10 Startling Signs of Alcoholism
Twenty-five percent of Americans age 18 and older have had at least one heavy drinking day (four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men) in the past year. That may not seem like a big deal—after all, it might mean just one day out of the whole year. However, binge drinking is responsible for half of the 88,000 annual deaths that result from excessive alcohol use in the United States, and that kind of heavy drinking is not just an occasional occurrence for many Americans today. Rates of alcoholism rose by 49% in the first decade of the 21st century, and approximately 1 in 8 adults in the United States meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder. This article presents the ten most definitive signs that you or someone you love needs to detox from alcohol as soon as possible, because becoming more aware of the signs of alcoholism and the need for treatment can save lives.
The Overlooked Epidemic
The opioid epidemic is a serious problem that warrants attention, but there is another epidemic that is killing thousands of Americans—88,000 Americans each year, which is twice as many annual fatalities as from opiate overdoses. Alcoholism afflicts one in eight adults in this country, putting people at risk for accidental deaths, alcohol poisoning deaths, and deaths from a range of diseases that can be caused by excessive drinking, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, pancreatitis, brain damage, liver cirrhosis, type 2 diabetes, various kinds of cancer and infections, and more. In addition, alcoholism can hurt more than just the alcoholic, as excessive drinking can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and car and household accidents that can be fatal for many people, not just the alcoholic.
Over half of all Americans age 12 and over are current alcohol drinkers, and 23% of those are binge drinkers. Many of these people started drinking at a young age.
SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health report found that 64% of 12th graders drank alcohol during the past year.
The prevalence of alcohol use and alcoholism makes it very likely that you or someone you know has a drinking problem. Becoming aware of the signs of an alcoholic is crucial for recognizing when professional help is needed.
10 Startling Signs of Alcoholism
Having just one of the following signs of alcoholism is major cause for concern, and the more symptoms you recognize in yourself or someone you love, the more urgent it is for you to seek professional treatment.
1. Ongoing drinking has resulted in an inability to meet expectations and fulfill responsibilities at school, work, and/or home.
Excessive drinking gets in the way of taking care of the things you need to do in life. It makes you too sick to go to work or school, and too intoxicated to take care of your family or the house. It causes poor performance at tasks, or a failure to even perform a task at all. Alcoholism can get you suspended from work or school, or expelled or fired. When addiction is in control of your life, you simply cannot handle your everyday responsibilities, disappointing yourself and everyone around you on a daily basis.
2. Repeatedly using alcohol in situations that are physically hazardous while intoxicated.
Alcoholism can lead to risky behavior on its own—motivating you to pull a dangerous stunt to show off, to walk alone through a dangerous part of town, or to have unprotected sex. It can also lead you to engage in activities that become very dangerous when you are intoxicated, such as lighting a fire, driving a car, operating machinery, or going swimming.
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3. Choosing drinking over other things that were once important to you.
If you are an alcoholic, drinking becomes the center of your life, forcing you to give up or reduce the number of professional, social, or recreational activities that you take part in. Sometimes giving these things up is an unintentional side effect of getting drunk or sick at the wrong time, or of losing track of what day it is and missing an event. Other times, you may deliberately pass on activities you might have enjoyed in the past because you know you won’t be able to drink if you take part. Then there is the sad way that alcoholism slowly makes you lose interest in the things that you used to be passionate about, until drinking is the only thing that seems to matter anymore.
4. Too much of your time and energy is spent on alcohol.
Excessive drinking is a massive drain on your time and energy. There is the preparation leading up to intoxication, the actual drinking, and then the recovery process afterwards, which is usually both physical and practical, as you simultaneously deal with a hangover and the apologies you need to make or the messes you need to clean up. Needing to drink so often drives you to drink alone, or secretly. You might put vodka in your water bottle, or stay home alone and get drunk rather than go out to a sober event. Your existence eventually revolves around alcohol, using up almost all of your time, energy, and mental space.
5. Continuing to drink, even though it creates or worsens a physical or psychological ailment.
Alcoholism pushes you to keep drinking even when you know for a fact that it’s bad for you. Your doctor is worried about your liver, but you keep drinking anyway. You wake up to panic attacks a few hours after passing out drunk, but you still get drunk the following night. You may feel hungover almost all the time, and the more you drink, the more depressed you become, and yet you continue to make excuses to keep drinking—that it was just one more time, that you deserve it after the day you’ve had, that your spouse/boss/parent drives you to drink, or that you can’t face that party/meeting/dinner without alcohol.
