Symptoms Of Alcoholism

Not all of those who drink alcohol will develop an addiction to or dependence on the substance. However, when someone is abusing alcohol, it important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcoholism so that you may able to seek help for you or your loved one.

Although many adults can drink alcohol in moderation without developing a problem, as many as 15 million adults and more than 600,000 teenagers in the United States are estimated to meet the criteria for alcoholism.

As the most commonly abused substance in the country, the lines between what constitutes alcohol abuse as opposed to moderate drinking can still sometimes be blurry.

There are many common physical, psychological, and behavioral signs you can look for if you believe you or someone you care about is struggling with alcoholism.

What Is Alcoholism?

While the term alcoholism is less often used by clinicians, many people in the general population still use it as a catch-all term to refer to alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse.

The formal term used by clinicians to describe alcoholism is alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is a disease characterized by compulsive and severe problem drinking.

Unlike moderate alcohol use, there are certain diagnostic criteria that doctors can use to determine whether a person’s drinking has veered into the territory of alcoholism.

Many of the symptoms of alcoholism are behavioral, referring to an inability for a person to control how much they drink, and an inability to stop drinking even when facing consequences at work, or with friends or family.

How Much Is Too Much?

A woman may be at low risk for developing AUD if she drinks either three or more drinks per day or more than seven drinks in a week. For men, the number of drinks rises to no more than four drinks per day or 14 drinks in a week.

Additionally, heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking on five or more days within a single month.

Different Types Of Alcohol Abuse

While alcoholism is often used to describe all types of drinking that are deemed excessive or harmful, there are some instances where drinking habits may be distinguishable.

Moderate alcohol use may describe the drinking habits of people who drink “socially” in moderate amounts. There are also those who don’t drink at all and choose instead to remain abstinent from alcohol.

Individuals who drink in moderation or only in social settings with friends, family, or other acquaintances may not necessarily have or be at significant risk for developing an addiction to alcohol.

However, cases of mild or early alcoholism may also not be so apparent to those who aren’t looking for it. Someone may appear to drink moderately while out with friends, or only drink heavily once in a while when attending a big party or special event.

These drinking behaviors may not ring obvious alarm bells, but they may not be without risk either.

Some drinking may be considered binge drinking. For males, this means consuming five or more drinks in one sitting, and four or more for women. Binge drinking is most common among young adults between the ages of 18 to 34. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of those who binge drink are not alcohol-dependent.

Recognizing The Signs Of Alcoholism

While heavy drinking may seem to be the most obvious sign to look for when determining whether someone is an alcoholic, alcoholism is a much more complex disease that is characterized by a number of symptoms.

There are many physical, psychological, and behavioral signs a person with alcoholism may display or experience. Below are some signs of alcoholism:

Physical Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol can have near-immediate effects on the body, affecting everything from your heart rate and blood pressure to your ability to walk in a straight line. People who are intoxicated may also have difficulty with motor coordination, slur their words, and have a slow reaction time.

When a person is abusing alcohol, the physical symptoms of alcohol use can become even more pronounced. Even in its beginning stages, alcohol abuse can have noticeable effects on your body and movements.

Some of the physical signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • blackouts
  • poor diet (replacing consumption of food with alcohol)
  • hair loss
  • trouble sleeping
  • weight gain
  • bloated stomach
  • alcohol cravings
  • needing to drink more to get the same effect (physical tolerance)
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms after the effects of alcohol wear off

The physical effects a person may experience with alcoholism can also become worse over time. Chronic heavy drinking can cause drastic effects to both your appearance and impact the functioning of some of your body’s vital organs, including the liver.

Some long-term physical signs of chronic alcoholism include:

  • jaundice (yellow-toned skin)
  • liver disease/damage
  • weight loss (as your liver function declines)

Psychological Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol has certain effects on the brain that, when consumed excessively, can lead to emotional and psychological consequences.

While alcohol’s classification as a depressant doesn’t predict its ability to make a person feel more depressed emotionally, experiencing symptoms of depression is not uncommon in those who abuse alcohol in either the short- or long-term.

Someone with alcoholism may act more anxious or feel depressed when they are not drinking and may show less interest in activities they once found pleasure in. They may also develop sleeping problems, such as insomnia, have memory lapses, show poor judgment, and have more difficulty concentrating.

Behavioral Signs Of Alcoholism

Many of the symptoms that can indicate a problem with alcohol come down to a person’s behavior. People who have developed a problem with alcohol may behave differently than they used to, acting more secretive, less social, or participating in risky activities.

Other common behavioral signs of problem drinking include:

  • having trouble keeping a job or maintaining focus at work
  • neglecting their hygiene (e.g. not taking showers or brushing teeth, etc.)
  • showing up intoxicated to social or work functions
  • continuing to drink even when it hurts relationships with friends or family
  • making excuses for excessive drinking
  • increased aggression or irritability
  • hanging out with different groups of people
  • hiding stashes of alcohol around their home or workplace

Some changes in behavior may be due to the effects of alcohol on the brain, while others may be generalized to behaviors seen in people who abuse other types of drugs or substances.

Getting Help For Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious disease that can cause harm to your mental, emotional, and physical health. It can hurt your ability to function in your daily life at work or school and impact your closest relationships with your friends or family.

If you believe you or a loved one may be struggling with alcoholism, it is important to seek out help.

Contact one of our specialists today to see what alcohol abuse treatment resources are available to help treat alcoholism.

National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus - Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, Alcohol Use Disorder

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Use Disorder

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