5 Early Warning Signs Of Alcoholism

Alcoholism (also called alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction) is a serious disease. It makes you feel unable to stop drinking alcohol despite negative consequences, such as relationship damage, job loss, or alcohol-related health problems.

If you think you or someone you love might be developing alcoholism, look for these 5 early warning signs.

1. Frequent Alcohol Cravings

If you have a drinking problem, you will likely crave alcohol on a regular basis. At first, these cravings may only occur due to triggers. Triggers are people, places, feelings, or other things that make you want to drink alcohol. Common examples include:

  • people you tend to drink with
  • bars, nightclubs, or restaurants that serve alcohol
  • hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness (also known as HALT)
  • alcohol advertisements

Eventually, you may find yourself craving alcohol all the time, even in the absence of triggers. These cravings could lead you to drink in dangerous situations, such as when you’re driving, swimming, or using machinery.

To recover from alcoholism, you must learn how to cope with cravings. Some of the most common coping skills include deep breathing, listing the benefits of quitting alcohol, and contacting a supportive loved one.

You can learn more personalized coping skills in therapy and support groups.

2. Tolerance

As time goes on, do you find that you need more frequent or stronger drinks to feel drunk? That means you have developed an alcohol tolerance.

Tolerance occurs when your body gets used to alcohol, meaning you become less sensitive to its effects. It’s often one of the first symptoms of alcoholism.

Many people with an alcohol tolerance engage in excessive drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines two types of excessive drinking: binge drinking and heavy drinking.

Binge Drinking & Heavy Drinking

Binge drinking means having 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours for females and having 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours for males. Heavy drinking means having 3 or more drinks in one day (or more than 7 drinks per week) for females and having 4 or more drinks in one day (or more than 14 drinks per week) for males.

All forms of excessive drinking pose serious health risks, including alcohol poisoning.

3. Physical Dependence

When you spend a lot of time drinking, you may become physically dependent on alcohol. That means your body starts relying on the drug to function normally. If you try to cut down on alcohol or stop drinking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • irritability
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • fatigue
  • nightmares
  • trouble thinking clearly
  • shaking
  • sweating
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Delirium Tremens

In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to a life-threatening condition called delirium tremens. This condition is most common in people who drink heavily or who have used alcohol for over 10 years. It causes symptoms such as:

  • restlessness
  • agitation
  • confusion
  • changes in mental function
  • excitement or fear
  • hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
  • sensitivity to touch, sound, or light
  • fever
  • extreme fatigue
  • seizures

To stay safe and comfortable during alcohol withdrawal, seek professional help from your doctor. Your doctor may recommend that you attend a medical detox program.

In these programs, a team of health professionals will monitor your physical and mental health as you get alcohol out of your system. They may also prescribe medications to ease certain withdrawal symptoms.

4. Loss Of Interest & Motivation

When you develop alcoholism, drinking can quickly become your main priority. As a result, you may lose interest in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed. Even if you attempt them, you might find they no longer satisfy you like they once did.

Similarly, you may lose interest in spending time with friends and family members, especially if they express concern over the amount of alcohol you drink. To avoid judgment, you might start spending most or all of your time with other heavy drinkers.

In addition, many people with alcoholism lose their motivation at work or school. Some also stop prioritizing household responsibilities, such as cleaning, cooking, and childcare. This loss of motivation can cause serious family conflicts.

5. Sudden Health Problems

Problematic drinking habits can lead to a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including:

  • alcohol-induced blackouts (temporary memory loss caused by excessive alcohol consumption)
  • alcohol poisoning (also called alcohol overdose)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • poor memory
  • digestive problems
  • high blood pressure
  • sexually transmitted diseases from risky sexual behaviors while intoxicated

Someone who suddenly develops these issues could be struggling with alcoholism. Over time, they may also develop other alcohol-related diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cirrhosis of the liver. Alcoholism also increases your risk of certain kinds of cancer, including cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

If you or someone you love displays these signs, please reach out to Spring Hill Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer a variety of evidence-based addiction treatment options to help you or your loved one stay alcohol-free.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Alcohol Use and Your Health https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Drinking Levels Defined https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/interrupted-memories-alcohol-induced-blackouts
  4. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm
  5. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Delirium tremens https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

Published on: November 14, 2023

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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