Warning Signs of Alcoholism – According to a 2015 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, more than 32 million American adults have an alcohol use disorder – a number that reflects nearly 14% of the population. Worldwide, roughly one billion people consume alcohol problematically.
By some estimates, fewer than 1 in 10 people suffering from alcoholism ever seek treatment and an even smaller percentage receive it. Is it a lack of motivation? Perhaps, but there are also other circumstances at play.
Several factors prevent people from seeking and receiving help – for one, in many societies, there is a stigma associated with alcoholism. Still, in others, alcohol use is so ingrained in the culture that alcohol use is the norm, not the exception. Finally, in the U.S. and elsewhere, it is not uncommon to find gaps in mental health care and resources.
Social Warning Signs of Alcoholism
The social signs of excessive alcohol use are those that not only impact one’s interpersonal network but also adversely affect the lives of others who fall into his or her circle of close friends and loved ones. These signs also reflect society’s reaction to behaviors that result from intoxication, often resulting in legal troubles.
One tell-tale sign of alcoholism is the presence of legal issues that manifest from alcohol use. These include charges such as drinking and driving or operating machinery while impaired, domestic violence, or being arrested for public intoxication.
Legal problems often develop because alcohol abusers tend to be impulsive and frequently engage in risky behavior while under the influence.
People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol tend to prioritize substance use over critical life responsibilities, such as work and family. The neglect of loved ones due to drinking, or spending money on alcohol that should be set aside for essential needs such as groceries or rent are both huge red flags that a severe alcohol problem has developed.
Skewed priorities don’t just include responsibilities – they include social activities. For example, a mother who has an alcohol use disorder may miss her son’s basketball game due to a bad hangover or severe intoxication.
Alcohol abuse can quickly start to damage and even sever relationships with family and friends. People who are intoxicated may become unreasonably argumentative, belligerent, or abusive. Even benevolent drinkers can engage in behavior that is off-putting or embarrassing to others, such as making inappropriate sexual advances or passing out in strange places in front of others.
Furthermore, other social repercussions, such as the neglect of family, legal issues, and deception over drinking habits (i.e., sneaking around to drink in secret) can also impact close relationships.
Deception, Manipulation, and Excuses
Alcoholics can be notoriously apt at deception. Like any addict, they deceive and try to manipulate others to feed their habit and remain unmolested by the concerns and interventions of others. They hide alcohol and drink on the sly, and create excuses for certain behaviors that are really just a cover for drinking.
Alcoholics are also full of excuses. If they get too drunk, they may try to justify it by saying “It’s Friday!” or “It’s my best friend’s wedding!” They may also play on someone else’s sympathy and fall back on past trauma or emotional/mood disorders as an excuse.
It’s important to discern the difference between an excuse and a reason, however. For someone with an untreated mental health condition, drinking as a means of self-medication may reflect a reason, but it is NOT an excuse. There is no excuse for engaging in self-destructive behaviors, especially those that can devastate others, as well.
Socializing With the Wrong Crowd
People addicted to drugs or alcohol often find themselves hanging out with others who have similarly flawed priorities, such as going to bars, parties, clubs, etc. instead of taking care of responsibilities. Think of the old saying “Birds of a feather, flock together.” Moreover, if you are hanging out with people who frequently abuse substances, the chances are good that their priorities and behaviors are nearly identical to your own.
Many alcoholics start out as primarily social drinkers, but at some point, end up drinking by them themselves whether or not it’s their preference. In other words, some may use alcohol to suppress feelings of loneliness, while others choose to isolate themselves when drinking so that no one is around to interrupt them or criticize their behavior.
Drinking alone as a stand-alone defense against a single adverse circumstance (a romantic breakup, for example) is not the same as doing so on a regular basis. Alcoholics can drink alone often and not think twice about it, but the average social drinker is not going to turn solo drinking into a chronic habit.
Heavy drinkers often exhibit a reduction in performance standards at work, school, sports, and hobbies. Failing grades in college or calling in sick to work are perfect examples. Also, frequent, excessive alcohol use causes brain damage, at least temporarily, and can severely impact memory, concentration, and the decision-making skills needed to excel in all areas of life.
Physical Warning Signs of Alcoholism
The physical signs of alcohol abuse include both short- and long-term health conditions that may be either temporary or permanent.
Tolerance, in a nutshell, is the end result of repeated exposure = diminished response. When a person’s brain becomes accustomed to alcohol’s continued presence, it responds by reducing the reaction. When this occurs, the person is forced to consume more alcohol in order to experience the desired level of intoxication.
The development of high tolerance is a sure sign of alcoholism because tolerance only manifests over time as a result of excessive, repeated alcohol exposure.
Drinking Daily and Dependence
Daily drinking, especially when continuous through the day, reveals a strong dependence on alcohol. Daily alcohol consumption often begins as a way to avoid hangovers and withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, nausea and vomiting, shakiness and insomnia.
Dependence, like tolerance, also occurs over time as a result of repeated alcohol overuse. As alcohol’s presence becomes increasingly fixed, the brain becomes less able to function without it.
Thus, when the drinker tries to quit or drastically cut back, withdrawal symptoms emerge – effects that are highly unpleasant and can also lead to dangerous complications. For this reasons, alcohol withdrawal syndrome is often the primary catalyst for relapse.
Most severe alcoholics regularly experience a loss of memory commonly referred to as a blackout. Because alcohol impairs memory, someone in a blackout can be walking around, engaging with others or even driving a vehicle more or less on autopilot. They might not remember events even right after they occur, and next day recollection may be next to impossible.
A blackout is a lot like experiencing a brief fugue state or missing time and is a surefire indicator of severe, potentially life-threatening alcohol intoxication.
Changes in Appearance
Hardcore alcohol abusers often exhibit changes in appearance. If you’ve ever seen a mugshot of someone severely intoxicated who was arrested for drinking and driving, you’ll know that this means. Bloodshot eyes, flushed skin, and unkempt hair and clothing are not uncommon to witness.
Furthermore, over time, general hygiene may suffer, leading to dental problems, weight loss, and other telling signs of a poor or failing health condition.
Because alcoholics experience a number of impairments, including a loss of visual acuity and motor coordination, they frequently suffer from injuries as a result of accidental falls or physical altercations. Someone who is extremely impaired, for example, might fall down the stairs and incur bruising, open wounds, fractures, or broken bones.
Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that is best approached comprehensively, using proven methods that help patients develop healthy coping skills and gain insight into the causes and effects of their addiction.
Our treatment programs include both inpatient (residential) and intensive outpatient formats. Each track employs behavioral therapies, counseling, and complementary approaches such as yoga and meditation that have been clinically shown to improve patient outcomes and assist in the maintenance of long-term sobriety.