Last Updated: February 16, 2023
The signs of alcohol abuse and addiction aren’t always obvious. Some people may find that they frequently end up drinking more than they intend to, or they’re constantly thinking about the next time they get to drink. Others may rely on alcohol to cope with stressful situations, or use it habitually after getting home from work each day.
These are just a few of the many different physical and emotional signs that can point toward a potential struggle with alcoholism. If you’re concerned about the relationship you or a loved one may have with alcohol, it’s helpful to understand the signs of alcohol addiction and learn where to turn for help.
What Is Alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), the clinical term for alcoholism, is defined as the inability to stop using alcohol excessively despite negative impacts in other areas of someone’s life. Alcoholism is considered to be a disease that affects the brain, and it can be a mild, moderate or severe disorder.
Many people drink in moderation, which is defined as one daily drink for women or two daily drinks for men. However, some people may end up developing tolerance, which causes them to need larger amounts of alcohol to feel the same effects. This heavy alcohol use can eventually lead to the development of alcoholism. In the United States, approximately 14.1 million adults aged 18 or older and 414,000 children aged 12 to 17 meet the criteria for alcoholism.
I Drink Every Night — Am I an Alcoholic?
Consuming alcohol occasionally or even on a nightly basis does not automatically mean someone is an alcoholic. Other factors, such as how much someone is drinking and the reasons behind their alcohol use, are better indicators of a potential alcohol use disorder.
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Difference Between Heavy Drinkers and Alcoholics
Heavy drinking does not necessarily mean you are an alcoholic, but being an alcoholic almost certainly means that you drink heavily and often. When and how someone drinks is a factor that can differentiate an alcoholic from someone who is a heavy drinker. Heavy drinking may occur on occasion for some people, but they are able to stop drinking when they want. Someone who is an alcoholic does not feel like they can stop drinking whenever they want, and they often have to drink more and more to feel satisfied.
What Is Considered Heavy Drinking?
In general, heavy drinking for men is considered to be more than four drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks per week. Heavy drinking for women is considered to be more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks per week.
11 Signs That You Might be an Alcoholic
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) has criteria that can help you determine whether you may be an alcoholic. The questions included in the criteria are:
- Do you ever drink more than intended?
- Do you feel like you are unable to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink?
- Have you ever felt sick for an extended period of time after drinking too much?
- Do you crave alcohol so much it impacts your ability to concentrate?
- Has alcohol prevented you from caring for family, holding down a job or performing in school?
- Do you continue to drink despite problems caused with friends or family?
- Have you lost interest or stopped participating in activities that were once important in your life?
- Do you often find yourself in dangerous or harmful situations as a direct result of drinking?
- Do you continue to drink despite adding to another health problem, feeling depressed or anxious or blacking out?
- Do you find yourself drinking more as a result of a tolerance to alcohol?
- Do you often experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
Scoring Your Answers
In order to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, someone has to exhibit two of these criteria over a 12-month period. There are also different severities of alcohol use disorder based on the number of criteria someone has. The scoring indicates:
- Mild (two to three criteria)
- Moderate (four to five criteria)
- Severe (six or more criteria)
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may need to seek treatment for alcohol use disorder.
5 Types of Alcoholics
In general, people who struggle with alcohol addiction tend to fall into one of five different alcoholic subtypes. Understanding these subtypes can make it easier to figure out what type of treatment or interventions will help a person manage their alcohol addiction.
Young Adult Subtype
The young adult subtype makes up the largest of the five subtypes of alcoholics. Accounting for 31.1% of alcoholics, people within this group begin drinking around age 19 and develop alcoholism by around age 24. This group tends to be college-aged males who binge drink.
The functional subtype group manages to not let their drinking interfere with other areas of their life, such as relationships or work. The negative consequences of the person’s drinking typically go unnoticed by others, and the person’s loved ones do not realize they are an alcoholic until a serious mental or physical issue arises.
Functional alcoholics are typically middle-aged, married men. Their drinking starts later than the young adult subtype, and they often suffer from other mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
Intermediate Familial Subtype
Those within the intermediate familial subtype start drinking much earlier than the other subtypes, usually around age 17. The majority of this group is male, and they typically develop an alcohol dependency in their early 30s. People in this group are also the most likely to have family members who are also alcoholics, and they often use other substances, such as cocaine, marijuana or cigarettes.
Young Antisocial Subtype
People in the young antisocial subtype begin using alcohol at an earlier age than other groups. They can start drinking as young as 15 and become dependent on alcohol by 18. Young antisocial alcoholics are almost entirely male, with only 25% being female.
Young antisocial drinkers have high rates of depression, social phobias, bipolar disorder and co-occurring substance abuse. This group drinks more frequently and in larger amounts than the other types. However, this group also has a high rate of seeking out treatment for alcoholism.
Chronic Severe Subtype
People within the chronic severe subtype tend to start drinking earlier — around age 15 — but take a longer time to develop dependency. Almost 80% of people in this subtype have a close family member who is also an alcoholic. Those who have chronic severe alcoholism also display other mental health diagnoses, such as depression, bipolar, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
Chronic severe alcoholics drink more often than the other subtypes but do not drink as much as the young antisocial subtype. This subtype tends to have interpersonal issues due to their alcoholism, such as high rates of divorce or separation from their partners. People within this group are the most likely to look for help, as 66% seek treatment for addiction.
Signs of Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder comes in many forms and can have a variety of different signs and symptoms. In order to know whether you or someone you love may be at risk of becoming an alcoholic, understanding the different stages and signs of alcoholism is crucial.
Early Signs of Alcoholism
There are signs you can look for to see if you are at risk for alcoholism. These can include:
- Often drinking more or longer than you wanted to
- Being unable to stop drinking even though you want to
- Having frequent hangovers due to drinking
- Drinking or the effects of drinking interfere with other responsibilities
- Having to drink more and more over time to get the same effect
Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism
Knowing the behavioral signs of alcoholism can help you identify whether you or a loved one may be at risk. These signs include:
- Drinking even though it negatively impacts work or school
- Being secretive about how much you drink
- Becoming agitated or defensive when someone asks about drinking habits
- Doing risky things while drinking, such as driving or getting into fights
- Being in denial about your alcohol habits
- Being anxious or distracted thinking about alcohol
- Continuing to drink even though it makes you feel depressed or anxious
- Participating less in activities that previously were enjoyable (sports, family events, etc.)
Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder affects a person’s physical body in addition to their mental health. Physical signs that someone is an alcoholic can include:
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- Slowed reaction times
- Blackouts due to drinking
- Poor coordination
- Memory impairment or lapses
- Slurred speech
- Physical health problems, such as cirrhosis
- Hair loss or thinning
- Dark circles under the eyes
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism in Ohio, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Our full-service drug and alcohol rehab facility offers a full continuum of care with various levels of comprehensive treatment.
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