While many people enjoy alcohol responsibly, many others have a difficult relationship with it. Alcoholism is a huge public health issue, but on an individual level it is responsible for serious physical and mental health problems as well as family and relationship issues. Alcohol abuse significantly increases the risk of serious – sometimes fatal – health conditions. There are many signs of alcohol addiction. Many people are in denial about the extent of their reliance on alcohol but recognizing them can be the first step in identifying that there is a problem and taking steps to prevent it from getting worse.
Early Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction
It can be tough to recognize the early warning signs of an alcohol problem, especially if the person you are worried about might be hiding their drinking habits. Seeing the early warning signs of an alcohol problem can lead to an intervention that can save a life, so do not underestimate the importance of dealing with any potential issue before it escalates. Early warning signs may include excessive drinking, hiding or being secretive about drinking habits, finding excuses to drink, and insisting on alcohol being part of an occasion.
The Most Common Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Every person is different, and each experience of alcohol addiction or dependency is different too. How one person exhibits the signs of alcohol addiction may be milder or less concerning than another. This does not necessarily mean that they are experiencing a milder case of alcohol addiction. Remember, many of the signs can be masked or hidden. It is important to be aware of the issue and vigilant for the following signs:
- An overwhelming compulsion to drink alcohol, even when it is harmful to health, finances, or relationships. This can lead to health problems, debt or relationship breakdown, and these issues also only reinforce the compulsion to drink in order to escape the reality of the consequences.
- Irritability, nervous tension, and mood swings. For example, quickly changing from happy to sad, often to the extreme. Unpredictable moods and changeability may depend on whether or not the person has ready access to alcohol.
- Feeling unable to turn down a drink, feeling powerless to stop drinking or stay away from places where alcohol is readily available. This might mean staying home, frequenting bars, or only spending time with friends who also drink.
- Losing interest in the things they once enjoyed such as hobbies, work, or recreational activities. This might mean taking time off work, giving up clubs, neglecting pets or hobbies or simply prioritizing drinking over other activities or responsibilities.
- Finding excuses to justify drinking – for example having drinks in the evening in order to sleep better, opening champagne to celebrate, having a quick drink to calm down, visiting a bar after a stressful day at work etc.
- Drinking despite the negative impacts of their behavior on the people around them, for example experiencing marriage problems directly or indirectly caused by drinking.
- Feeling or behaving hungover often; this is especially concerning if the feeling of being hungover comes even when the person has not been drinking. Some addicts have an ongoing hangover that rarely eases except when the person is drinking.
- Choosing to drink alone, privately or in secret. This might be in addition to social drinking, or it might be a change from social drinking to isolated drinking.
- Feeling depressed, experiencing high levels of anxiety, or exhibiting signs of mental health problems, for example, paranoia, periods of manic behavior or even hallucinations. Some of these symptoms might be linked to periods of not drinking as the body experiences withdrawal, and this makes it harder for the person to abstain.
- Denying how much they are drinking or lying about alcohol intake. This may be because they are in denial to themselves how bad the problem has become, or it may be an attempt to avoid being judged by anyone else.
- Getting into trouble with the law due to drinking, or risking getting into trouble with the law, for example drinking and driving. Poor judgement, especially in those who don’t typically make bad choices, can be a sign of physical addiction.
- Becoming increasingly isolated from other people such as family, friends, and the wider community. This may be out of shame or embarrassment, or a desire to protect others from the consequences of their drinking.
- Choosing to spend more time with new acquaintances who drink more heavily. Some alcohol addicts will change their social circle and even their appearance, to fit with a new identity that justifies the new drinking habit.
- Problems with memory, including short term memory loss. This might be a general absent-mindedness or a sensation of ‘brain fog’ and may occur with or without recent alcohol consumption.
- Increasing tolerance to alcohol – needing more alcohol in order to experience the same effects that a lesser amount once achieved or being able to ‘handle’ more drink.
- Having blackouts or drinking to the point of losing consciousness. This might be on purpose as a means of escape or accidentally through being unable to stop drinking once they start.
- Feeling nauseated, ill, or tired more often. These feelings may accompany other physical symptoms such as stomach pain, acid reflux etc.
Not all of these signs have to be present in order for a person to be considered addicted to alcohol, and some of these signs are indicative of other mental health issues that should be addressed alongside any drinking issues. However, these are the most common signs of alcohol addiction and should be taken seriously.
Diagnosing Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction can only be diagnosed by a medical professional who will have a greater understanding of the issues at play. In order to fully understand a person’s drinking habits and feelings surrounding alcohol, they will ask certain questions. Medical examinations may also reveal physical problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption such as high blood pressure or poor liver function. The doctor will be able to help with both the physical and the psychological signs of alcohol addiction. While medical intervention may be required, psychological help is key. Talking therapy and support groups are widely available and have excellent success rates for those who are determined to leave alcohol behind and move forward.