There are many signs of alcohol abuse and dependence. The combination of signs differs from person to person. Some people with alcohol dependence have trouble functioning in their every day life while others appear to be doing quite well. The one thing that all people who are dependent on alcohol have in common is loss of control over their drinking.
Keep in mind that a person does not have to drink every day to have an alcohol problem. Some alcoholics just binge on weekends or several times a month. What is most important is the effect that drinking has on the person’s health and life, not how often or how much he or she drinks.
Common Warning Signs
There are many subtle and not-so-subtle signs of a drinking problem. Here are some of the more common warning signs that a person may display:
- Uses more alcohol than in the past;
- Drinks a lot one or more times a week;
- Denies or tries to hide or justify alcohol use;
- Has trouble controlling alcohol use;
- Forgets things he or she did or said while drinking;
- Avoids you or others in order to drink;
- Spends more time with heavy drinkers;
- Uses alcohol instead of doing activities previously enjoyed;
- Has problems with health, family, friends, work, school, or money that are caused by alcohol use;
- Has significant mood changes during or after alcohol use;
- Expresses concern or guilt about his or her drinking; and
- Drives while under the influence of alcohol.
If the person has one or more of these signs, he or she may have an alcohol problem. The more of these signs the person has, the worse the problem is likely to be.
Factors related to the drinker and the doctor often delay or prevent diagnosis and treatment of an alcohol problem. This leaves many people with a pattern of abuse or dependence that continues to worsen and becomes harder to treat.
People who misuse alcohol often deny they have a problem. The effects of chronic drinking interfere with people’s thinking and affect their attitudes and behavior. They may not see the harm their drinking is causing to themselves and others.
Even when people can see the consequences of their drinking, they may not want to admit them—or that they are related to their drinking. Denial protects them from the negative reactions of other people and from their own guilt, shame, and pain. Family members and friends may also get caught up in the denial and fail to help the person get diagnosed.
Doctors often fail to detect alcohol problems in their patients. Many do not perform screening tests for alcohol problems nor recognize the symptoms. They may not have adequate training in alcohol problems. As a result, they may attribute symptoms from alcohol use to other causes, have negative attitudes toward people with alcohol problems, or be reluctant to bring up the issue. In addition, because people with alcohol problems often have an accompanying disorder such as depression, it can sometimes be tricky to make a correct diagnosis.