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Signs of Alcoholism

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 15, 2024

Table of Contents

Understanding the signs of alcoholism early on could save your loved one’s life. There are a substantial amount of people who struggle with alcohol but have no idea addiction is an issue. The dangers of alcoholism not only affect your loved one but every type of relationship that surrounds them. From drunk driving, public intoxication, and domestic violence, alcoholism destroys families and relationships. Catch the problem early on by understanding the signs of alcoholism.

Drinking in America is a common pastime. However, for many people, it’s turned into more than a passing activity; it’s become a problem for millions. That is a substantial amount of people who are dealing with an addiction issue. 

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Two common signs of alcoholism are psychological and physiological—both very harmful but in different ways.

The Signs of Alcoholism

Psychological signs of alcoholism are denial, mood swings, and blackouts. Denial is the alcoholics’ way to protect themselves from facing their problems while they continue drinking more than what’s recommended. Mood swings describe how an alcoholic will feel on high or low days throughout the week that can vary in intensity. Blackouts happen when a person drinks so much they forget what happened during the time period when they were intoxicated; this could be due to memory loss or inability to make memories at all.

The common psychological signs of alcoholism include:

  • Extreme mood swings with a short fuse
  • Drinking more of the same types of drinks more often than usual
  • Hiding bottles or cans from your loved one
  • Feeling hungover without drinking
  • Ignore responsibilities in order to drink
  • Experiencing occasional blackouts
  • Drinking three or more drinks if you’re a woman or four or drinks if you’re a man daily

Physiological signs of alcoholism include dehydration and weight change. Dehydration happens because alcohol disrupts your body’s ability to produce thirst signals which require them to drink water regularly but often doesn’t listen so those with dry mouths have cracked lips and dark circles under their eyes. Some other physiological signs of alcoholism are:

  • Immediate regret from drinking previously
  • Difficulty quitting or cutting back on drinking
  • Having problems with things such as your job, friendships, marriage, or other relationships
  • Thinking about the next drink all the time
  • Struggling to maintain life’s responsibilities
  • Notice that if you don’t have a drink, you’ll get withdrawal symptoms in about 12 hours

The physical and psychological signs of alcoholism are difficult for many people to deal with, and some tend to live in denial. Others attempt to quit drinking cold turkey on their own, which leads to dangerous withdrawal symptoms. In fact, alcoholism is one of the few substances individuals can die from withdrawal. However, by facing the truth, you can safely get through this challenging time. There are some psychological signs of alcoholism also known as withdrawals.

someone dealing with signs of alcoholism

Signs of Alcoholism Withdrawal

As noted above, when you take the step to quit alcohol, there are withdrawals. The signs of alcoholism withdrawal may range from mild to severe. Like any form of substance abuse, it depends on your history. How much have you had? How long have you been drinking? When was the last time you drank? Signs of withdrawal occur whether you’re a light drinker or an alcoholic.

The mild symptoms of withdrawal (also called alcohol withdrawal) may include: anxiety, irritability, and insomnia; the severe signs of alcoholism withdrawal can be life-threatening such as seizures and heart palpitations. These are all signs that it’s time to get professional help for your addiction before things spiral out of control!

Other withdrawal signs are:

  • Mild: nausea, sweating, shakiness
  • Moderate: shaking hands and feet, insomnia, irritability, or aggressive behavior
  • Severe: convulsions and seizures; delirium tremens which causes hallucinations.

These symptoms of withdrawal can come years later after a person has been drinking. Therefore, it’s important to know about the signs of alcoholism early on. Once someone realizes their addiction has progressed this far down the road, we should be aware of some things going forward — namely, what will happen if we don’t get help? If left untreated the individual faces severe consequences such Some of the signs of alcohol addiction withdrawal include:

  • Nervousness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sick stomach
  • Sweating
  • Seizure
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Heart palpitations

Other people may have even more severe symptoms when abruptly quitting drinking. It’s always best to consult a professional before attempting to stop drinking alcohol if you suspect you have alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Use Disorder Definition

According to NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), alcohol use disorder represents a spectrum of drinking problems ranging from mild to severe.

Alcohol use disorder – the clinical descriptor for alcoholism – is diagnosed using criteria set out in DSM-5.

