Alcoholism Warning Signs

Although drinking alcohol is widely accepted in today's society, alcoholism can produce severe side effects, and even death. Learn the warning signs and potentially save a life.

Are You Showing Alcoholism Warning Signs?

Alcoholism, not to be confused with alcohol abuse, is one of the most common addictions for Americans, leading to 88,000 alcohol-related deaths between 2006-2010. With a problem this big and this serious, it is important to know what alcoholism warning signs are.

Common indicators of alcoholism include the frequency of drinks and the inability for someone to control their alcohol intake. Many who drink to the point of intoxication are not alcoholics, although the symptoms of both can be similar. Because of this, it is often difficult for friends and family (and even alcoholics themselves) to determine if alcoholism is a genuine concern.

Warning Signs of Intoxication

Although not everyone who becomes intoxicated becomes an alcoholic, it is the first step in the process. In this way, intoxication is itself an early warning sign of alcoholism. Some of the most common warning signs of intoxication include:

  • Emotional instability
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Slurred speech
  • A high blood alcohol content (BAC) level
  • Confusion
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Blacking out
  • Nausea
  • Violent behavior/abuse
  • Binge drinking

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Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Signs that distinguish an alcoholic from an occasional drinker include:

A High Tolerance to Alcohol

Over time, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol in its system. The more frequently you drink and the more you drink at a time impact this process. Eventually, you will have to drink more and more alcohol to get the same effects. This process is known as developing a tolerance. Generally, alcoholics have a very high tolerance because they have the most long-term exposure to high amounts of alcohol.

Binge Drinking

Defined as more than 4 drinks (for women) or 5 drinks (for men) within a 2-hour period, binge drinking is one of the most dangerous drinking behaviors. Although most commonly associated with college, binge drinking is a major problem for people of all ages. Binge drinking gets participants more intoxicated faster, but it also raises blood alcohol levels to a dangerous point. Binge drinking can rapidly lead to alcohol poisoning and even death in severe cases. Although many who binge drink are not alcoholics, alcoholics are especially prone to this risky behavior.

An Emotional Dependence on Drinking

The emotions and moods of alcoholics are typically highly influenced by alcohol. Many alcoholics will act one way when sober and a completely different way when intoxicated. For example, it is very common for alcoholics to be emotionally unstable or “moody” when they are not under the influence. Friends and family can often tell their level of sobriety based on their mood.

An Attachment to Drinking

Alcoholics often are consumed with the preoccupation to drink. It becomes a critical part of their identity. Although very few identify as alcoholics, many do identify as “the life of the party,” “someone who loves to have fun,” or a “free-spirit.” Alcoholics also often develop extensive routines and rituals around their drinking, such as going to the same bar on a certain day of the week. Many alcoholics find that their entire lives are dominated by drinking.

The Inability to Stop or Even Cut Back on Drinking

One of the most telling signs of alcoholism is an individual’s inability to reduce their consumption of alcohol. This can mean they find it impossible to cut back on their frequency of their drinking (ie. saying they’re only going to drink on the weekends but continuing to do so throughout the week) or on the amount of alcohol they consume at one time (ie. saying they’ll only have one drink but end up having five or more). In some cases, alcoholics acknowledge that they cannot stop, but in most cases they will deny or excuse it.

Secretly Drinking Alcohol

Alcoholics often secretly drink to avoid social stigma or other negative consequences of their drinking. For example, some alcoholics will sneak booze into work and drink it in the bathroom to avoid getting caught. Alcoholics who are drinking secretly generally do so either because they know that it is an inappropriate time/place to drink or because their loved ones are concerned about their drinking and they want to avoid conflict over it. Despite knowing that it is wrong, alcoholics are so dependent that they are unable to wait or cut back.

Drinking to Feel Relaxed or Upbeat

Many alcoholics claim that they turn to booze to help them relax or to improve their mood. After years of relying on alcohol for self-medication purposes, they often find themselves highly stressed and unhappy when they are not intoxicated, even when there is no reason to be. At this point, they have come to depend on alcohol to “feel better” even though it is actually making them feel emotionally worse in the long run.

