The Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Millions of people drink alcohol responsibly every day without developing a problem. However, there are others who cannot drink even a small amount of alcohol without it affecting them psychologically and physically. For these individuals, drinking alcohol quickly develops into a substance abuse problem and they will need help to recover at some point. When someone is suffering from alcoholism, there will be certain signs and symptoms that can be observed. Depending on the severity of the condition, those symptoms can be difficult to spot, or they may be especially obvious.

The problem is that warning signs and symptoms of alcoholism can remain unnoticed until it’s too late. By the time these indicators become obvious, the alcoholism has advanced to a severe degree and the individual has been struggling with his substance abuse problem for a considerable amount of time. Identifying these symptoms as early as possible will help you, or your loved one, get the needed treatment that much sooner. Early treatment may circumvent the negative consequences that often accompany prolonged substance abuse.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Substance Abuse?

It really doesn’t take long for an individual to become affected by alcoholism. When someone is susceptible to this condition, their substance abuse practices can quickly get out of control and affect their daily lives. In cases where the individual begins experiencing the adverse consequences of alcohol substance abuse, they’re said to be suffering from a condition called AUD, or alcohol use disorder.

Identifying the warning signs of alcohol substance abuse can be tricky, but doing so can help the affected individual get treatment sooner. The symptoms take time to become observable and, in many cases, one sign of alcoholism can lead into another, creating a spiraling effect. As behaviors get out of control, the substance abuse problems will become more obvious.

Some things to watch for include:

  • Temporary blackouts, which may be accompanied by some short-term memory loss
  • Moodiness, which may include strong irritability
  • Finding reasons to drink, which can include a desire to relax, relieve stress, or just to feel more like themselves
  • Drinking instead of meeting responsibilities at work, school, or at home
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Making an effort to hide one’s drinking
  • Experiencing the symptoms of a hangover whenever the individual is sober
  • Poor or different personal hygiene habits
  • Associating with a different group of friends

The Screening Tools for Alcoholism

While there’s no way to know for sure if someone is suffering from alcoholism, there are screening tools that professional caregivers use to help determine the possibility. Essentially, these screening tools use the symptoms of alcoholism to determine how severely the individual is affected. One commonly used screening test is called CAGE, which is a series of four questions. Typically, a “yes” answer to two or more of the questions indicates an alcohol substance abuse problem.

The four questions are:

  • Have you ever felt that you drink too much?
  • Have you ever felt defensive by criticism of your drinking?
  • Have you ever experienced guilt or other negative feelings about your drinking habits?
  • Have you ever had a morning drink to feel more like yourself, or to alleviate a hangover?

Another alternative to the CAGE questions is provided in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM provides a series of questions, which should be based on the individual’s most recent 12-month period of alcohol consumption. It includes questions like the following:

  • Have you pursued your drinking, even after realizing it was contributing to other mental and physical health problems?
  • Have you experienced instances in which you drank more than you planned?
  • Has your drinking caused you to give up other hobbies or activities?
  • Have you ever experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you get urges or cravings to drink?
  • Has drinking caused you to engage in risky behaviors, such as drunk driving?
  • Has your drinking ever resulted in legal troubles, such as a DWI charge?

Denial is the Biggest Problem with Alcoholism

Alcohol substance abuse doesn’t just endanger one’s career and personal relationships. The condition can also affect the physical and mental health of the individual. Yet, because the consumption of alcohol is so widely accepted, it’s also easy to deny that there’s a problem. People suffering from alcoholism don’t recognize that they have a substance abuse problem, so they usually won’t seek treatment until they hit rock bottom.

It often takes several confrontations with loved ones, before the individual accepts that they have a substance abuse problem. It may take multiple discussions, since criticism of the individual’s alcohol consumption will likely make him feel defensive. It often takes persistence to get a loved one to voluntarily seek treatment.

Alcoholism in Teens

Teen drinking is a growing problem in the United States and it can lead to more severe cases of alcoholism in younger people. This is because teenagers are more likely to binge drink, and because alcohol has a bigger impact on the developing brain of a teen drinker. While teenage drinking has become a large problem, different teens drink alcohol for different reasons.


Many teens find that drinking alcohol is a good way to relieve stress and feel happier about their lives. The euphoric effects of alcohol help them feel better, so they continue drinking on a regular basis. Eventually, it becomes a habit.


In some cases, teenagers are simply curious about alcohol. They begin experimenting with it, because they see it in the media and it looks like fun. This opens the door to binge drinking and other dangerous alcohol-related activities.

Peer Pressure

It’s not uncommon for teens to drink alcohol as a means of fitting in. They find that drinking alcohol helps them socialize better, or provides opportunities to associate with other teens. They drink at parties to help themselves get accepted by others.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

Many people think that, since they started drinking by themselves, they can also quit without help. This is rarely the case and trying to quit without professional help can result in severe withdrawal symptoms that can compromise your health. Additionally, the intense cravings often lead people to relapse. As they resume their drinking, they overcompensate and often increase how much alcohol they drink.

If you do believe you suffer from alcoholism, seeking professional help is your best alternative. A medically supervised recovery process will increase your chances of a successful, long-term recovery. Detox services, accompanied by a substance abuse treatment plan provide the best chances for recovery.

If the symptoms and signs of alcoholism mentioned here sound familiar and lead you to suspect a loved one may be suffering, your next step should be to discuss your concerns with a professional. The admissions counselors at St. John’s Recovery Place can answer your questions and help you get your loved one into treatment.

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