There are countless warning signs that a person is developing an addiction to alcohol. Drinking every night (regardless of amount), drinking with intent to be drunk, feeling like alcohol is a need, experiencing withdrawal symptoms without alcohol, feeling aggression or agitation spontaneously, acting unusually compulsively, drinking in dangerous situations such as at work or in public, and/or acquiring a tolerance (meaning more and more is needed to feel the same desired effect) are all signs of alcoholism developing, and there are literally dozens more.
We’re here to focus on the top five.
This is an article for anyone and everyone over the age of 21, yes, but people who know beyond the shadow of a doubt they are alcoholics are not a part of our target audience. In other words, if you are struggling with whether or not your drinking has become problematic, this article is for you. If someone you know is in that predicament, this article is for you. These are not the top five indicators of alcoholism. These are the top five signs that alcoholism might (and probably is) developing. Please note the important distinction.
Also please note that if you truly do believe you are an alcoholic, stop reading this article and immediately seek help for yourself. If you don’t know where to start, call someone you think might. Alcohol kills nearly 100,000 Americans every year, whether through bodily disease, car crashes or other types of accidents. Don’t become a statistic.
5 Warning Signs of Alcoholism
1. You can’t stick to your drinking limits.
There’s a party coming up this weekend you want to attend. Maybe it’s a college mixer and you’re 25, or maybe it’s a work party and you’re 55. Regardless, you want to go, and you know there’s going to be drinking. I’m not an alcoholic, you say to yourself, so I’ll just have three drinks over the course of the night. Say a couple of hours into the party you’re already on drink number four – you might be developing alcoholism.
Not being able to control the amount you drink, especially when you set out to, is a surefire sign of alcohol addiction creeping in. What’s actually happening is you’re losing control. The alcohol is taking over, speaking for itself, and telling you to consume more of it. If you find this hard to believe or far-fetched, then simply ask yourself why you didn’t stick to your own set limits.
That being said, setting a limit for how much alcohol you consume, and sticking to it, is an excellent method for controlling/moderating your drinking. Provided your limits are reasonable and you’re drinking responsibly, setting limits is great alcoholism prevention. So what’s drinking responsibly?
The NIAAA (National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse) long ago set the officially recognized standard for what responsible drinking is. Most responsible, obviously, is to not drink at all. Moderate drinking, the second-most responsible method, involves having no more than 1 drink per day and no more than 2 per week. Then we have low-risk drinking, which essentially represents the most one can drink without being at direct risk of becoming an alcoholic.
For males, low-risk drinking means no more than 4 drinks a day and no more than 14 a week, and for females, the amount is no more than 3 drinks daily and no more than 7 weekly. The male and female bodies digest and break alcohol down differently, and this is the reasoning behind the differentiation.
2. Your loved ones are noticing your drinking habits.
There are two parts or possibilities, if you will, to this particular sign. One is that others could be talking to you or confronting you about your drinking. The other is that you could be becoming hostile or confrontational toward others because of your drinking. Let’s discuss being confronted first.
Your loved ones, or rather a person or people from your entire social circle, are reacting negatively to the amount you drink. Maybe your spouse gets upset when you drink, or at how often. Maybe your brother-in-law told your sister he thinks you’re an alcoholic. Maybe your neighbor eyeballs the amount of empty beer bottles you carry out each week. Maybe one of your friends literally sat you down and explained how your drinking is becoming a problem, and that he or she is concerned for you.
You’ll know if and when someone you know or care about takes negative notice of your drinking. What this indicates is that you need to take an honest look at your alcohol consumption habits. Unless you don’t mind becoming an alcoholic, with some of the symptoms including dizziness, shakiness, craving, sweating, general discontent, guilt, loneliness, self-destructive behavior, or lack of restraint, then by all means do nothing. However, if you want to perform some preventative maintenance and avoid alcoholism, slow your drinking down.
Now, if you are becoming hostile or aggressive or just downright mean, and you can link it to your drinking at all, then watch out. Alcoholism might be right around the bend. Significant changes in behavior like that indicate changes occurring in the brain. Alcoholism itself is a disease of the brain, one in which certain neurotransmitter levels are thrown off-balance and then adjusted to accordingly, creating eventually what is commonly called ‘wet brain’. Not good.
3. You need to have a buzz to have fun.
Warning sign: One of your friends bought a house and there’s a get-together coming up. You hear the news. You get excited for your buddy, and to see everyone, and then your next thought is about drinking. You hope it’s a drinking party.
