Alcoholism comes with many warning signs, some easier to detect than others. They may be particularly hard to spot when the vast majority of those battling alcohol addiction don’t fit the stereotype– the cliché homeless person in the park with a brown paper bag.
Table of Contents
- 1. The 5 stages of alcoholism
- 2. Warning signs of alcoholism
- 3. High tolerance
- 4. Heavy drinking
- 5. Emotional dependence
- 6. Attachment to drinking
- 7. Inability to stop
- 8. Secret drinking
- 9. Pushing drink limits
- 10. Lying about alcohol
- 11. Guilt and Shame
- 12. Neglecting daily tasks
- 13. Coping with mental illness
- 14. Denial
- 15. Signs & symptoms
- 16. Genetics
- 17. Intervention
- 18. References
So, it’s important that any tell-tale signs, such as the ones we’re going to discuss, aren’t overlooked. The sooner the signs are spotted, the sooner the person can get help.
Alcoholism is the term given to the most serious form of alcohol misuse, based mainly on the drinker’s lack of control and ability to control their drinking habits. Alcohol use disorder is another term, meaning an individual utilizes alcohol in a negative manner to help cope with other issues in their lives.
The terms are used interchangeably, but the important thing to remember is that there are often key signs of alcoholism to look out for.
These issues can be death, divorce, troubles at work or college – or even simply, life itself. Research has been conducted into the reasons behind alcohol addiction, but the result remains the same: a plethora of damaging side-effects and even fatalities.
The 5 Stages of Alcoholism
Firstly, it’s important to understand the scale from which one goes to using or even abusing alcohol, to having a clear addiction to the substance. Below we have outlined the details of the five stages of alcoholism.
If you think that yourself or a loved one is on this scale, then it’s time that help is sourced. The five stages are:
The first sign of alcoholism is consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in one sitting. According to the NHS, binge-drinking constitutes as:
- 6 drinks per day for men
- 4 drinks per day for women
The second stage of alcoholism relates to the amount you drink in one session. The more your body gets used to alcohol, the more it needs to feel the effects or the same buzz as before.
This is called 'building a tolerance' and is a clear indication that someone is struggling with alcohol use disorder.
The third stage is when alcohol seems to be the solution to everything. This could lead to problems in work or school, due to an inability to perform your job or responsibilities properly.
Personal and familial relationships are also affected, with people beginning to notice that alcohol is an issue. Loved ones may beg the drinker to stop, but they simply cannot.
Finances are also affected, and one or multiple spheres of a person’s life is negatively impacted by their alcohol intake.
The best way to describe alcohol dependence in colloquial terms is 'hair of the dog is a necessity, not a choice.' This means that while having another drink 'might be nice' the morning after a heavy session, needing another drink to effectively get through the day ahead is a clear sign of alcohol dependence.
Depending on alcohol to feel happy or positive is also another element, as is the feeling of being unable to cope if they cannot access alcohol or drink it.
Alcohol addiction is the last stage on the slippery slope from use to abuse. During this phase, the body cannot cope without alcohol - as in, it cannot function without the presence of alcohol in the system.
Furthermore, if alcohol consumption is suddenly cessated, the body then goes through alcohol withdrawal which can be extremely dangerous and even fatal.
Alcohol is the most harmful drug to withdraw from and so at this point, medical help is usually needed to enable you to withdraw safely.
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Now that we have clarified the five stages of alcoholism, it is important to be aware of the following signs of alcoholism. Some factors may resonate with you, while others may seem too extreme.
Nonetheless, it is crucial that you understand these signs in order to look out for yourself or a loved one. They are as follows:
1. A High Tolerance to Alcohol
Have you noticed it takes a few more drinks to get that buzz’ or relaxed’ effect? Your pockets may be emptying quicker from spending more money on alcohol in order to achieve that desired effect.
If so, tolerance has been built up and what is known as neuroadaptation has taken place in the brain. This is where the body compromises for the substance within the body. Tolerance is usually very high for those suffering from alcohol addiction. This is due to prolonged use and the sizeable amounts of which it is consumed at one time.
At this point it is already starting to affect finances, even if you may not be in financial difficulty, it’s money that otherwise would not be spent which will have some sort of impact if this is a regular practice.
2. Heavy Drinking
According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, of those who drank alcohol in the last week, just over a quarter (27%) were classified as binge drinkers.  Binge drinking is classed as 5-6 drinks per day for a man, and 4 for a woman – this intake is classed as at-risk alcohol abuse.’ 
In the UK, government statistics from 2016 estimate that 10.8 million adults are drinking levels that pose this risk to their health. When we think binge drinking, we think a heavy night drinking in the pub or a nightclub, we may even think oh that’s just what Brits do’, we don’t usually think, poisoning or even death, even though they are very real consequences.
Not only does binge drinking pose health problems, but also problems socially; it can lead a person to drink to a point whereby they behave in a way that negatively impacts their relationships, work, and abidance with the law.
3. An Emotional Dependence on Drinking
The glass of wine after work most nights to relax’, the bottle of beer or 3 when you’re feeling down in the dumps or anxious – this is where the person relies on the drink psychologically. Someone close to them may be able to know the person has been drinking simply from the change in mood.
