Signs of Alcoholism – How Can You Tell if Someone Has a Drinking Problem?Dylan Romero
It’s a question no one wants to ask: “Is my loved one an alcoholic?” In a world of normalized drinking and changing definitions, it can be difficult to distinguish someone with alcohol use disorder from a social drinker. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is a key resource for those who suspect that their friends or family members may have a drinking problem. Recent NIAAA research shows that, out of the country’s population of 327 million, an estimated 16 million people in the United States alone have alcohol use disorder.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” The diagnostic criteria include questions like “In the past year, have you wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?” and “Have you continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?”
Like all substance use disorders, AUD can range from mild to severe. There are also divisions called the stages of alcoholism, and may be broken down into the early, middle/chronic, and end stages.
Stages of Alcoholism
The early stage of alcoholism sounds innocuous enough – it involves occasional binge drinking, originally in social situations and then in day-to-day life. People in this stage begin to feel uncomfortable about their alcohol consumption, experience blackouts, and find themselves preoccupied by thoughts of alcohol. They may begin lying about their drinking to friends and family, even going so far as to conceal liquor in other beverages to avoid suspicion. As their tolerance raises, they require more alcohol in order to get the same effect. As such, they may seem to be functioning normally and exhibit few signs of drunkenness.
The middle, or chronic, phase is reached when years of daily drinking begin to create consequences for the person abusing alcohol. The amount of alcohol consumed has increased steadily, and strong cravings are present. With this level of physical dependence comes a host of withdrawal symptoms: nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and tremors are all common. To combat them, they may begin drinking much earlier in the day and in secret. At this point, the issue typically becomes obvious to friends and loved ones, especially as the person affected begins to behave differently. They take risks in order to drink at inappropriate times (even while driving), work performance suffers, moods become volatile, and their appearances or hygiene levels may change for the worse.
End-stage alcoholism is when dangerous withdrawal symptoms occur, which must be managed by professional addiction treatment centers. Those in this phase have become completely consumed by their drinking, and there is no space for anything else in their minds. Friends, family, and jobs have fallen by the wayside in favor of around-the-clock drinking. They suffer from a wide variety of physical problems, especially with respect to their livers. At this point, it is dangerous and nearly impossible for those affected to get clean on their own, but recovery is still possible. They require professional detox services to manage withdrawal symptoms before entering an immersive residential treatment program. These programs should be fully accredited and have proven success rates in order to ensure the best possible outcome.
Signs of Alcoholism
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) is the foremost authority in defining alcohol use disorder. Its criteria are outlined below, but should only be considered a guideline. If you suspect your loved one of having alcohol use disorder, even if their symptoms are not all listed below (or if they do not have many of these symptoms), we still encourage you to reach out and pursue treatment.
The presence of at least two of these symptoms indicates an alcohol use disorder. Mild alcoholism is characterized by the presence of two or three of the below symptoms, while moderate AUD is denoted by four or five of them. In order to receive a rating of “severe,” one must exhibit six or more of the items from that list.
DSM-5 Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
- Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
- Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
- Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
- Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
- Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effects OR b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
- Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol OR b) Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
Fortunately, there is hope for those with alcohol use disorder. Detoxification programs are supervised by medical professionals, who are able to prescribe medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. This ensures that detox – becoming physically cleansed of the toxins from drugs and alcohol – is as comfortable and safe as possible. Once detox is complete, recovery work at a residential treatment program can begin. Also called inpatient addiction treatment, residential treatment provides a highly structured environment for healing. With the help of an expert team, clients are able to fully immerse themselves in the process of recovery. They’ll learn valuable life skills and coping mechanisms that ensure their independence from substance use. Through concentrated effort and comprehensive education, they’ll create their own lasting sobriety.
Concise Recovery Can Help
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use disorder, we encourage you to reach out today. Give us a call at (888) 978-5424 or fill out our online contact form – it’s completely confidential, and you’ll receive a prompt response. Our compassionate team is available 24/7 to create your individualized treatment plan and answer any questions you may have.