e.g. therapy, exercise)

6. Missing Work Or School Due To Drinking

Your drinking can become a problem if you find yourself frequently missing work or school as a result of either drinking or effects of a hangover.

This can also affect:

  • caregiving responsibilities
  • interpersonal relationships
  • ability to care for children
  • academic or work performance

What’s more, those with a drinking problem may not recognize the extent of the problem, even when it does occur often, or may feel powerless to stop or curb their drinking.

7. Skipping Activities Due To Interference With Drinking

When someone develops a drinking problem, it can become all-consuming.

You may become less interested in activities you previously enjoyed, or feel unmotivated to explore new interests that don’t involve alcohol.

8. Constantly Thinking About Drinking

A constant preoccupation with alcohol, or obsessively thinking about alcohol, is a prominent sign of an alcohol use disorder.

This can develop in someone with a drinking problem not only due to a physical reliance on alcohol (dependence) but also due to alcohol’s effects on the brain.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can affect the activity of certain chemicals in your brain, and their response to the presence of alcohol in your system.

You may find yourself:

  • thinking about your next drink
  • thinking about how to get more alcohol
  • worrying about being hungover
  • having difficulty concentrating on little else

9. Feeling Sick Within Hours Of Your Last Drink

Alcohol abuse can cause what’s known as physical dependence and symptoms of withdrawal if you go too long without drinking. For some, this can occur within hours of your last drink.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause serious symptoms in cases of chronic or severe alcoholism, including seizures, hallucinations, fever, racing heart rate, and even death.

Mild and moderate signs of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • shaking of the hands (tremors)
  • headache
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sweating
  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • fatigue
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite

10. Being Unable To Cut Down On Drinking

One of the primary signs of alcohol addiction is a compulsive urge to continue drinking alcohol despite the negative consequences it may have on your life.

Examples of this might include:

  • physical health problems
  • losing a job
  • relationship problems
  • financial problems
  • getting into trouble with the law
  • difficulty focusing

You may recognize your inability to cut down on alcohol, or you may not.

Regardless, due to either a mental reliance on alcohol and/or alcohol dependence, you may feel unable to control or stop your alcohol use.

What Are The Dangers Of Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse can have serious effects on your physical health, cognitive faculties, judgment, and other areas of life.

Some of the greatest risks and dangers of alcohol abuse include:

  • motor vehicle accidents (due to driving under the influence)
  • severe alcohol dependence
  • engaging in risky behaviors (e.g. unsafe sex)
  • increased risk for various cancers
  • liver damage and disease
  • effects on mental health
  • risk of suicide
  • risk of accidents or falls

Getting help for a drinking problem, and even recognizing it for what it is, isn’t always easy. But it can be one of the most important decisions you ever make for yourself.

What Is The Best Treatment For A Drinking Problem?

Alcohol abuse may require outpatient or inpatient treatment, depending on the severity of your drinking problem, your overall health, and other personal factors.

Treatment for alcohol abuse generally involves:

Each person’s treatment plan for a drinking problem will depend on their own personal needs.

By reaching out for help, you can start on the path towards finding a treatment program that works best for you.

Get Help For A Drinking Problem Today

Knowing the signs of a drinking problem is just the first step. Help is available.

Call us today to learn more about signs of alcohol abuse and how to find high-quality alcohol treatment options at a treatment center near you.


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