man conflicted about alcoholism having a drink inside by a window
Alcoholism is much more common in the United States than many people may realize. With a culture that involves having a drink or two after work to unwind, to the binge drinking as a right of passage when someone turns 21, it’s not that surprising that so many Americans are dealing with alcoholism to some degree. If you are concerned that you may be an alcoholic, there are several warning signs of alcoholism to look out for. We’re going to take a closer look at some ways you can tell if you should be seeking help with an addiction.

How Do I Know If I’m an Alcoholic?

Alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, or alcoholism are all essentially the same thing. From a medical standpoint, these conditions are treatable and are considered a type of alcohol-use disorder. Spotting the signs of alcoholism can be tough, but there are some more obvious signs that you can see in yourself. One of the biggest signs of an alcoholic is when the heavy drinking or alcohol consumption is placed above relationships or other obligations. Additionally, you may notice that you have developed a tolerance to alcohol, which means that it takes more alcohol to have the same effect that you used to experience.

When alcohol abuse is left untreated, it can quickly spiral out of control. If you believe you may be experiencing alcoholism, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. For some, that means reaching out to friends and family for support, for others the best option is going to a treatment facility.

How Common is Alcoholism?

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is quite common in the United States. You see it on television and in movies all the time. From middle school and high school parties that are out of control and rampant with drunk teens, to the big right of passage 21st birthday where it’s common to get blackout drunk. The unfortunate truth is, that this isn’t a problem that is contained within media. These occurrences are common in real life, too. Drinking is a way to celebrate our victories and to commiserate our sorrows, which is one of the biggest reasons dependence is such a commonality.

Alcohol use disorder impacts 1 in 12 adult men, 1 in 25 adult women, and more than 620,000 people between the ages of 12 and 17. In the United States, there are around 88,000 fatalities that are caused by alcohol annually. Unfortunately, even with such a large number of people dealing with alcoholism, less than 7 percent get treatment for their addiction.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

There is no one particular cause of alcoholism, but there are several different factors that can impact whether or not you develop the disease, including:

  • Having a parent with alcohol use disorder
  • Consuming more than 5 drinks per day one day (or more) per week
  • Having more than 15 drinks per week as a male
  • Having more than 12 drinks per week as a female
  • Mental health problems, including anxiety, schizophrenia, or depression

Other risk factors include:

  • Having low self-esteem
  • Having a higher stress levels
  • If you live in a culture or family that uses alcohol more regularly
  • If you are a young adult that is experiencing peer pressure
  • If you have a close relative with alcohol use disorder

Recognizing The Signs of Alcoholism

If you’ve already begun to suspect that you may be dealing with alcoholism, it’s important to know the warning signs of alcohol use disorder. The most common signs include:

  • Inability to control the amount you drink and when you drink
  • Uncontrollable cravings for alcohol
  • The development of tolerance has caused you to need larger amounts of alcohol to acheive the same effects
  • Needing to drink so that you feel normal
  • Hiding alcohol in various locations, including around your home, in your car, and at work
  • Drinking in secret an alone
  • Irritability if you are unable to drink when you want to
  • Continuing the behavior even if drinking has negatively impacted your professional or personal life
  • Experiencing blackouts
  • Preferring to drink rather than doing other activities, including spending time with loved ones or participating in your hobbies

Behavioral Signs

  • Neglecting relationships, work, or self-care
  • Giving up activities that you enjoy to drink
  • Attempting to quit but failing
  • Drinking alone
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Drinking before socializing or in situations in which you may be anxious
  • Secretiveness
  • Drinking at unusual times

Psychological Signs

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Memory lapses and memory impairment
  • Cravings
  • Short attention span
  • Impaired judgment
  • Blackouts

Physical Signs

  • Numbness of the hands and feet
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include nausea or shaking when you stop drinking
  • The tolerance that causes you to need to drink more in order to get the same effects
  • Upset stomach or ulcers
  • Menstrual disruptions or erectile disfunction
  • Malnutrition
  • Liver damage
  • Slow reaction times

Should You Seek Treatment?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, has set an official list of criteria that can help diagnose someone with alcohol use disorder. Some of these conditions include:

  • Drinking more than intended, more often than intended
  • Having the desire to quit drinking, but not the ability
  • Experiencing strong craving to drink 
  • Spending a large amount of time obtaining alcohol, drinking, or recovering from drinking
  • Having alcohol creates significant problems with your family, school, or job
  • Continuing to drink despite obvious negative consequences
  • Drinking more and more to obtain the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when no alcohol is consumed for a day or two

While the official diagnosis should be left up to a professional, these signs can help determine if you or someone close to you should seek alcoholism treatment. If you’re questioning whether or not you need treatment, the best thing to do is to reach out today to an addiction specialist in your area. They can help you create a personalized treatment plan that is tailored to your needs and starts you down the path to an effective recovery.