Signs of Alcohol Abuse

July 10, 2023 | Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse is a serious issue affecting millions of people worldwide. In the U.S., 29.5 million people had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2021. Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause various health problems, both physical and mental, and negatively impact personal relationships and careers.

Alcohol use disorders are serious issues that can result from alcohol abuse. Whether it is binge drinking or chronic alcoholism, the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption can devastate the individual and those around them. It’s essential to learn to recognize the signs of an alcohol use disorder, which can include a loss of control over one’s drinking habits, prioritizing alcohol over other responsibilities and obligations, and continuing to drink despite negative consequences.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, seeking help is crucial. Treatment options include inpatient treatment, therapy, outpatient treatment, support groups, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It’s important to remember that recovery is possible, and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you think you or a loved one may abuse alcohol, you should know the warning signs.

Alcohol use disorders are complex issues that require a multifaceted approach to address them effectively. By recognizing the signs, seeking help, and implementing interventions to address problem drinking, we can work toward reducing the negative impact of alcohol use disorders on individuals and society.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Unfortunately, many people who abuse alcohol are reluctant to seek help or acknowledge their problems. For that reason, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse to identify when someone needs help. Many people only address their alcohol use problem after it has significantly damaged their lives. However, you can recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorders early.

The DSM-5 lists 11 symptoms of a substance use disorder (SUD). Exhibiting just two or three of these symptoms could mean you meet the mild substance use disorder criteria. Four or five means you might have a moderate disorder, and six or more signify a severe disorder. 

These symptoms include:

  • Drinking in more or for longer than you intended
  • Struggling to reduce or quit drinking
  • Spending a lot of time in your day drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Strong cravings to drink
  • Struggling at work, home, or school because of intoxication or alcohol cravings
  • Continuing to drink, despite problems in your relationships caused by drinking
  • Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol
  • Drinking continuously, even when it puts you in harm’s way
  • Continuing to drink, even with a physical or psychological problem caused or worsened by drinking
  • Physical tolerance, or needing to drink more and more
  • Withdrawal symptoms that can be relieved by drinking more

Are There Warning Signs?

Meeting DSM criteria can mean you or a loved one has an alcohol use disorder. But are there early warning signs? 

It may be hard to see the signs of alcohol abuse early, especially in someone that is trying to hide that they might have a problem. However, physical and behavioral signs can point to a drinking problem.

Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use can affect the body. Long-term alcohol problems can cause serious health issues like liver disease. However, several physical signs can point to alcohol abuse, even in the short term.

Increased Tolerance

If you find that you need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects, this could be a sign of alcohol abuse. Tolerance is often seen as a point of pride in drinking culture. Whoever can handle more is tougher or stronger. While size and age play a role in your ability to drink alcohol, the ability to drink a lot without getting drunk means that your body is getting used to it, which can be a sign of abuse.

Withdrawal symptoms

If you experience physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, or nausea when you try to stop drinking, this could be a sign of alcohol dependence. Withdrawal can be unpleasant, but alcohol withdrawal can also be potentially dangerous. If you notice any of these signs when you try to cut back after consistent heavy drinking, you may need to speak to a doctor before quitting cold turkey. 

Behavioral Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Addiction is a behavioral disorder. Many alcohol abuse signs point to alcohol use getting out of control in your life and leading to behavioral issues. Even if you know you have a problem, you may find it hard to stop. 

Neglecting Responsibilities

If you notice that your drinking habits are causing you to not fulfill your responsibilities at work, school, or home, it may indicate alcohol abuse. Addiction causes you to prioritize drinking over other obligations, even if other areas of your life are genuinely important to you. 

Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences 

This is also one of the DSM symptoms. If you continue to drink alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences, including relationship problems or legal trouble, this could be a sign of alcohol abuse. Out-of-control drinking is a hallmark sign of addiction and may mean you will need help to regain control of your life.

Drinking Alone or in Secret

If you find yourself drinking alone or in secret, this could be a sign that you are struggling with alcohol abuse. A beer or glass of wine after work may not be an issue, but consistently drinking to the point of intoxication outside social settings could be a red flag. Hiding alcohol or drinking from friends or family is also a sign of alcoholism.

Statistics About Alcoholism in the U.S.

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that about 60 million people aged 12 and above admitted to binge drinking in the past month. More than 16 million said they engaged in heavy alcohol use, which is more than seven drinks per week for women and 14 drinks per week for men.

It’s crucial to seek help quickly if you or someone you care about is battling alcohol addiction. It is possible to treat alcohol use disorders, whether you are in the early stages, or it has become severe. To start the road to recovery, call Quantum anytime or chat with a representative online. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Abuse Signs (FAQs)

It’s crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse if you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with it. To aid in understanding, here are some commonly asked questions about the indications of alcohol abuse.

How many drinks is too many?

The answer depends on several factors, including your sex, weight, age, and overall health.

For women, the recommended limit to avoid intoxication is no more than one drink per day, while for men, it is no more than two drinks per day, which is based on standard drink sizes, which are 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. But drinking more than your lot of standard drinks to avoid intoxication doesn’t necessarily mean you have an alcohol use disorder. 

Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in two hours for women or five or more for men. Binging is risky. It can cause various health problems, including liver damage, heart disease, and even death. Consistent binge drinking can lead to addiction. Ultimately, the best approach is knowing how alcohol affects you personally. If you regularly exceed the recommended daily limits, it may be time to assess your drinking habits and seek help if necessary.

Who can I call to get help with my drinking?

If you are worried that you are abusing alcohol, you can take several options to get help. For example, you can speak to your doctor about your alcohol use. If you have become dependent on alcohol, this is a good first call since withdrawal can be potentially dangerous. You can also speak to a therapist about what you can do to address your addiction to alcohol. If you’re ready to seek treatment, you can call a treatment center like Quantum directly to learn about your potential next steps toward recovery. 

What are the treatment options for alcoholism?

The severity of your alcoholism will determine your options for treating an alcohol use disorder. If you’ve become chemically dependent on alcohol, you may need to start with a medical detox program, which can help you get through withdrawal with trained medical staff at your side. Depending on your need, you may also need addiction treatment, which can involve inpatient or outpatient services. The first step in any treatment program is an assessment that looks at medical, psychological, and social needs to determine the right path of care for you.


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Hartney, E. (2023, April 7). DSM 5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders. Verywell Mind. 

NIAAA. (2023). Alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States: Age groups and demographic characteristics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

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