It doesn’t take a DUI, a tragic breakup or a classic sign of ‘hitting rock bottom’ to realize that you may have a problem with alcohol. Addiction can manifest in many ways, with various behaviors and patterns that might suggest maladaptive coping, or simply an inability to stop drinking. And, contrary to what some might think, you don’t have to go through the worst of it to finally be ready for help. Addiction can be treated the second it’s identified, provided that you go through the trouble of identifying it to begin with.
Before we get into the signs that might suggest you’re an alcoholic, it’s important to define alcoholism. While drinking often and drinking a lot is a strong sign, it’s not a dead giveaway. Plenty of people enjoy alcohol and have a high tolerance for it, but are not, in fact, addicted. It is by no means healthy to drink regularly (or to drink at all, for that matter), but addiction and preference are two different things. The difference is choice. An addict cannot choose – not while they’re still addicted, at least.
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is characterized by mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use in anyone meeting any two of 11 separate criteria consistently within a 12-month period. Like other addictions, alcohol use disorder is characterized by alcohol abuse (the excessive use of alcohol to cope with problems) and physical addiction (a dependence on alcohol, with withdrawal symptoms). DSM-5 asks several questions to help determine if someone is an alcoholic. Here are some signs that you may have an alcohol use problem.
If You’ve Wanted a Drink so Badly, Nothing Else Seemed to Matter
Alcohol has been a part of human culture for longer than most foods, languages, and laws – but there’s certainly such a thing as being too preoccupied with booze. You should never need to drink. It’s okay to want to drink, and it’s okay to have a drink now and again – but if you’ve ever felt for alcohol, chances are that your mind is already wired to think of booze as your first option for stress relief. This is a bad habit, and in some cases, it’s more advanced than you might think.
If You’re Still Drinking After Causing Trouble for Friends or Family
Another sign of alcoholism is continuing the habit despite clear consequences. It’s quite common, especially in a person’s younger years, to drink and cause a little bit of havoc with drunken behavior. Alcohol reduces a person’s inhibitions, and in teens and young adults especially, it is known for greatly increasing risk-taking behavior.
But there’s a line that if crossed clearly indicates that you should lay off the alcohol. If you’ve ever caused serious harm or potential harm to those around you due to alcohol but continue to drink, you should examine your priorities.
If Your Drinking Has Ever Gotten You Into a Situation Where You Could’ve Gotten Hurt
Fooling around is one thing, but if your alcohol use has led you to continue drinking and be drunk while driving, operating machinery, swimming in the ocean, or regularly engaging in unprotected sex, then you may have a problem with alcohol. Signs that indicate that you’re still prone to drinking when it can cause serious trouble for you can point to alcoholism, especially dependence.
If You’re Still Drinking Despite Health Problems Associated With Your Alcohol Use
Alcohol is very unhealthy. Alongside tobacco, alcohol use is a leading cause of death, contributing heavily to the declining heart health and organ health of hundreds of thousands of heavy drinkers around the country. Alcohol can increase the risk of many cancers, including cancer in the mouth, throat, larynx, colon, stomach, heart, lungs, and rectum. Alcohol also contributes to the risk of heart failure, stroke, and brain diseases associated with a rapid cognitive decline, including dementia. If you’ve been to a doctor and he has confirmed that your drinking may have contributed to a health issue you’re tackling (or is currently continuing to contribute to said health issue), it’s a good idea to stop.
If You’ve Tried At Least Once To Stop, Unsuccessfully
A clear sign of alcoholism is an unsuccessful attempt to stop drinking. You’re not in control of your habits if, in the middle of taking a break, you decide (for whatever reason) to drink again. There are plenty of ways to justify giving up a break from alcohol and going back to drinking, but if you’ve tried once or more to quit unsuccessfully, you’re very likely addicted to alcohol.
If You Spend a Lot of Time Drunk or Dealing With a Hangover
Drunkenness should not be a normal state, nor should post-drunken nausea and chronic headaches. Some people are “functioning alcoholics”, consuming alcohol in a near-perpetual state of inebriation, never too drunk, yet never quite sober either. If you start your day with alcohol and recall more time spent drinking than doing almost anything else, then it’s high time to address this destructive habit.
If You’ve Ever Felt Sick After Not Drinking for a While
In cases of physical dependence, the body begins to normalize drug use. Heavy alcohol use begins to numb the mind to the various ways in which the body is protesting your choice of drink and lack of other forms of nutrition, and the brain begins to get used to being drunk. Once you try to stop in that state, things go haywire. The accumulated damage dealt over time hits you all at once, and you’re in a state of nausea, with shivers, pain, and even hallucination. Alcohol is a particularly dangerous drug to stop cold turkey, because the withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to cause death. Always quit drugs in the presence of a medical professional, or request detox treatment.
Addiction manifests itself in more ways than just one – but it doesn’t take too many signs to realize that you may have a problem with alcohol. If one or more of these signs applies firmly to you, then you should consider the possibility.