Alcohol Signs & Symptoms
Signs of Alcohol Abuse in a Loved One
It can be frightening to watch the drinking behaviors of someone you love to get out of control. They may deny there’s anything wrong with their heavy drinking or get defensive when you express concern about their excessive alcohol use. For people at an increased risk for alcoholism, it can be a slippery slope from social drinking to an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The following signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism may indicate that your loved one needs help:
- Drinking to excess regularly or binge drinking more than five times in a one-month period. Binge drinking is considered 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women on one occasion.
- Withdrawal from activities or relationships they once enjoyed.
- Bringing alcohol to events or happenings where alcohol isn’t served.
- Secretive behaviors around drinking, including hiding alcohol or lying about alcohol consumption.
- Changes in personal hygiene or appearance.
- Gaining or losing weight.
- Engaging in risky behaviors like drinking and driving.
- Absences at work or school due to drinking or declining performance at either.
- Erratic mood swings.
- Refusal to hear people’s concerns about their substance abuse or getting overly defensive and argumentative.
- Having the smell of alcohol on their breath at odd times and when you haven’t seen them drink.
- Drinking in the morning as a hangover cure.
Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse in Yourself
If you’re concerned that you have a problem with alcohol, you probably do. People who don’t have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol may have a drink or two at a social event or at dinner from time to time, but they don’t worry that they’re drinking too much. When it comes to alcohol, they can take it or leave it. For example, if they show up to an event where alcohol isn’t being served, it’s not a big deal. They may go a few weeks without drinking and not even realize it.
There are causes and risk factors that can make you more susceptible to alcohol addiction. These include:
- History of alcoholism in your family
- Co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
- A history of PTSD or complex trauma
- Poor coping skills
- Excessive stress
- Underage drinking
If you have any of these risk factors, abusing alcohol can quickly become a way to self-soothe emotional pain or psychological symptoms. Over time, alcohol affects your brain in ways that make it nearly impossible to quit drinking without medical help and behavioral therapy.
Signs/symptoms of alcohol dependence and addiction include:
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink or stop drinking.
- Jeopardizing your job with absences or performance issues linked to your alcohol use.
- Continuing to drink despite negative effects on your relationships, finances, and physical and mental health.
- Drinking alcohol in the morning to get going, feel normal, or stave off headaches and other aftereffects of alcohol from the night before.
- Avoiding activities where alcohol won’t be accessible or bringing your own.
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you go without it like tremors, headaches, and feeling out of sorts.
- Needing alcohol to calm your nerves or deal with stress.
- Putting yourself or others in danger by drinking and driving, operating machinery, or having unprotected sex when under the influence of alcohol.
- Regular symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Needing alcohol to feel normal.
The key sign of alcohol addiction is if you’ve continued to drink despite a negative impact on your life, which most of the above symptoms point to. It’s also helpful to know that authorities on substance abuse like the National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) define problematic, heavy drinking as:
- Men: 4 or more drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week
- Women: Over 3 drinks a day or more than 7 drinks a week
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
If you continue abusing alcohol, over time the effects get worse and can impact your long-term health. Alcohol abuse increases the risk of:
- Cancers like throat cancer, liver cancer, head and neck cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer
- Swollen or inflamed pancreas
- Weakened immune system
- Liver disease
- Irregular heartbeat, stretched heart muscle, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues
- Memory loss and poor focus
- Mood disorders and other mental health problems
How Do You Treat Alcoholism?
The first step in treatment for alcoholism is medically monitored detox. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and deadly if you try to quit cold turkey without medical professionals. Symptoms like seizures, delirium tremens, and dehydration can be fatal in some instances. Detoxing in a treatment center ensures you’re safe during alcohol withdrawal. A team of professionals will monitor your vital signs around the clock and ease discomfort with medications.
After detox, you must attend an addiction treatment program, or you will be at great risk of alcohol relapse. In treatment for alcohol abuse, you’ll explore the reasons why you’re using substances to cope and address those difficulties. These sometimes include untreated co-occurring mental disorders, trauma, or challenging life situations. Behavioral health experts will help you learn to manage emotional pain and build healthy coping skills to use when you’re triggered and feel the urge to drink. Alcohol addiction treatment is offered at various levels of care, including inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, and outpatient treatment.