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Signs of Alcohol Abuse


When you’re confronted with the idea of a drug addict, it’s often easy to create a connotation that well supersedes that of an alcoholic. Drug addicts do things like heroin and methamphetamines, substances that have such a negative atmosphere. But hearing of an alcoholic doesn’t have quite the same effect.

Alcohol, and yes this is in part due to its legality, turns out the most addicts and related-deaths than any other abused substance. It’s estimated that around 2 million people a year across the world die from alcohol-related deaths. In the US alone, more than 7% of adults are alcoholics.

Unfortunately, in one way or another there’s always going to be a facet of society that encourages drinking. Be it in the early youth of high school, college (excessively here), then when you’re legal, for social events and work events, networking parties and nights out, alcohol is everywhere.

And when alcoholism first begins for those predisposed to developing the disorder, it’s overlooked because even heavy drinking (in some epochs like college for instance) is actually condoned and accepted. It’s usually years later that the damage becomes apparent, the consequences severe, and the only road left is recovery. But the problem is that it is hard to specifically define the traits of an alcoholic. Each person is different.

While one person can drink once a month, blackout entirely, and they’re considered an alcoholic, there could also be a person with AUD (alcohol use disorder) that drinks every single day, but pace themselves. Then there are those who drink in secrecy, or those who are constantly in social environments to disguise how significantly they covet drinking alcohol regularly.

These inconsistencies make diagnosing and handling the problem difficult. While an alcoholic that blackouts every night, is constantly in and out of jail and has four DUIs under their belt is quite obvious, it’s actually rarely that black and white. In this article we’re going to try and depict the signs of alcohol abuse as best we can. Alcohol substance abuse can stem from two things: an actual addiction or a condition classified as problem drinking. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but both can exhibit the same warning signs.


What Are the Signs of Alcohol Abuse?

Blacking Out

It’s probably happened to you once or twice and at the very least to someone you know. Movies like The Hangover make fun of the very circumstance. But, the issue occurs when it becomes a regular occurrence. Having one or two nights where you or another drank a bit too much, awoke with a screaming hangover and fuzzy memories from the night before isn’t enough to be considered a problem.

But if it keeps occurring and at the very worst happens every time you drink, this is one of the most telltale signs of alcohol abuse. Usually it’s tied into the alcoholic’s incessant need for more. The driving force behind regular blacking out is often directly linked to alcoholism.


Drinking to Create a Sense of Normalcy

As tragic as this can be, often some of the earliest signs of alcohol abuse come from a person’s emotional dependency. Be it a long day, lots of stress, or even sleep resistance, if someone needs to drink to curb these pressures, and do so consistently, it often means they’re dependent. While this can be a sign of problem drinking and not alcoholism, it’s usually the latter, as the body is physically dependent on the calming effects of alcohol.

Not only that, but the driving force behind the excuse to drink can then excuse constant drinking. If the person complains they had to drink because they were stressed or emotionally fragile, what’s stopping them from creating other excuses to drink? Remember, alcoholics often place the blame on externalities.


Once You’ve Started, You Have to Finish

While this sign of alcohol abuse can often be directly related to blacking out, dependent on someone’s tolerance, it can also stand alone. If you or someone you know can’t open a bottle of wine and only have a glass or two, and instead insists on always having to finish, this can be a red flag for alcoholism.  

This can be a huge proponent behind drinking to excess, as once someone has a taste, they simply don’t know how to stop. This is quite indicative that their alcohol intake is not in their control. Remember, it’s always important to pair these signs with ‘regular drinkers.’ In which case it’s important to ask, do you think everyone who drinks can’t stop once they’ve started?


Neglecting Responsibilities or Relationships

Normally this occurs when the later stages of alcoholism have taken control. The alcoholic is so dependent on drinking that their daily life and relationships suffer. This could mean they miss work, are altogether unproductive, and those they loved are now at odds with their behavior.

When alcoholism progresses to a point that others can witness a change in behavior, and your relationships suffer from it, that means it’s a problem. Alcohol should never be a big enough factor of someone’s life to directly affect how a person interacts with others, their environment, and their aspirations.