Those suffering may feel hyper-stressed, sensitive, or unhappy without alcohol and so are dependent on it to lift their mood and feel positive, unfortunately, in the long run, having the complete opposite effect.
4. An Attachment to Drinking
This is when drinking is so part of the daily routine and part of their identity; the life and soul of the party per se, the big drinker’. Rules and rituals may be in place such as drinking a certain time of day or occasion.
You may not want to socialize with people who don’t drink or maybe socialising with people you otherwise wouldn’t, drinking partners.
5. The Inability to Stop or Even Cut Back on Drinking
A sincere ‘I’m not going to drink this weekend’ may turn out impossible. Usually, excuses will come into play; oh it was a friend’s birthday’ or so and so bought me a drink’ but, sometimes, they will be able to acknowledge they cannot stop.
6. Secretly Drinking Alcohol
This is usually when the person drinking knows they have a problem, otherwise, the need for secrecy wouldn’t be there. It may be to hide the true excessiveness of the drinking from loved ones who may have already noticed a problem.
It could also be to drink in places where alcohol is prohibited, such as work. Drinking in a place such as work poses a major risk to that person’s job and therefore overall financial security.
7. Pushing Personal Drinking Limits
Most people who drink alcohol eventually discover what their drinking limits are; the amount they can drink without feeling intoxicated, the amount they can drink without getting a hangover, without becoming aggressive, partake in dangerous activities, to name a few.
Those who don’t have an issue with alcohol will be able to stop drinking once they sense the limit approaches. Those who are battling with alcohol addiction however often either cannot sense these limits or carry on regardless as they are unable to control their urges to consume more.
8. Excusing or Lying About Alcohol Consumption
Lying about the level of consumption may come about after a family member notices a difference in your drinking and expresses concern. They themselves may feel embarrassed to approach the drinker who may also gaslight them – make the family member feel like they’re imagining it or going crazy.
9. Feelings of Guilt and Shame Regarding Drinking
Alcoholism usually comes with a heaped tablespoon of guilt; because of the stereotype of those addicted to alcohol and the stigma surrounding it, the drinker usually feels they have some character flaw or defect. Guilt can induce more drinking leading to more guilt and then are less likely to ask for help because of the shame.
10. Neglecting Daily Tasks Due to Drinking
When life is consumed (quite literally) by alcohol, something as simple as your daily shower can feel exhausting. The disturbance of normal cognitive function with such things as memory loss, impulsive behaviour, low mood, regular consumption of alcohol can lead to simple tasks being left unmanaged and undone.
Quality of life decreases, and this can incrementally lead to things such as job losses, relationship breakdowns, and effect most spheres of a person’s life.
11. Drinking as a Way to Cope with Co-Occurring Mental Illnesses
Self-medication with alcohol is usually done to cope with and mask the existence of a mental illness. Prolonged use will only worsen that illness in time, even if the drinker thinks that it is helping’ them in the meantime. With the stigma of both mental health issues and drinking, this may be particularly hard for someone to get help.
There’s a reason they say admitting your problem is the first step’, because when denial is a stunt in being able to take the step to recovery. Denial can be frustrating for loved ones when they can see what is happening before their own eyes.
Denial may not simply be denying you have a drinking problem, but can also take the form of blaming others for your drinking, that you have to’ because of your stressful job, or your unhappy relationship. But blaming others doesn’t take away the fact that you are needing to drink more, even if you do find your job stressful.
Physical Signs of Alcoholism
- Broken capillaries on the nose and face (red splotches or obvious small red veins)
- Red bloodshot eyes
- Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin from alcohol-related liver damage)
- Reddening of palms of the hands
- Breath smells of alcohol
- The shakes, tremors
- Notable weight loss or weight gain
- A red, flushed appearance
As well as behavioural and physical signs of alcoholism, there are also laboratory tests that, dependent on results, can indicate whether a person has had a prolonged or abusive relationship with alcohol. 
According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, if someone in your family struggles with substance abuse then this genetically increases your risk by 50%. If you say, live with a heavy drinker and you have grown up to think that as normal’, then this may affect how you see alcohol and its harms.
But it also does not mean you are definitely resigned to becoming addicted to alcohol, it is just one of the many warning signs, along with environmental factors that may increase chances.
Taking the step to intervene with someone’s alcohol use disorder can be tricky; it can lead to defensiveness and often an emotionally charged response, so it’s understandable that this can be an unnerving proposition.
It is vital that the intervention is staged with the utmost compassion and empathy; anger and judgment will most likely make them feel worse, in turn deterring them from seeking help. It is best to plan the intervention and try to anticipate and prepare for each potential response.
Acknowledgment is made that the loved one has a problem and an encouragement to seek treatment., If you have the resources to use the expertise of an intervention specialist, then they will be able to guide you step by step to prepare and thought he intervention.
Time to ask for help?
Think you’ve seen signs of alcoholism? If you would like to discuss anything relating to alcoholism, drug addiction, substance misuse, or recovery, call our team now on 0800 088 66 86.
Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.