Am I an Alcoholic? Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on July 19, 2020
If you’ve noticed some problematic drinking or had friends or family members point it out to you, you’re likely wondering if you’re an alcoholic.
There aren’t always clear cut signs to let you know. For some, the signs might not be nearly as obvious as you think. Here’s a guide to help you determine how serious your drinking problem may be.
Are You Wondering if You Might Be an Alcoholic?
In determining if you’re an alcoholic it’s important to define some terms first. Alcohol abuse means any alcohol use that causes negative results for the user. This could be as simple as a bad hangover. But when alcohol use causes negative impacts on someone’s overall life, then there’s a real problem. It’s important to remember that a mild drinking problem can easily become more serious if warnings go unheeded.
What are the Warning Signs of Alcoholism?
While alcohol abuse isn’t quite the same thing as alcoholism, it’s critical to monitor the abuse of alcohol from the start because a mild problem can easily become out of control. This is the first warning sign that alcohol intake could become an issue.
Short-term consequences of alcohol abuse include:
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Impaired judgment
- Trouble breathing
The short term side effects give way to the long term ones which are extremely serious and can even cause death:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Anxiety disorders
- Cancer of the mouth and throat
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Compromised immune system
- Hand tremors
- High blood pressure
- Injury, intentional (i.e., firearms, domestic violence)
- Injury, unintentional (i.e., car crash, fall)
- Nerve damage
- Neurological impairment
- Permanent brain damage
- Sexual problems
- Vitamin B1 deficiency
Alcohol abuse creates a host of non-medical problems in a person’s life as well. These can range from legal to financial problems to conflicts at work and home.
In fact, sometimes looking at these other symptoms can be one of the best ways to determine if you have a drinking problem.
Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
Here are some of the symptoms of general alcohol abuse:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Temporary blackouts or memory loss
- Excuses for drinking (like need to deal with stress or relax)
- Isolated from friends and family
- Changes in group of friends and relations
- Neglect obligations and commitments for drinking
- Change in appearance
- Drinking in secret
- Feeling ill or hungover when not drinking
Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is the more extreme form of alcohol abuse. All of the things associated with alcohol abuse apply, but it is combined with a physical dependence on alcohol.
Those with just alcohol abuse, may be suffering from terrible consequences in their life, but are still able to set some limits around their drinking.
Those with alcoholism have a physical need to keep drinking combined with their alcohol abuse.
There are two major warning signs for alcoholism that demonstrate you may have a physical dependence on alcohol. They are:
- Tolerance: This means you need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects. If you find yourself drinking more than you needed to in the past to achieve the same results, or that you regularly drink more than anyone else, then tolerance may be an issue for you.
- Withdrawal: Your experiencing physical symptoms of withdrawal when you’re not drinking is a huge red flag. It occurs when your body becomes so used to heavy drinking that it begins experiencing negative symptoms when it’s taken away. Withdrawal can be so bad that when a person wakes up they will be in withdrawal from not drinking during the night.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Some of the physical symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Loss of appetite
There can be more severe effects including seizures, depression and hallucinations. These symptoms are serious. If you’re a heavy drinker and want to stop, it’s important to consult a doctor about potential withdrawal.
There are several tools and assessments that are used for diagnosing alcoholism. Two of these tests include:
The CAGE Questionnaire
This is a set of four questions that can help determine a drinking problem. The four questions are:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V)
Questions under the entries for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are another common diagnostic tool. Doctors may ask questions such as:
- Have there been situations where you ended up drinking much more than you intended?
- Have you lost interest in other activities and hobbies since you started drinking?
- Have you felt an urge or craving to consume alcohol?
- Have you experienced symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal?
Dangers of Alcoholism and How to Get Help
Alcoholism has a wide range of dangers, both physical and emotional. It can affect every aspect of your life, beginning with your health. The overconsumption of alcohol has harmful effects on nearly every part of the body, including the brain, heart and immune system. Additionally, alcoholism can have tragic effects on every aspect of a person’s life, from relationships to career to finances.
If you believe you may be suffering from alcoholism, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t need to do this alone. There is help out there. You should schedule an appointment with your doctor and look into rehab programs near you.
Search our directory for accredited treatment programs in your area.
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