Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Abuse

signs of alcohol abuse

During the COVID pandemic, alcohol sales and consumption increased dramatically in the United States. While we may not understand the wider health impacts of this spike for years, we know that it has affected many people’s lives already.

Not all alcohol abuse looks the same. It can be difficult to know where the line lies and whether you or someone you know is headed down the wrong path toward developing a serious problem. But this is a necessary step in order to initiate interventions and treatment.

The good news is that, once you understand the signs of alcohol abuse, you can more accurately assess the situation. It is an important stage in identifying a problem and taking steps to address it.

This article lays out some of the common warning signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Keep reading to find out what they are and what you can do about them.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol use disorder” is the umbrella term to describe any level of alcohol abuse. It has a spectrum and can fluctuate even among individuals over time.

This could entail isolated or occasional incidents. People might abuse alcohol and then stop (although this is rarely the case).

Further down the alcohol use disorder continuum are situations where a person has a physical or emotional attachment to alcohol. Of course, the severity of the disorder can vary, depending on the individual.

Many people wonder about the distinction between “alcoholism” and “alcohol dependence.” In general, you could say that alcoholism is a type of alcohol dependence. However, these terms are becoming outdated and irrelevant.

First, such distinctions can lead to unhealthy perspectives. For instance, someone who abuses alcohol regularly might think things like, “I don’t drink too much or drink every day, so I’m not an ‘alcoholic’.”

It is easy to see how such outlooks skirt the issue at hand. In short, when it comes to the consequences of alcohol abuse, differentiating between definitions is ultimately unavailing.

Alcohol abuse disorders entail a diagnosis of “exclusion.” This means that doctors take into account behaviors as well as information about frequency and amount in making an addiction determination. This is where signs of alcohol abuse come in.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Since every individual and their life circumstances are unique, there can be many different signs of alcohol abuse. Here are a few of the most common categories.

Note that someone with an alcohol abuse problem may show signs of only one of these categories or some combination of different behaviors. Assessing the severity of the addiction is distinct from determining if a problem exists to start with.

Inability to Curb or Stop Drinking

One of the main tell-tale signs of alcohol addiction is the inability of the person to cut down on either the frequency or the amount that they drink on any given occasion (or both). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers “moderate drinking” to be no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Keep in mind that, while this is a good general rule of thumb, even small amounts of alcohol can lead to health or other problems, if not addiction.

A person with alcohol abuse disorder will find it difficult to cut down or stop drinking altogether. This can be true whether the individual recognizes the challenge or not. Even someone who acknowledges that they drink too much may be unable to stop or reduce the amount they drink in any given period.

In terms of quantity, most people with alcohol addiction will have a tough time drinking only a small amount. They will almost always have the inclination to drink until intoxicated, as opposed to, for instance, drinking to socialize or as a part of a meal.

On the frequency side, individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder will have a hard time going for long periods without drinking. They may be able to abstain for a few days to even a week or more, but will eventually return to drinking unless interventions are sought.

Increased Alcohol Tolerance

People who drink in excess will build up a tolerance to alcohol over time. How quickly this happens depends on the frequency and amount they drink.

This means that the same amount of alcohol has diminished effects on the body and mind. Conversely, it translates to the individual needing more alcohol to achieve the effects of intoxication.

Tolerance plays out in different ways. Functional tolerance means that the person can perform mental and physical activities while under the influence. It is easy to see how this can contribute to dangerous behavior, like drinking and driving, because the individual “feels fine.”

If you notice that a person has had a large amount to drink but shows little or no signs of drunkenness, this may be an indication of increased tolerance. Unfortunately, this dynamic can go unnoticed, since it happens gradually or if you are unaware of how much a person has had to drink.

Physical Need for Alcohol

In addition to increased tolerance, a person with alcohol dependence may feel the physical need for alcohol. They may experience withdrawal symptoms when they do abstain. Common ones include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia

More serious symptoms can include:

  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Tremors

The severity of these will depend on the extent of the condition, which is impacted by how long and how much the individual has consumed alcohol. Short of withdrawal symptoms, someone with alcohol dependence may experience urges to drink to feel normal. This can manifest without serious side effects but still be detrimental to a person’s health.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Besides the inability to control their drinking, someone with alcohol use disorder may begin neglecting other responsibilities. That is because the person is putting alcohol above other aspects of his or her life.

These can pertain to work as well as personal obligations. It could mean that they go to their job hungover. It might mean they start missing special events, including birthdays or social events.

In general, a sign that this is happening is that the person spends more time drinking. But it almost always accompanies the neglect of other activities that used to bring them enjoyment, such as hobbies or socializing with friends.

Efforts to Conceal Drinking

Alcohol abuse can lead to other types of concerning behaviors. These include drinking alone or efforts to conceal how much one is drinking.

It could involve the person hiding alcohol around their house. You might discover that they are visiting bars when they pretend to be running errands or fulfilling other responsibilities.

Any effort to conceal consumption is a strong sign that the person knows they are drinking too much or that they have an alcohol problem. Even in isolated incidents, it could be a sign that someone is heading in the wrong direction.

Efforts to Create Situations That Permit Drinking

Besides hiding their drinking, someone with an alcohol abuse issue may make efforts to put themselves in situations where drinking is acceptable. They might structure events around their ability to consume alcohol.

For instance, they may seek out scenarios where others are drinking. Another example is the person lobbies for activities where they can drink over those that friends or family members would enjoy or benefit from.

For example, they might insist on visiting a brewery or bar in place of a restaurant where the rest of the family wants to go. They may choose vacation spots where drinking is more readily available than ones that afford activities for their children or spouses.

Persistent Use in the Face of Problems

If you or someone you know continues to abuse alcohol after negative consequences, this is a huge sign of a serious issue. Examples could be anything from deleterious impacts on health, employment, and relationships, as well as other negative personal repercussions (like the inability to reach goals). A very common example is that a person continues to drink even after legal problems, such as a DUI or public intoxication charges.

This can happen for two reasons. The first is denial. The individual may see the negative consequences of alcohol but attributes it to other factors.

For instance, if heavy drinking results in divorce, the person may point to other problems in the marriage. They might blame being laid off on other circumstances at work, rather than facing the real cause.

Some people do not face denial but lack the willpower to change. They recognize the problems that alcohol has caused in their lives, and may even be open to discussing them, but cannot stop drinking nonetheless. This may be due to a sense of powerlessness along with physical urges that accompany addiction.

Learn More About Alcohol Abuse

Now that you understand some of the signs of alcohol abuse, you can help yourself or your loved one identify the problem so that you can begin to fix it. While knowledge is important, it is only the beginning of the journey. Using this information can be the first step to finding the right alcohol addiction treatment.

Detox To Rehab is a progressive, supportive, and inclusive network of rehabilitation facilities and professionals. Our goal is to provide you with the information, educational tools, and treatment options to be successful on your road to recovery. Reach out to us today for more information.

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