Tolerance can definitely be a sign of alcohol abuse and every full-blown alcoholic experiences a serious rise in tolerance before their condition is wildly out of control. But, a higher tolerance does not necessarily mean a problem with alcohol. While tolerance can define how much alcohol you’re consuming, it can also define a change in environment. Put it this way: you recently move to a city and meet new friends that like to go out a lot.

Before, three glasses of wine was a bit too much. Now you can drink three a lot more comfortably. While that’s not exclusively related to alcoholism (because your body’s natural reaction to alcohol is to create said tolerance), if it continues to rise along with your consumption and volume of days you’re drinking, then it can certainly be indicative of a problem.



The common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are anxiety, nausea, racing heart, scattered and invasive thoughts, tremors, irritability, loss of appetite, clammy skin, sweating, shakiness, insomnia, and more. These symptoms can be mild in some cases or extreme in others. Perhaps someone doesn’t drink for a couple days and they don’t feel too hot. Their heart skips a few beats every now and then. They feel generally off.

Instead of drawing a connection between their lack of alcohol consumption and this sudden bout of displacement, they attribute it to their anxiety and other things in their life. In which case it can be a vicious cycle, as the abuser will drink more to curb their anxiety, when really they’re just giving into their withdrawals. There’s obviously a huge divide between a late stage alcoholic’s withdrawals and that of someone with a minor problem, but the unrealized withdrawals can be just as damaging.


Quitting Never Works

There are two elements to this. First, of course if you can’t quit drinking you’re an alcoholic. That stems from the very word dependency. If you’re unable to abstain then it almost always means there is both a psychological and physical dependence. If an alcoholic could up and quit drinking without a problem, alcohol abuse would be greatly reduced. Unfortunately the whole problem with being an alcoholic is that since quitting is so detrimental, they often convince themselves they don’t need to out of fear of life without booze.

But the other less subtle form of this point is not refraining from drinking. In social environments especially, it’s easy to create or have an excuse to drink nearly any night of the week. Alcoholics often look back and think, ‘I drank almost every day and never thought anything of it.’ If you find that you can’t remember any gaps where you weren’t drinking, it might be beneficial to consider cutting down. Remember that no one becomes an alcoholic overnight. It’s often a gradual process, one that pulls them slowly out to drift, then locks them in a current they only realize once they’re miles from shore.


The Drinker Drinks in Solitude

This is one of the worst, as it’s nearly impossible to know save for the abuser, unless they’re constantly showcasing a hangover. Many alcoholics want to hide their drinking and it’s easiest for them to do it alone. Being that they’re left to their own device, it can be a quick downward spiral. This is also an important thing to know, as if you personally find yourself more comfortable drinking alone, it’s often a sign of alcoholism.

Again, we want to reiterate that these signs aren’t always exclusive to alcoholism. Aside from these signs of alcohol abuse we want to also give you a tool that can both help you directly, or help you answer questions about someone you think may being struggling with alcoholism.

It’s called CAGE, and it was a questionnaire developed to identify the different degrees of a drinking problem. It contains four questions, each stemming from one of the letters.

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?

Have you ever had a drink immediately in the morning to steady your temperament or curb a hangover?

While these questions are certainly oversimplified, and people can sometimes roll their eyes because of how widely relatable they are, it doesn’t mean they’re not a fantastic reference point. Each question serves a distinct purpose within the questionnaire, pointing internally and externally at forces that could help identify a drinking problem. If these questions pose some red flags to you or someone you know, then that could definitely mean there’s at least the beginning of a problem there.

Again, diagnosing and treating alcoholism is difficult because of the varying cases. Alcoholics are often clumped into groups, but that ranges from blackout drinkers, nervous drinkers, to daily drinkers that never actually drink to excess but need the booze to feel normal.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse it’s important to know all the signs, as they can take multiple different forms. Even some of the more subtle ones can indicate a growing problem. Learn the signs of addiction, as the knowledge can help save yourself or someone you love in the future. If you are a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse, Luminance Recovery can help. Our holistic approach to treatment has helped many people overcome alcohol abuse and get their life back on track. Call Luminance Recovery today to learn about our different alcohol addiction treatment programs.

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