6. Alcohol has gotten you into legal trouble.
DUIs, arrests for disorderly conduct, destruction of property that occurred when you were drunk, and many other legal problems can result from alcoholism, and even though you may have vowed to stop drinking as a result, you continued to drink anyway and only made your problems worse.
7. Drinking is destroying your personal life.
Another sign you’re an alcoholic is when you continue to drink even though you regularly experience social or relationship problems because of alcohol. Maybe you fight with loved ones about how much you drink, the things you do or say while drunk, or the promises you fail to keep because of your drinking. Maybe you’ve become hostile and easily irritated, or have major mood swings that are hurting your relationships. Or maybe drinking has caused you to become isolated from your loved ones, either because you are pulling away or because they are pulling away from you—and yet even with all the damage being done, you keep drinking.
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8. You need more alcohol now than you used to.
Alcoholism will change your physical tolerance to the effects of alcohol. When you started drinking, you may have been able to get tipsy off half a glass of wine and completely drunk from three beers, but over time, the number of drinks you need to feel the way you want to has gotten larger and larger, and you hardly ever feel the same level of happy intoxication that you once enjoyed so much. This tolerance isn’t just disappointing and inconvenient, forcing you to buy more drinks to have less fun, it is a sign that your body and brain have changed the way that they function due to the large amounts of alcohol in your system, and consuming more alcohol only increases your risk of developing the many health complications caused by alcohol’s toxic effects.
9. You have more drinks, drink more often, or drink over a longer span of time than you meant to.
When you have alcohol use disorder, you may decide that you aren’t going to drink at all this weekend, but start drinking on Friday night anyway. You may think you’ll have just one or two drinks, then end up doing shot after shot at the bar. You may intend to go home after the bar and switch to water, but instead wind up staying drunk all weekend long. Alcoholics who are actively drinking have a very difficult time turning away from alcohol if it’s available, even if they’ve resolved to not drink or to only drink a small amount. This kind of excessive drinking has probably also caused problems with your short-term memory, and you may have experienced blackouts or total memory loss as well.
10. You’ve tried and failed to stop drinking before.
Most alcoholics have tried to quit or cut down on their drinking and were unable to do it on their own. This is often because of terrible withdrawal symptoms, like shaking, sweating, nausea, anxiety, depression, fever—even seizures and hallucinations are possible while your body is detoxing from alcohol. When you are attempting to detox at home alone, it is far too easy to return to alcohol as a way of relieving these withdrawal symptoms. You probably experience this cycle in a smaller way almost daily. Hangovers are just a form of alcohol withdrawal, which is why a little “hair of the dog” when you’re hurting can help you temporarily feel better.
Alcohol Detox Could Save Your Life
If you see the signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved one, it is time to seek out treatment, starting with an alcohol detox. When your body is dependent on alcohol, you have to drink to keep from feeling sick, but if you continue to drink, you will suffer physical problems like stroke or liver failure, psychological problems like depression or anxiety disorder, and personal and professional problems like divorce and job loss—and worst of all, you may lose your life while you’re not even fully living it.
Free yourself from the prison of alcohol addiction by getting treatment at a rehab facility, starting with a medical detox. Detoxing from alcohol on your own is a bad idea, both because of the chance you may suffer life threatening withdrawal symptoms, but also because it makes you much more vulnerable to returning to drinking. Your detox experience will be much more comfortable, and a whole lot healthier, if you go somewhere with professional guidance and medical attention.
Alcohol Detox Treatment Options
Ideally, you should start your recovery from alcoholism by getting a medical detox at an inpatient rehab facility, where you will undergo a 90 day treatment program. If you are unable to stay at an inpatient or residential facility for that length of time, you can take part in a more flexible outpatient program instead. What’s important is that you get enough treatment for long enough for you to uncover and address the key addiction issues behind your alcohol use disorder, and to make practical changes in your life that will support staying sober for the long haul.
Inpatient treatment is especially helpful if you have an unstable home life that is likely to sabotage your recovery efforts, and conversely, if you have a secure, supportive home environment, outpatient treatment might work well for you. The key is to take a good look at yourself and your needs, and to talk to authorities in the field of addiction treatment who can help you figure out the levels and types of treatment programs that would work best for you and your situation.
Don’t let the choices and the prospect of such massive changes overwhelm you. Help is close at hand. Call our 24-hour hotline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) , and get assistance from our compassionate treatment professionals who can simplify this process and guide you to the help that you need. You can also look into treatment facilities near you by using our directory.