Warning sign: You and a couple friends are meeting up to go to the movies. You drink beforehand.
Warning sign: You find yourself drinking to ‘celebrate’ things that do not warrant celebrating. This is a big one. There are endless examples, but a few that we can think of are drinking because you came into some extra money, or because your favorite sports team won, or because it’s Labor Day or some other usually uncelebrated holiday.
Finding a reason to drink when there isn’t one is a guaranteed sign of developing alcoholism. If you find that you need to have a buzz on to have fun while doing something that is normally considered fun on its own, check yourself. Seriously. There are enough alcoholics in the world that need treatment.
It’s important in this regard to also understand that sometimes it’s okay to have a couple of drinks, provided the celebration calls for it and that you are not a problematic drinker. Social, responsible drinking is perfectly normal and legal. You should know the difference inside as to whether or not you are requiring alcohol in order to have fun. That does not mean people cannot have fun drinking. It does mean, however, that if the drinking makes it fun, you could be developing an alcohol problem.
4. You find yourself drinking alone.
Certain things are just meant for a social setting. Alcohol is near the top of that list. There simply is no good reason to consume any amount of alcohol when you are alone. What this means is that you are now making alcohol a part of your everyday life as opposed to your social life. The next step from here is keeping alcohol in the house at all times, and indulging freely regardless of time or whether or not there’s company.
Drinking alone is like playing solitaire with two people; it just doesn’t feel right. That’s because it’s not right. This is not a stigma, as many who do drink alone will tell you. Alcohol is not a cigarette. Alcohol is an extremely powerful intoxicant and consuming it alone not only shows a sign of possible alcoholism, it also is dangerous. God forbid you drink alone, become drunk and a bit dizzy, fall, hit your head and become unconscious. That could happen from one drink.
It’s important to recognize that this does not translate into social drinking being non-problematic. If you are drinking to get drunk, especially if you’re doing so often, but it’s always with other people, you’re just as much at risk as anyone who meets any of the criteria in this article. Just because you drink in company does not mean you are just a ‘social drinker.’
5. You have a tendency to ‘black out’ while drinking.
Okay, so last night you had a few too many and there’s a chunk of the night that you cannot remember whatsoever. That’s not funny. All too often people recall such memory losses with humor, almost pride. You’ve probably heard someone in your life say something to the effect of, “I literally don’t even remember doing that!” Well, we’re here to make something clear. A blackout is temporary amnesia.
Consider this excerpt from an article written by Dr. Aaron White on alcohol and memory:
In 1969, Goodwin and colleagues published two of the most influential studies in the literature on blackouts. Based on interviews with 100 hospitalized alcoholics, 64 of whom had a history of blackouts, the authors posited the existence of two qualitatively different types of blackouts: en bloc and fragmentary blackouts. People experiencing en bloc blackouts are unable to recall any details whatsoever from events that occurred while they were intoxicated, despite all efforts by the drinkers or others to cue recall… En bloc memory impairments tend to have a distinct onset. It is usually less clear when these blackouts end because people typically fall asleep before they are over. Interestingly, people appear able to keep information active in short–term memory for at least a few seconds. As a result, they can often carry on conversations, drive automobiles, and engage in other complicated behaviors. Information pertaining to these events is simply not transferred into long–term storage.
Both en bloc and fragmentary blackouts can be caused by alcohol – even as little as it takes to reach the legal blood alcohol content limit. Long-term, these blackouts can become more and more severe and eventually even cause Korsakoff’s syndrome, a full-blown memory-destroying disease.
Now that you understand blackouts are not a laughing matter and are in fact a form of amnesia, you should understand that having them due to drinking is an absolute sign of alcoholism. In fact, we are willing to bet that just about every single clinical alcoholic has had at least one blackout. We’re even willing to go so far as to say that the majority of those who have blacked out ended up doing something regrettable while in that state.
Alcohol causes the most deaths of all substances in the world. Perhaps this is because it’s legal and readily available. However, prohibition clearly did not work, so the best you can do is prepare yourself for a world inundated with alcohol. It’s on TV. It’s in the news. It’s in a bottle in your friend’s hand. You cannot escape the presence of alcohol.
Therefore it’s best to avoid it.
However, addiction is a disease, and nearly everyone in America at least tries drinking once. Put this all together, and it’s basically like saying that everyone’s going to try something that they might become addicted to. That being said, if you find yourself questioning whether or not you’re becoming an alcoholic, get the help you need now before it’s too late. Alcoholics tend to have a harder time recovering than those who are drinkers on the verge of alcoholism.