We all know what an alcoholic looks like – they’re the ones who are always stumbling down the street drunk at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the ones who always try to strike up a conversation but can never put the right sounds together. And they’re the ones that can’t hold down a job, take care of a family, or even drive a car. Those are the signs of alcoholism, right?
10 Telltale Signs That You’re an Alcoholic
While we all may think we know the signs of drinking problems, the truth is that many people are likely more addicted to this intoxicating drug than they’d like to admit. Rather than simply asking yourself “Am I an alcoholic?” take a look at these 10 telltale signs of alcoholism and see if they sound a little too familiar. You just might be more addicted than you think.
1. You Have a Long History of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is incredibly common in America today, especially on college campuses. And while it isn’t quite the same thing as being an alcoholic, the more you end up doing it, the likelier you are to develop a serious a drinking problem. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.” This pattern becomes “heavy alcohol use” when you binge drink 5 or more times in a 30-day period according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The frequency that you engage in these behaviors has a direct effect on your risk of developing alcoholism. Studies have found that the more alcohol-related problems an individual has before the age of 18, the more likely they will be diagnosed as an alcoholic by the age of 25. So while you may think that going out every Friday, Saturday, and maybe even Sunday is just a part of the culture you’re in, especially when it comes to college life, it’s important to realize that you may actually be setting yourself up for a lifelong disease.
2. Your Drinking Is Chronic AND Problematic
Am I an alcoholic if I drink every night? I drink everyday after work, does that make me an alcoholic? And of course, I drink everyday but don’t get drunk. Am I an alcoholic? These are all incredibly common questions to ask when evaluating your relationship with alcohol. After all, determining whether or not you have a drinking problem all comes down to how often you drink, right? Yes and no. This is a common misconception among many people. Alcoholism isn’t simply about how often you drink but rather about the effects drinking has on your life. On the one hand, drinking every day may not point to an addiction. The official Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that recommended alcohol consumption levels are less than two drinks a day for men and one for women. Technically, then, you can in fact drink every day without being an alcoholic. When that drinking starts to negatively impact your physical, social, and/or emotional health and you still continue to do it, however, that’s one of the clearest signs of drinking problems.
3. You’re Failing to Meet Obligations That Weren’t Ever a Problem
Just like any other substance addiction, alcoholism is all-encompassing. It affects your body, your emotions, your reasoning, your motivation, and nearly every other aspect of what makes you, well, you. As a result, this disease (and it really is a disease) can take its toll on nearly every facet of your life. School, work, family life, friends, and even personal health all tend to take a backseat when addiction is concerned. It probably won’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that an alcoholic may have a hard time fulfilling old obligations, especially when these directly inhibit their ability to drink. So, if you find yourself constantly coming in late to work because of a hangover or seeing your grades drop due in part to your drinking (like 25% of college students today) then you may be developing a drinking problem.
4. You Tell People Not to Worry: You’re a FUNCTIONING Alcoholic
You may be breathing a sigh of relief after reading the last sign of alcoholism. Your life isn’t anywhere near in shambles. You’ve got a great job, a loving and rewarding family life, and you don’t have any outward problems in your life that can be traced back to alcohol. You’re off the hook, right? Not so fast. Even if you’re able to keep the framework of your life in place while still drinking heavily (a.k.a. being a functional alcoholic), that doesn’t mean you are safe from the detriments of alcoholism. For one thing, the health risks are still the same, whether you are drinking a bottle of gin on the street corner or are doing it in an internationally imported top-grain leather armchair. So don’t think just because your social life and career are doing just fine that your liver isn’t being pushed one step closer to failure with each and every drink. Beyond that though, alcoholism is, by its very nature, chronic and progressive and eventually your carefully balanced life is likely to come crashing down. And when that happens, alcohol is likely going to be the cause.
5. You’ve Started to Notice Some of The Long-Term Physical Signs of Alcoholism
The chronic and problematic alcohol abuse that comes with alcoholism can have some seriously dangerous long-term physical and psychological side effects. If you’ve begun to notice any of these symptoms getting worse and yet you still continue to drink in spite of them, there’s a pretty good chance that you may be suffering from alcoholism. On the physical side of things, continued exposure to the toxic effects of alcohol can be deeply problematic for your body. The NIAAA points out that long-term use may result in:
- High blood pressure
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, or breast
- Compromised immune system
Prolonged alcohol abuse can also have some pretty serious impacts on your brain as well, causing a range of psychological side effects that the CDC claims could include:
- Learning problems
- Impaired memory
In addition to the actual toxicity of alcohol directly impacting your health, many alcoholics also suffer from poor nutrition. After all, one of the recognizable signs you are an alcoholic is that you skip meals in favor of drinking alcohol. This nutrition deficiency can lead to the development of serious diseases like Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a debilitating condition characterized by extreme confusion, psychosis, and amnesia.