Pushing Personal Drinking Limits

Most people who drink alcohol eventually discover what their drinking limits are: the amount they can drink without feeling intoxicated, the amount they can drink without getting a hangover, and the amount that they can drink before they start acting irrationally to name a few. Non-alcoholics will typically use these limits to stop drinking when they need to. Alcoholics often either disregard their drinking limits or actively see them as a challenge and will continue drinking when they are well past the point they should stop.

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Excusing or Lying About Alcohol Consumption

Most alcoholics are aware that society regards their actions with concern, even if they refuse to admit that they have a problem. They are also aware that their drinking has negatively impacted their own lives and those of their families, and that others either judge or are worried about them. To make their loved ones feel better, and to avoid confrontation or punishment, they often lie or excuse their drinking. Common examples include: “I only drink when I have a rough day at work,” “I was only being social,” or even the flat out denial of, “I wasn’t drinking.” A very common method used by alcoholics is gaslighting, where they try to make the person accusing them believe that they were mistaken about what they heard or saw.

Feelings of Guilt and Shame Regarding Drinking

Alcoholics often feel guilt and shame over their drinking. This is especially true in families and communities where drinking is discouraged or forbidden, but there is a significant social stigma attached to having a drinking problem across all facets of society. These feelings of guilt and shame often pose a serious problem for alcoholics. They often drink more to avoid feeling guilty and are less likely to seek treatment out of fear of judgement.

Having Had a Family Member Inquire About Drinking Out of Concern

Your family is often who knows you best and is most concerned about you, but they are also often the ones who are most scared to confront you to avoid damaging the relationship and the ones most likely to be in denial about your alcoholism. This combination of conflicting motivations means that if a family member has confronted you about your drinking, they most likely have genuine reason to suspect you have a problem and are so concerned that they are willing to risk embarrassing or upsetting you.

Neglecting Daily Tasks Due to Drinking

Alcohol can cause memory loss, carelessness, and impulsive behavior, all of which can cause drinkers to neglect daily tasks while intoxicated. Those who spend a significant amount of time drinking outside of the home with friends or at bars often do not have the time to complete them either. Many alcoholics end up living in filthy conditions and suffer from poor personal hygiene as a result. Also, many alcoholics find that their jobs, families, and other relationships suffer as a result of them forgetting or avoiding necessary tasks or ones they promised that they would complete.

Drinking as a Way to Cope with Co-Occurring Mental Illnesses

A very high percentage of alcoholics begin and continue to drink heavily because they are “self-medicating” an underlying mental disorder. Some are aware of their co-occurring disorder, but many are not. They simply recognize that they feel sad, anxious, angry, or some other negative emotion and find that alcohol temporarily relieves them of that feeling. Because most mental disorders will not go away on their own without treatment (and some are lifelong even with continuous maintenance), drinking as a form of self-medication is likely to go on indefinitely unless the alcoholic seeks treatment for both conditions.

Taking The Next Step


It can be painful to watch a loved one experience challenges with alcohol consumption. As a supportive loved one, you may be unsure of how to guide a lending hand towards inspired action. Understand that enabling drinking will worsen the circumstances, as will punishing or bribing the one you are concerned about. Making excuses for the drinker’s drinking and engaging in the consumption of alcohol with the drinker can initially seem compassionate. However, these actions will only make it difficult for them to stop. Arguing with someone who has a possible drinking problem can create defensiveness and worsen feelings of shame and guilt.

Getting someone else’s problematic drinking behavior under control can be a seemingly overwhelming task, and it often requires outside intervention. Many professionals suggest treatment centers to aid those who are especially unable to control their drinking. At these facilities, patients can gain insight on troubling underlying conditions and speak to trained therapists to discover helpful treatment options. Not only will the drinker get the best care available, but loved ones can feel the hope that comes from seeing them in recovery. Take that first step into prevention and treatment. Contact a provider today for your specialized treatment plan.

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