Alcohol Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Millions of Americans struggle with alcoholism. With help and treatment, recovery is possible. Learn more about alcoholism here.

Understanding Alcoholism

Problematic drinking occurs in many forms. Some people may engage in excessive drinking on rare occasions, such as a wedding or party, and not touch another drop of alcohol for months or years. Others struggle to control how much and how often they drink. Many of these individuals engage in frequent alcohol abuse or have an alcohol addiction. This article will dive into the alcohol addiction signs and symptoms.

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Defining Alcoholism

When occasional excessive drinking has become common practice despite the negative consequences on one’s day-to-day life and relationships, occasional problematic drinking has likely evolved into alcohol abuse. Drinking is considered alcohol abuse when someone continues to drink regardless of legal complications related to it, medical or mental health problems, relationship problems, or issues at work or school.

For someone who struggles with alcohol abuse, drinking has become a way to reduce stressors and “feel good.” Unfortunately, it is also the stage at which tolerance and dependency on alcohol develop. Alcohol abuse and the symptoms that accompany it are often considered the early signs of alcohol addiction.

The Dangers of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction develops when drinking is no longer pleasurable but necessary to feel “ok.” Signs of alcohol addiction include the physical and psychological need to consume alcohol. Once an alcohol addiction has developed, the physical cravings for alcohol are often so intense debilitating.

Consequently, someone addicted to drinking aims to constantly alleviate the physical discomfort associated with not having alcohol in their system. Moreover, at this stage, attempting to reduce or stop drinking will lead to alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

How Can You Tell If Someone is a Heavy Drinker?

Long-term alcohol addiction can lead to significant physical and psychological challenges. Regular, heavy drinking causes changes to the brain and many vital body systems and functions. When someone is a heavy drinker, they cannot manage daily functioning without alcohol. You may also notice drinking is the first thing on their mind, regardless of the time of day or other responsibilities they may cast aside in favor of alcohol.

What Constitutes a Drink?

Understanding whether a friend or loved one struggles with alcohol addiction also requires understanding what “a drink” is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 define a standard drink as a drink that contains 2.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Common examples include a 12-ounce beer (5% alcohol content), 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content), or a 1.5 ounce shot of 80 proof liquor. When someone is a heavy or problematic drinker, they frequently consume fifteen or more drinks per week for men and eight or more for women.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests up to eighteen million Americans have alcohol use disorders.2 It is essential to remember that alcoholism is not a problem created overnight. It emerges out of long-term alcohol abuse. For many adults, the occasional drink with friends or a glass of wine with dinner is not a cause for concern. However, when alcohol consumption becomes uncontrollable, addiction and alcoholism could develop.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Addiction Signs and Symptoms

During the early stages of alcohol addiction, most people do not exhibit significant physical or psychological signs. During this stage, most people are experimenting with alcohol. It is possible that drinking may never evolve beyond occasional binge drinking.

However, it is also possible that dependency and tolerance to alcohol will develop, leading to a significant addiction. The first signs of addiction and warning signs that an alcohol addiction could be developing any friend or loved one are cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If someone has developed an alcohol addiction, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking or reduce the amount they drink. Additionally, they will crave alcohol, and the desire to seek or use alcohol will often take precedence over everything else.

Physical Signs of Alcohol Addiction

As alcohol addiction worsens, people lose control over how much and how often they drink. They will start to show more apparent signs of addiction. As with most addictions, symptoms can be short or long-term.
Common short-term physical signs of alcohol addiction often include:
Long-term physical signs of addiction can include:
Long-term drinking can also significantly affect vital organs and lead to chronic diseases, including gout, liver damage, increased cancer risk, sexual dysfunction, and anemia.

Psychological Signs of Alcohol Addiction

In addition to the physical struggles associated with alcohol addiction, emotional and psychological consequences are common.3
In the short term, people struggling with alcohol addiction will experience impaired judgment, memory problems, cognitive problems, irritability, and blackouts. Long-term psychological indications of alcohol addiction include problems focusing, cravings, increased anxiety and depression, and new or worsening mental health symptoms.

How to Help Someone That is Showing Signs of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal

The alcohol detox process involves someone choosing to stop drinking alcohol. During detox, the body learns how to function without alcohol in its system. The intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on various factors, including the severity of the addiction.4 The longer someone has been drinking or, the more they drink, the more prolonged and more intense their withdrawal symptoms will be.

Choosing to seek addiction treatment at a professional alcohol treatment center where medically assisted detox is available provides the best opportunity for treatment success. Alcohol detox is often the first and the most challenging part of alcohol addiction recovery. Detox is the process required to adequately prepare for a more prolonged and more intensive treatment program. Detox is often performed in an inpatient setting to ensure 24/7 support and monitoring throughout.

Therapies and Support Groups

Depending on the program, this may include medication administration to help manage and reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. During medically supervised (assisted) detox, a highly trained team of medical professionals will continually monitor vitals (including blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and breathing) to ensure ongoing safety and reduce the chances of an acute medical emergency.
Once detox is complete, it is possible to begin the therapeutic portion of the addiction treatment program that includes therapy, addiction education, and support while working towards sobriety and recovery.

Seeking professional help to overcome alcohol addiction is vital to achieving lasting sobriety. Overcoming alcohol addiction is not without significant challenges, but it is possible to put struggles with alcohol addiction in the past with professional support and guidance.