Warning Signs of Alcoholism

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Glass of alcohol in person's hand with a bottle in the background.

The warning signs of alcoholism can appear very early on as someone is initially developing a pattern of problem drinking. Over time, as the problem progresses without treatment, the signs of alcoholism can be more severe. By recognizing the signs of alcoholism as early on as possible, loved ones of people who may have a drinking problem can encourage them to get help before the disease worsens.

Alcoholism warning signs can include behavioral and physical signs, and the early signs of alcoholism can be fairly subtle.

Alcohol Abuse Versus Alcoholism

Alcoholism is considered a chronic disorder, and the most severe form of alcohol abuse. Alcoholism can also be known as alcohol use disorder, and it can range in severity from mild to moderate to severe.

Alcohol abuse doesn’t necessarily mean someone is an alcoholic. Alcohol abuse is a broad term encompassing any harmful alcohol use behaviors. Someone who abuses alcohol may, for example, binge drink, but they aren’t necessarily an alcoholic, nor does that mean they’re dependent on alcohol.

Alcohol abuse means someone continues to drink despite the consequences it can create in their life. Alcoholism is a diagnosable disease of the brain that also affects physical health and behavior. Ultimately, alcoholism means a person’s drinking is compulsive and uncontrollable.

What about alcohol abuse versus dependence? Alcohol dependence is separate from both abuse and alcoholism. Alcohol dependence is a physical condition where a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop drinking.

Early Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism can be divided into phases. There’s early, chronic and end-stage alcoholism. If someone realizes that they are struggling with alcoholism early on and they receive professional treatment, it can be beneficial.

Some of the early signs of alcoholism or possible red flags of alcohol abuse include:

  • Heavy drinking, or more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men
  • Having trouble limiting drinking, or frequently drinking to the point of intoxication even if that wasn’t the plan
  • Drinking more than friends or family members regularly do
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol and consuming larger amounts to get the same feelings
  • Drinking before or after social events where drinking will occur
  • Concerned comments from friends or family members about drinking
  • Missing school, work or other obligations because of a hangover
  • Eye-opener drinking, which is drinking early in the morning to avoid a hangover or withdrawal symptoms
  • Obsessing over when and how to drink
  • Legal problems related to drinking, such as getting a DUI

Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism

Some of the outward behavioral signs of alcoholism a person may demonstrate include:

  • Changes in mood, like the development of depression, aggression, irritability or anxiety
  • Loss of appetite or changes in eating habits
  • Hiding alcohol in odd places
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations, such as while driving
  • Rituals centered around drinking, like drinking at certain times
  • Becoming distressed or angry if something interrupts a plan to drink
  • Behaving with hostility or aggression while drinking
  • Blacking out or experiencing short-term memory loss
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Drinking to manage stress or relax
  • Trying to hide drinking or lying about how much alcohol is consumed
  • Drinking despite known negative consequences

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism and alcohol dependence can include physical signs and symptoms such as:

  • Symptoms of withdrawal may occur when someone isn’t using alcohol
  • Tolerance (needing larger amounts to get the desired effects)
  • Strong alcohol cravings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Headache
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Racing heart
  • The smell of alcohol on the breath
  • Weight loss (because of neglecting eating to drink alcohol instead)
  • Dry skin and brittle hair and nails because alcohol has dehydrating effects
  • Increased appearance of wrinkles due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol
  • Broken capillaries on the nose and face
  • Yellow tint to the eyes and skin
  • Neglected personal hygiene

How to Get Help for Alcoholism

Whether you notice the early warning signs of alcoholism in yourself or someone you love, help is available. Treatment for alcohol can start with medically assisted detox and continue with inpatient or outpatient programs. Treatment programs can help you enjoy the quality of life offered with recovery.

If you’d like to get help for alcoholism for yourself or a loved one, you can start by contacting The Recovery Village Columbus. Knowledgeable representatives can help you learn more about treatment options and programs in your area and those offered at The Recovery Village Columbus.


Buddy T. “The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence.” Verywell Mind. December 5, 2017. Accessed March 12, 2019.

Buddy T. “Physical Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism.” Verywell Mind. January 28, 2019. Accessed March 12, 2019.

MedlinePlus. “Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.” Accessed March 12, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village Columbus aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.