6. You’ve Tried to Cut Back, But Can’t Follow Through
You may have told yourself over and over again that you’re going to slow down with your drinking at some point, just not yet. You may have justified it by telling yourself that work is too stressful to slow down right now or maybe you have too many social obligations. Heck, you may have even convinced yourself that it just isn’t the right time of year. But no matter how dedicated you might feel at the time, you always seem to find a new excuse to keep drinking or pick it back up again. Or maybe you try to set limits for yourself. You’ll only have, say, two or three drinks when you go out tonight. But despite the restrictions you put on your drinking, you still always wake up the next morning after a night full of double digit drinks. This is one of the main signs you are an alcoholic – a lack of self-control. After all, an addiction to alcohol is one of the hardest addictions to kick by far. So if you find yourself not being able to curb your consumption, you’ve probably got a drinking problem.
7. You Experience Withdrawals
If you begin to feel ill after abstaining from drinking for a period of time, you’re likely experiencing withdrawals, one of the most common advanced alcoholism physical symptoms. These symptoms include, among others:
- Mood swings
- Rapid heartrate
If you’re at an especially advanced stage, these withdrawals can actually be fatal and lead to a condition known as delirium tremens, making all the more important you seek qualified help with detoxing. As your body tries to adjust to functioning without the aid of alcohol, your brain may be launched into a flurry of activity resulting in deadly seizures. Even more frightening is the fact that the mortality rate in patients that do end up experiencing delirium tremens (about 4% of alcoholics) ranges from 5 to 25%.
8. You Don’t Believe the Results of a Signs of Alcoholism Quiz
If you experience a knee-jerk reaction to the results of an alcoholism assessment test, you’re more than likely having a hard time facing the truth of the matter. There are a number of self-assessment alcoholism tests and quizzes that can help you identify whether or not you have a serious problem. The most widely used quick assessments are:
- The CAGE Questionnaire – can identify problems over a lifetime. Two positive responses indicate a possible alcohol use disorder and warrants further testing.
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
- Eye opener: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady or your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
- The T-ACE Questionnaire – based on the CAGE, a score of two or more (where A, C, and E = 1 point and T = 2 points) indicates a possible use disorder.
- Tolerance: How many drinks does it take to make you feel high?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt you ought to Cut down on your drinking?
- Eye opener: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
9. More Detailed Assessments Point to a Serious Drinking Problem
There are a number of more extensive tests you can take as well. These will help you take an even more in-depth look at your drinking problem and help you spot the signs of alcoholism.
- The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) – A 10-question quiz that’s a bit lengthier than the CAGE and T-ACE.
- The Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST) – The most comprehensive alcoholism assessment by far, the MAST consists of 24 yes or no questions and has been used to identify alcohol use disorders for over three decades.
- The DSM-V – Found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, this assessment contains criteria that licensed psychiatrists use to diagnose substance use disorders.
10. You’ve Had Multiple DUIs
Driving under the influence of alcohol is reckless, selfish, and quite possibly one of the stupidest things you could ever do. And if you’ve been arrested for it more than once, you just might be an alcoholic. To put into perspective just how careless drunk driving really is, take a look at these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 28 people die per day in motor vehicle crashes that involve alcohol. That’s one life every 51 minutes.
- 2015 saw 10,265 deaths involving drunk drivers, almost one third of all traffic-related deaths.
- The annual cost of drunk driving accidents is over $44 billion.
Beyond both the overarching financial and physical costs of driving drunk though, being charged with a DUI can seriously compromise your ability to qualify for a job, continue to operate a vehicle, and may even cause permanent damage to your current relationships, both at work and at home. Plus, the court fees, attorney costs, license reinstatement prices, and boosted insurance rates can all easily add up to tab totaling thousands upon thousands of dollars. This is one short-term decision with long-term consequences. And if you have a few on your record, you may have a drinking problem
Getting The Help You Need To Overcome Your Alcohol Addiction
You may feel like you have your drinking under control, that you can slow down or stop whenever you want to. And thinking that is certainly going to be comforting. But like any other problem in life, ignoring the signs you are an alcoholic simply will not make this problem go away. And the first step to getting the help you need is recognizing that you have a problem. If these 10 telltale signs of alcoholism sound a bit too familiar, then you might have a drinking problem. And while it’s certainly possible to overcome this brutal addiction alone, seeking out professional help is bar none the best way of ensuring recovery and staying sober for the long-haul.