To establish the existence of alcohol use disorder and its severity, an addiction specialist or healthcare professional asks you the following eleven questions based on the previous month:

1. Do you find yourself drinking for longer than you intended or drinking more than you intended?

2. Are you spending lots of time drinking and recovering from the after-effects?

3. Have you unsuccessfully attempted to quit drinking or cut down the amount you are drinking?

4. Is alcohol use regularly interfering with your personal and professional obligations?

5. Have you more than once exposed yourself to hazardous situations because of drinking?

6. Have you experienced powerful cravings for alcohol?

7. Do you need to drink more alcohol than before as a result of tolerance building?

8. Are you still drinking despite the negative impact on interpersonal relationships?

9. Have you stopped engaging with hobbies and interests to make more time for drinking?

10.  Have you encountered withdrawal symptoms when alcohol’s effects wear off?

11.  Do you continue drinking despite feeling anxious or depressed?

The presence of 2 or 3 of the above symptoms is classified as mild alcohol use disorder. Someone manifesting 4 or 5 symptoms is diagnosed with moderate alcohol use disorder, while the presence of 6 or more symptoms is categorized as severe alcohol use disorder.

What are the early signs of alcoholism, then?

a person dealing with the signs of alcoholism

Early Signs of Alcoholism

New alcohol users in the early stages of potential alcohol abuse could display anywhere from none to two of the above eleven symptoms in the DSM-5 diagnostic tool. It is tough to predict whether occasional or social drinking will lead to someone developing alcohol use disorder.

The early phase of alcohol abuse, then, typically involves the person being introduced to various types of alcohol, and often experimenting with different forms of drinking.

Experimental drinking is commonplace among teens and young adults, especially college students. Drinking in this setting is typically social.

One of the most common patterns of experimental drinking is binge drinking. NIAAA guidelines classify binge drinking as when males drink 5 or more alcoholic drinks within 2 hours, or females drink 4 or more drinks in the same truncated timeframe.

Even if someone does not drink alcohol regularly, binge drinking can raise the risk of developing alcohol use disorder, as well as increase the chance of alcohol poisoning.

Alcoholism is a chronic and relapsing condition, so the sooner you get the help you need the better. Waiting for rock bottom is inadvisable.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, refer to the above diagnostic questions. Honest responses to these questions should give you an accurate idea about whether you’re exhibiting the early signs of alcoholism. If so, you should start considering the idea of outpatient treatment.

How do you go about treating alcoholism, then?

How Do You Treat Alcoholism?

Rule number one: Do not do it on your own. Depending on the substance abuse history, people can die from alcohol withdrawals. The first way to treat alcohol is by accepting you have a problem, then finding out what kind of help you need. There are tons of resources and alcohol addiction hotlines that can guide you through the crucial steps. They will conduct medical assessments to determine what level of care is best for you. If it’s detox, make sure it’s medically supervised. It’s important your loved one has 24/7 supervision while experiencing withdrawals. After attending an alcohol detox, a residential inpatient program is recommended. Then treating the disease even further with outpatient programming to help become a functioning member of society once again.

What are the signs of a functioning alcoholic? 

Functioning alcoholics are the most dangerous. They can get hammered, then the next day goes to work. No one at work could even tell they are alcoholics until it catches up with them. It always catches up with them. The signs range from functioning alcoholics and you can’t tell. That is until they leave a bottle in their car, and smell alcohol on their breath when they get home from work when they have a “few too many” on their lunch break. It only takes a major event for a functioning alcoholic to break, like losing their house, driving drunk and getting a DUI, or losing their job. Detecting and communicating with a functioning alcoholic is the most difficult. You may want to look up things you should say during an intervention, to make sure you communicate properly.

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Finding Treatment For Alcoholism

You can find a safe way to detox from an alcohol use disorder. At Renaissance Recovery, our experienced therapists are here to work with you to find the pathway to healing. Not just healing the addiction, but treating the mind, body, soul, and spirit. Our evidence-based custom treatment plans allow specific therapeutic modalities and programs to bring about the best results. Some of our therapies include:

You can begin the admission process today by talking to a caring intake coordinator. They will take down your information, talk about your history, and verify your insurance for you. You don’t have to worry about being rejected due to your insurance because federal law has protections in place now.

Don’t let alcoholism interfere with a happy life. Now that you know the signs of alcoholism, you can reach out to a quality alcohol rehab center. Contact Renaissance Recovery’s alcohol rehab in California today, and we’ll get your loved one on the road to recovery. Call today at 866.330.9449



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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