Alcohol addiction doesn’t have to control your or a loved one’s life. Lots of people live long, healthy lives in recovery. You can join them. Learn the warning signs of an alcohol abuse problem. Learn what you can do when one is present. By offering help or getting help for yourself, you can save a life.
Drinking Despite Consequences
For most people, drinking does not lead to substance abuse or dependence. However, for millions of others, it does. Some people find that they continue to drink no matter the consequences and no matter how much they want to stop. This is one of the key signs of alcoholism. However, it is not the only sign.
Families and the Genetic Warning Signs of a Drinking Problem
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that genes are responsible for nearly half your risk of alcoholism.1 If a parent, sibling or other family member struggles with alcohol abuse or addiction, take it as a warning sign.
Even when genes aren’t responsible, growing up around alcoholism puts you at risk.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains that when one member of a family drinks too much, others may ending up drinking too much as well. Drugs and alcohol can come to seem like a good way, or even the only way, to cope with the stress of the situation.2 However more alcohol use isn’t the answer to any alcohol abuse situation. Treatment helps whole families begin to heal no matter their past or present.
Physical Warnings Signs of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse can cause some physical, visible effects, like a red face and nose.
Physical signs of alcoholism, aside from immediate withdrawal symptoms, include the following:
- Broken capillaries on the nose and face
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin indicating liver damage
- Breath that smells of alcohol on a consistent basis
- A marked decrease in attention to personal hygiene, showering and dental care
- Notable weight loss or weight gain
- Dry skin
- Brittle hair and fingernails
- A flushed appearance
- Evidence of aging more rapidly than usual such as a sudden increase in wrinkles and age spots
Alcohol damages the body. It is a toxin, and this toxin wears down organs and overall health and appearance. Individuals who are dependent on alcohol may not worry about staying active or eating balanced meals. Alcohol may damage liver function. You or a loved one may simply feel ill, worn down or tired all the time. Don’t ignore physical warning signs. They can be clear, obvious warnings of an alcohol abuse problem.
Social and Behavioral Warning Signs of a Drinking Problem
Drinking is a socially accepted activity. In fact, it’s often encouraged by friends, family members, the media and the public at large. This sometimes makes it hard to spot drinking problems at first. However, changes in a person’s words and actions, and their social health, can act as warning signs. You may experience them yourself, or you may observe them in someone you care about.
Some of the following thoughts, actions and interactions can indicate a drinking problem:
- Trouble with the law. Legal issues and interactions with law enforcement can indicate a drinking problem. Being convicted of a DUI or arrested for public intoxication are clear signs of a problem.
- Relationship issues. An alcohol abuse problem can lead to consequences in professional, personal and romantic relationship.
- Other drug use. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, you may turn to other drugs when alcohol isn’t available. This can lead to polysubstance abuse or addiction.
- Agitation. If you feel restless, agitated or discontent without alcohol in your bloodstream, you should start to reevaluate your drinking habits.
- Comments from others. Comments and concerns about your drinking can indicate an alcohol abuse problem. Rather than respond with frustration and irritation, seriously consider their words.
- Opinions from medical professionals. Doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists know all the signs of a substance use problem. Take their opinions and concerns seriously.
- Cravings. Feeling like you “need” alcohol to feel good physically or feel good or relax mentally can be a sign of a developing problem.
- Making, and breaking, promises to not drink. One sign of a drinking problem is making pledges to self or others to not drink yet doing so anyway. This may be a promise to stop drinking altogether, to only drink a certain amount or to not drink during a specific occasion.
- Low self-esteem. Feeling low self-esteem — and reaching for alcohol in an attempt to fulfill an inner “hole” or void — is an alcohol abuse warning sign.
- Spending money. If you are facing an alcohol abuse problem, a large portion of your paycheck, income or assets may be going towards alcohol.
- Cannot focus. If you find it hard to focus on anything other than the next drink, reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. This focus may be further complicated by withdrawal symptoms when you aren’t drinking.
- Blackouts. A warning sign of a drinking problem is being unable to remember the previous night, sometimes even on nights when you claimed you were going to “take it easy” in regards to drinking.
When a person is abusing alcohol, he or she may have some problems meeting their responsibilities at work or at home. They may engage in risky behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated. They could also begin to have legal problems that are a result of their drinking like getting arrested for driving drunk. If you are developing an alcohol use problem, you will continue to drink despite the negative consequences and effects drinking has on family members, friends and life. The more warning signs you see, the more likely dependence or addiction becomes.
Abuse versus Dependence versus Addiction
Alcohol dependence, abuse, and addiction aren’t the same thing. People who abuse alcohol will drink in excess, but they may not be physically dependent and may only have a few of the warning signs mentioned above. A person who is physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol may not yet be addicted. However, creating clear, distinct lines between these categories isn’t necessary.
As The Atlantic explains, seeing problematic drinking as a spectrum, “will allow people to recognize problems earlier and to seek solutions without having to be labeled as alcoholics.”3
What to Do When You See Warning Signs
When you see warning signs in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to get help. The sooner you speak up, the sooner you can avoid or reverse the consequences of alcohol abuse or addiction. It’s never too early or too late. Anyone can find recovery, any time. All it takes is noticing warning signs and reaching out to professional resources like Michael’s House when you do. Call 760-548-4032 now.
1 “Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2008.
2 “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2004.
3 Nowinski, Joseph and Doyle, Robert. “Are You Almost Alcoholic?” The Atlantic. 2 Apr. 2012.