Skip to content

Identifying Alcoholism Warning Signs

Alcohol consumption is common but borders on abuse when it becomes a predictable and excessive pattern. Someone who has a history of prolonged alcohol abuse may reveal drastically different personality traits when they’re drunk, or when they try to stop drinking. An inability to control one’s drinking can signal alcoholism or feeling guilty about one’s drinking habits can signal an underlying problem. Knowing the warning signs of alcoholism can help victims get treatment sooner and save lives.

Warning Signs Of Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse is a complicated disorder that occurs for many reasons. Some individuals abuse alcohol for comfort or to cope with emotional distress or anxiety, while others can result from poor drinking management. Drinking alcohol in moderation does not necessarily lead to alcoholism, but the only way to prevent alcoholism entirely is to abstain.

Understanding the signs of alcoholism can help save a life. If someone binge drinks, especially if they do so frequently, this could be a sign. Binge drinking for a man is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in under 2 hours, whereas for women it is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks in less than 2 hours. Those who engage in a pattern of binge drinking, are more likely to develop a tolerance to alcohol, which is another warning sign of alcoholism.

A tolerance occurs when an individual has to consume greater amounts of alcohol to feel the same effects. Binge drinking can easily transition into heavy drinking once a tolerance has set in. Heavy drinking is defined as a man consuming 14 or more drinks in a week or women consuming 7 or more drinks in a week.

Someone who has developed alcoholism, may make excuses for drinking, feel hungover when not drinking, or drink instead of handling everyday activities. Other warning signs of beginning, intermediate or advanced alcoholism include:

  • Weight loss or gain because of drinking.
  • Drinking alone.
  • Drinking secretly.
  • Enduring financial problems because of drinking habits.
  • Combining alcohol with other substances (ie. marijuana, heroin, cocaine).
  • Feeling depressed when sober.
  • Being drunk (or revealing drunk behavior, slurred speech, anxiety, poor coordination).
  • Talking about increased alcohol use or expressing concerns with drinking.

Alcohol Withdrawal: A Warning Sign of Advanced Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol withdrawal is a severe set of symptoms that occur during heavy drinking or prolonged drinking. Withdrawal symptoms occur after long bouts of alcohol use as it changes the brain’s chemical composition. Someone may feel the long-term effects of alcohol-related brain damage after five or more days of heavy or binge drinking.

Such long-term effects of the brain can impact nerves throughout the body, deeply affecting the emotional and wellbeing. For one, withdrawal causes disruptive side effects, like feeling hungover, feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability. This occurs because the brain has gotten use to the dopamine release, producing euphoric feelings after drinking.

Within 12 hours, individuals can typically feel anxiety, shaking, vomiting and nausea. Between 12 and 24 hours, disorientation, seizures, and hand tremors typically occur. After 48-hours post-ingestion, seizures, insomnia, Delirium Tremens and sweating. Delirium Tremens is a serious condition brought on by alcohol abuse which creates hallucinations, altered mind state (confusion), hyperactivity, and eventually cardiac failure.

Risk Factors Of Alcoholism

Warning signs for alcoholism can stem from a host of risk factors. For example, someone may have genetic ties to alcohol abuse. Children who grow up seeing parents drink are far more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Another risk factor for alcoholism is a history of drinking too much. This is one of the more detectable ways to discover if someone struggles with or may battle alcoholism.

Additionally, someone with a history of unhealed trauma, or mental or emotional conditions are more likely to suffer alcohol abuse. Using alcohol as an escape mechanism can encourage someone to develop a drinking habit that can become a health risk. Lastly, someone with a history of substance abuse can be at risk for alcoholism. This puts someone at risk for combining drugs with alcohol, increasing the chances of fatal and non-fatal overdose.

Drinking Questionnaire And Tests

There are drinking questionnaires and health screenings available for assessing whether or not one’s drinking habits are healthy. One of the most common is the Five-Shot Questionnaire Alcohol Screening Test. The questions allow for reflection on daily alcohol use and are as follows:

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

(0.0) Never

(0.5) Monthly or less

(1.0) Two to four times a month

(1.5) Two to three times a week

(2.0) Four or more times a week

2. How many drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day when you are drinking?

(0.0) 1 or 2

(0.5) 3 or 4

(1.0) 5 or 6

(1.5) 7 to 9

(2.0) 10 or more

3.Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

(0.0) No

(1.0) Yes

4. Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?

(0.0) No

(1.0) Yes

5. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

(0.0) No

(1.0) Yes

If the total exceeds 2.5 or more, this can reflect a drinking problem needing treatment. Healthcare settings use the C.A.G.E test, which asks individuals questions to uncover their drinking habits.

Get Help for Alcoholism Warning Signs Before It’s Too Late

Alcohol use disorders can spiral out of control. Finding help for treatment options is a call away. Discover how treatment methods like biofeedback, medication, and 12-Step groups can create positive change. Contact a treatment provider to discuss available options today.

  • Author: Krystina Murray | Last Updated: October 1, 2021

    Photo of Krystina Murray

    Krystina Murray

    Digital Content Writer

    Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University. She has over 7 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 17 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, cooking, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.

  • Medical Reviewer: David Hampton

  • Sources