Alcoholism is a disease commonly stigmatized by society. For this reason, many individuals who abuse alcohol and those close to them deny or overlook overt signs there is a problem. This is a potentially destructive and life-threatening approach, however, as abuse can swiftly turn into a dependence and full-blown addiction, and devastating health, social, legal, and financial consequences can be incurred at any time.
Outward physical signs of alcoholism include, but are not limited to the following:
- The smell of alcohol on the breath
- Noticeable weight gain or loss
- Flushed appearance or red face
- Brittle hair and fingernails
- Dry skin
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Premature aging
- Intoxication-related bruises due to accidents or violence
A critical sign of alcoholism is jaundice, which causes the skin and eyes to take on a yellowish tint. This is a potentially life-threatening condition that may indicate that liver failure is imminent and requires medical intervention.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting these signs, alcohol dependence may be imminent or already present. Alcohol abusers and their loved ones should learn how to recognize the warning signs of alcoholism and seek help as soon as possible.
Lying About Drinking Habits or Hiding
Persons experiencing a drinking problem tend to conceal and be deceptive about their alcohol use, expecting that others might not notice or those who are suspicious will not gather enough evidence to be utterly convinced that the development of severe brain disease is underway.
Moreover, those with alcohol abuse issues may have a propensity to drink alone or hide somewhere locked away to drink, and lie about their drinking habits and go to lengths to keep their “secret.” Despite attempts to do so, those close to these individuals often suspect or know unhealthy behavior is going on.
Not Being Able to Quit Binge Drinking and Having Blackouts
If an individual regularly finds that they can’t stop drinking until the alcohol is depleted, a blackout occurs, or they pass out, they likely have a very concerning drinking problem. Not being able to regulate how much alcohol one consumes is a hallmark indication of alcohol abuse.
If drinking leads to a blackout and the person emerges from the episode with little or no memory of it, this suggests that they have drunk way too much. If these episodes are repeated and frequent, they point to having serious issues with alcohol abuse.
Drinking in Risky Situations and Behaving Impulsively
If someone has an alcohol use disorder, they will drink despite being aware of the adverse outcomes these actions may cause. A person with this condition may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Drinking despite a doctor’s warnings
- Consuming alcohol despite an awareness of an underlying mental or physical health condition that alcohol use will exacerbate
- Drinking while operating a motor vehicle or machinery
- Drinking alcohol before going to a job or school
- Stealing money or other items to get money to obtain alcohol
Such risk-taking behavior reveals that the individual is intoxicated to the degree that they are incapable of understanding the potential consequences of their actions and prioritizes alcohol use over their own well-being or the safety of others.
Actively concealing alcohol consumption often goes far beyond secretiveness and deception and into straight denial. It’s extremely common for persons who abuse alcohol to deny they have a problem or understate it. They often do so in an attempt to convince others that their habits are not concerning, so they don’t interfere. Common characteristics of denial include the following:
- Minimizing how much alcohol a person is consuming
- Disregarding or shrugging off adverse consequences of drinking
- Asserting that loved ones who express concern are exaggerating
- Blaming drinking habits on other individuals, such as a spouse
- Claiming that a drinking habit is not a problem because the person is functioning in the workplace or academically
- Contending that the habits of “true” alcoholics are worse than oneself
Alcohol Has Become the Focus of Life
A person with an alcohol use disorder has few things in mind besides alcohol and when they can have the next drink. These are signs that the individual has become preoccupied with alcohol:
- Spending a significant amount of time seeking, obtaining, and consuming alcohol and recovering from its use
- Avoiding activities in which alcohol cannot be consumed
- Preferring to hang out with people who also have a drinking or drug problem instead of loved ones who do not drink or do so responsibly
Loss of Interest Hobbies and Activities Once Enjoyed
Persons who regularly abuse alcohol tend to abandon hobbies and activities they once considered important or enjoyable. This consequence can result from physical symptoms or the simple fact that they have little time or energy left for activities they once engaged in due to alcohol-related pursuits.
Drinking as an Escape from Life’s Stresses
Many people who begin drinking often do so to escape stressful conditions in their surroundings or self-medicate away adverse feelings such as anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, frustration, resentment, etc.
Reduced Performance at the Workplace or School
Chronic alcohol abuse can take complete control over the life of the drinker. Focusing on and spending considerable time on obtaining/using alcohol and suffering through the corresponding physical and emotional effects often render a person far less capable of performing competently in other areas of life. These may include poor academic performance, absenteeism at school or work, and declining workplace performance.
Neglecting Duties and Obligations
Those who abuse alcohol often neglect their personal and professional duties and responsibilities for the following reasons:
- Due to being intoxicated or recovering from intoxication, they are physically or mentally incapable of completing the tasks asked of them
- They are mentally incapable of focusing on duties or carrying them out with competence
- They prefer to dedicate their time, physical energy, and focus to activities related to alcohol consumption
Maintaining Relationships Is Challenging
People who abuse alcohol regularly often find it difficult to form and sustain healthy relationships. Moreover, they may engage in the following behavior that is destructive to relationships:
- They are deceptive about their drinking habits
- They become irritated, hostile, or violent with others who confront them with concerns
- They sometimes blame loved ones for their own drinking habits and problem
- They withdraw socially and isolate themselves from others to hide their drinking habits
- They voluntarily break ties with loved ones if they feel they are trying to intervene
- They neglect responsibilities, which ends up putting physical or financial burden on loved ones
- They get themselves into legal trouble related to alcohol-related crimes
Developing a Tolerance and Dependence
Chronic alcohol use almost always results in tolerance, indicating that the person increasingly needs more alcohol to achieve the desired level of intoxication. Increasing tolerance should serve as a clear sign that abuse is developing into an addiction.
The presence of withdrawal symptoms is another unmistakable indication of alcoholism. The occurrence of these symptoms implies that the brain and body have become so accustomed to having alcohol present in their system that it responds violently when alcohol use is discontinued. This condition is known as dependence.
The following are common alcohol withdrawal symptoms:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Insomnia/sleep disturbances
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Being Unable to Quit Despite Multiple Attempts
Many individuals who have a drinking problem are informed about the potential health and social consequences and, as a result, are genuinely motivated to quit. Other people wish to reclaim their lives, professional careers, or relationships that alcohol use has already damaged or destroyed. Experiencing the desire to stop drinking and failing to do so for any extended period is a surefire sign of alcoholism.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
People who experience an alcohol use disorder are encouraged to undergo medical detox followed closely by a transition to long-term, intensive addiction treatment. This treatment should include evidence-based approaches, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer individualized treatment programs on an inpatient (residential) and intensive outpatient basis. Our services are provided by caring medical and mental health professionals who ensure those we treat develop the skills they need to fully recover and experience sobriety and wellness for the rest of their lives.