Being able to recognize the warning signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one is one of the first steps to long-term recovery.

Article at a Glance:

Alcoholism is the inability to control one’s consumption of alcohol despite ongoing consequences.

People who struggle with alcoholism frequently have chronic physical health implications from use.

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and require medical intervention during alcohol detox.

Recognizing Alcoholism

Being able to recognize the signs of alcoholism is one of the crucial first steps to finding recovery from alcohol use disorder. Millions of people across the globe lose their jobs, health, families and even lives to the debilitating effects of alcoholism each year.

Alcohol abuse can be tough to track for a few big reasons. First of all, it’s legal. Second, drinking plays a role in a lot of social functions in many cultures. Celebrating a big win at work? Get a drink. Meeting up with friends? Grab a drink. Relaxing after a long day? Reach for a drink.

Often, signs and symptoms of alcoholism can be overlooked until it’s too late. Usually, friends and family will be able to see these signs much sooner, but they may not want to believe it’s happening. Or, you might be struggling without realizing or admitting the severity of your own addiction.

Understanding the signs of alcohol abuse can help you identify a problem in yourself or others.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is the uncontrolled, continued use of alcohol despite negative social, emotional and physical health consequences.

What are the causes of alcoholism?

Alcoholism can have many factors. Often there is a genetic predisposition that increases the odds of an individual having alcohol use disorder, as well as psychological and environmental factors.

6 Warning Signs of Alcoholism

If you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, keep an eye out for some of the common signs below:

1. You Cannot Control Your Drinking

Do you always tell yourself that you’re just going to have one or two drinks, yet you always end up drinking much more than that?

The inability to control your drinking is a sign of alcoholism. From the moment you take your first drink, you may hear a voice inside your head telling you to “drink more, drink more, drink more…”

Related Topic: Drinking Too Much Alcohol

2. You Drink During the Morning

Do you drink throughout the day just to feel normal? Do you drink alone frequently? Alcohol can be used to mask how you’re truly feeling and can be used as a coping mechanism during stressful times throughout your life. Or, it may be used to mask mental health issues like depression.

If you’re using alcohol as a crutch to simply get through the day, then your relationship with alcohol is probably not the healthiest.

3. You Hide Your Drinking

Do you disguise how often you drink? Hiding your drinking from those you love is often a sure sign of having a problem with alcohol. Usually, you end up hiding your drinking because you feel ashamed, and you don’t want anyone to know you’re currently under the influence.

4. Your Physical Appearance Has Changed

Some people can drink a lot without experiencing negative physical consequences. However, most people who drink heavily end up exhibiting a number of physical signs, including:

5. You Continue to Drink Even as Relationships or Life Deteriorate

Do you continue to drink heavily, even though you’re currently suffering through relationship, work or health problems? Beyond affecting your personal health and happiness, abusing alcohol can also affect those you love and care about. The social implications can be devastating on the individual and their family. Often people struggling with alcoholism isolate themselves from others and avoid loved ones.

If you find that your life seems to be falling apart at the seams, then it might be time to examine your relationship with alcohol.

6. You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Drinking

Withdrawal from alcohol can be quite serious for people struggling with alcoholism. If you have alcohol withdrawal, you may experience:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating

Severe withdrawal (called delirium tremens) from long-standing alcohol use patterns can be life-threatening and requires medical attention. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Seizures

Self-Assessment Quizzes

These three screening tests are confidential and available for free to help you better understand your drinking habits:

Common Alcoholism Symptoms

Alcoholism frequently causes long-term symptoms and can create chronic health conditions. Some conditions can be life-threatening or be complicated by the use of varying medications or continued alcohol use. Common health issues for people dealing with alcoholism include:

  • Liver disease and liver damage
  • Cardiovascular disease and heart issues
  • Digestive issues, like gout
  • Sexual and reproductive dysfunction
  • Neurological issues
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Dementia
  • Nerve damage
  • Increased likelihood of varying types of cancer
  • Severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms

Even if you recognize many of these health factors and warning signs in your own life, it is not too late to reach out for support and treatment.

Questions To Ask If You Recognize the Warning Signs

If you’re reading this and wonder if you are an alcoholic, then answer the questions below honestly. It’s all too easy to deceive yourself when you’re addicted. The questions below might help illuminate any current struggles with alcohol.

  • Do you lie about drinking or hide your drinking from loved ones?
  • Do you feel tired, depressed, angry or anxious when you don’t drink?
  • Have you tried to honestly quit in the past but haven’t been successful?
  • Is your social life centered around drinking?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, this might not mean you’re addicted to alcohol, but it might show a potential problem with drinking. If you’ve answered yes to almost all the questions, or noticed the signs mentioned above, then it’s important to seek out help as soon as possible. This isn’t something you should have to work through alone.

Alcoholism Treatment

Alcoholism isn’t a character flaw; it’s a treatable disease. To speak with a representative about treatment options, reach out to the helpful team at The Recovery Village today.

Next Steps →

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

University of Rochester Medical Center. “Social Drinking vs. Problem Drinking.” Accessed October 22, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed October 22, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, January 17, 2021. Accessed October 22, 2021.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism).” April 24, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.