How Do I Know If I’m an Alcoholic?

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How Do I Know If I’m an Alcoholic?

Do you think you may be an alcoholic? If you’re worried about how much you’ve been drinking, you might be struggling with questions like what it means to be an alcoholic or what the signs of alcohol use disorder are. Read more to find answers.
— by Kyle Lakey


It’s common to hear the terms “alcoholism” and “alcohol use disorder” used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two distinct conditions related to alcohol consumption. Many people who have experienced a blackout or made poor choices while drinking may question if they have a drinking problem.

Excessive alcohol use is responsible for approximately 95,000 deaths each year in the United States, and the NIAAA reports that 16.6 million adults in the US have an alcohol use disorder. With such high numbers, it’s likely that many of those who question their drinking habits do have a problem. However, it’s important to note that having a drinking problem does not necessarily mean someone is an alcoholic. The line between alcohol abuse and addiction can be blurred, much like one’s vision while intoxicated.


Defining Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),  alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. Abusers of alcohol still have some ability to set limits for themselves, but their drinking habits affect their lives in a negative way. People who abuse alcohol do not always become dependent on it, but they are at a higher risk of developing a problem.

Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, occurs when an individual is severely dependent on alcohol to the extent that it causes them significant physical or mental health problems. Those who are dependent on alcohol experience the same negative effects of alcohol abuse and also have a physical or mental dependence on it. The severity of an individual’s alcohol use disorder is classified into three different categories: mild, moderate, and severe.

The DSM-V uses a checklist of 11 symptoms to diagnose individuals with this disorder. The number of symptoms experienced by the individual within the last 12 months determines the severity of their alcohol use disorder.


What is The Difference Between a Heavy Drinker and An Alcoholic?

For people under the age of 65, heavy drinking is considered as having two drinks a day or having more than fourteen drinks within one week. For people over the age of 65, heavy drinking is considered as having more than one drink in a day or drinking more than seven drinks during the week. Binge drinking refers to consuming a copious amount of alcohol in a short period of time. People who are heavy drinkers and people who are binge drinkers might suffer from alcohol use disorder, but it’s not a given.

One way to understand the difference between excessive drinkers and alcoholics is what happens when they stop drinking. For heavy drinkers, stopping drinking will likely cause a hangover the next day, but a day or two later, their lives significantly improve. Without the effects of the hangover, they feel healthier, have more energy, and get better sleep. On the other hand, those with alcohol use disorder have formed a connection with alcohol that makes abstaining a continuous fight. They may be emotionally, psychologically, and even physically reliant on it.

If your body has become dependent on alcohol, it is common to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. Some of the mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include nausea, anxiety, headache, shaking hands, insomnia, vomiting, and swelling. You could also experience fever, racing heart, confusion, heavy sweating, and high blood pressure. However, more serious problems can result from alcohol withdrawal, including seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens.

It can be quite challenging for an individual struggling with alcohol addiction to quit drinking. Despite acknowledging that it is a harmful habit, relapsing and returning to it is, unfortunately, always a possibility.


The Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is a condition that can develop gradually over time, catching people off guard. Even individuals who previously drank in moderation may suddenly find themselves drinking more frequently and experiencing issues as a result.

Identifying alcohol addiction can be challenging as drinking is often socially encouraged, unlike cocaine or heroin. In several cultures, it is even a part of festivities and pleasure. Due to its ubiquitous nature, it can be challenging to distinguish between someone who occasionally drinks and someone who has a genuine addiction.

Alcohol abuse can have serious and lasting effects on a person’s physical, psychological, and social health. It’s important to recognize the warning signs, which can include the following examples.


Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism:

If you suspect that someone you know has an addiction, it is crucial to recognize early warning signs. Ignoring an addiction will only exacerbate the problem, but if it is detected and treated early on, there is a likelihood that the person can avoid severe consequences.

Some signs of alcohol dependence in the short term are:

  • Drinking more alcohol than previously consumed and spending more time and money on drinking habits
  • Spending large amounts of time drinking and recovering from hangovers
  • Slurred speech and poor coordination as a result of being drunk
  • Increased injuries as a result of falls or dangerous behavior
  • Poor hygiene
  • Smelling strongly of alcohol
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Significant weight gain, bloating
  • Drug abuse

The following signs indicate long-term alcohol abuse:

  • High blood pressure, stroke, and irregular heartbeat
  • Fatty liver, hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Various types of cancer
  • Immune system dysfunction


Psychological Signs and Symptoms:

Alcohol addiction can make pre-existing mental disorders worse and can also mask their symptoms. This is because the chemicals in alcohol can disrupt normal brain function. It can be difficult to diagnose pre-existing mental disorders when someone is still actively drinking alcohol. However, treatment experts can evaluate the actual mental health issues and develop a treatment plan that deals with both addiction and mental health.

Here are some of the most common psychological signs of alcoholism:

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Failure to complete tasks on time
  • Memory, focus, and attention issues
  • Sudden or worsening anxiety
  • Possible hallucinations or delusional thinking, particularly during withdrawal stages


Social Signs of Alcoholism:

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to problems in various aspects of one’s life. As the habit persists, individuals may isolate themselves from their loved ones to drink alone. They may frequently call in sick to work or skip social events. Additionally, if they are caught driving under the influence, they could lose their license, which can make it challenging to fulfill responsibilities at home or work. Nevertheless, some individuals struggling with alcoholism can maintain their job performance and live with their families.

Here are a few indications that alcoholism may be affecting someone’s social life:

  • Drinking alcohol at inappropriate times or places
  • Only being social where alcohol is present
  • Choosing to spend more time with people who also drink heavily
  • Avoiding family and loved ones
  • Hiding alcohol and alcohol use
  • Dependence on alcohol to function normally
  • Sluggish, lazy, and antisocial behavior
  • Legal, financial, or employment issues


Risks and Health Complications Associated with Alcoholism

Treating alcohol addiction early is crucial as it can lead to various complications. Those with alcohol use disorder who engage in risky behavior while under the influence can also endanger those around them. For instance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drunk driving claims the lives of 28 people every day in the United States. Additionally, studies reveal a link between alcohol consumption and an increased incidence of suicide and homicide. Furthermore, alcohol use disorder can increase the likelihood of heart and liver diseases, both of which can be fatal.

  • Injuries, for example, drownings, burns, vehicle accidents, and falls
  • Alcohol poisoning and liver damage
  • Stillbirth, miscarriage, or fetal alcohol spectrum d