A Guide to Recognizing the Signs of Alcoholism

Recognizing the signs of alcoholism
July 4, 2017
|   Updated:
May 6, 2022

Determining if someone is alcohol dependent, is not as simple as giving them a questionnaire, especially if you know nothing about alcoholism and its symptoms. Some of the signs of alcoholism can be signs of other disorders as well, and they can appear differently in each individual.


A common stereotype of someone who is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder is someone who can’t function or keep a job and spends countless nights wandering from bar to bar. However, the opposite couldn’t be more true. Most people who struggle with alcohol use disorder are functioning members of society. They can hold a steady job and maintain close relationships with family and friends, making it even harder to recognize the signs of alcoholism.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

upset women looking at her bedroom window

It is very important to note that there is a very big difference between having a drinking problem and struggling with alcoholism. Those who might have a drinking problem will have a hard time preventing alcohol from affecting their work and personal lives. For example, these individuals will come to work hungover or will have strained relationships due to their drinking or what they said/did while they were drinking. This group of people has not crossed the line into alcohol use disorder.

 However, those who struggle with Alcohol Use Disorder will display 3 distinct characteristics: tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal. To gain an understanding of these 3 characteristics and what to look for, continue reading below.


Signs Of Alcoholism

1. High Tolerance

When you drink alcohol regularly, the brain starts to make some adaptations. It allows you to consume more alcohol without experiencing acute intoxication. The brain does this to try to prevent you from poisoning yourself, but you experience it as needing more alcohol to get the same effects. Often, those struggling with alcoholism can drink large quantities of alcohol without feeling drunk. Eventually, they develop the urge to drink simply to feel normal. Here are some signs that someone might have built up a high tolerance to alcohol:

·   You can drink a large amount of alcohol without feeling the ill effects.

·   You start to develop a physical dependence.

·   You need to have several drinks to feel relaxed or comfortable in a situation.

However, it is important to note that not everyone with a high tolerance is struggling with alcoholism. Those who have been drinking responsibly for years will build up a tolerance slowly over time. Alcohol tolerance also depends on several aspects such as weight and genetics. A professional bodybuilder will have a higher tolerance than someone who is much slimmer.

2. Cravings

A craving is more than simply wishing you had a glass of wine to complement a nice meal. Those who experience psychological symptoms will need to have alcohol ASAP. They might need to have a drink as soon as they wake up and hide alcohol in their home and some cases even at work. Alcohol cravings can get so bad that having a drink is all a person can think about; going so far as to disrupt their everyday lives. Some signs that alcohol craving has started to interfere with your day-to-day life include:

·   You have tried to cut back on your drinking but couldn’t do so over a sustained period.

·   You have stopped doing activities that you used to enjoy in favor of drinking.

·   You continue to drink excessively despite negative consequences, whether they be legal, personal, physical, or emotional.

3. Withdrawal


Man experiencing alcohol withdrawals setting on his bed with his head in his hands

After a night of drinking, many people might experience ill effects such as dizziness and nausea. This does not necessarily mean they are going through withdrawal.  Someone with alcoholism will start to acquire additional symptoms, such as fever, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety when alcohol isn’t in their system due to physical dependency and will last between 2-4 days. Other symptoms include:

·   feeling jumpy and uncomfortable when you aren’t drinking.

·   You often wake up sweaty or shaking.

·   You have trouble sleeping when you don’t drink at night.

It is extremely important to note that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. If you or someone you know are planning to quit drinking considering checking into a rehab center in order to be monitored by a health professional.

Can Alcoholism Be Cured?

Alcoholism is a complex disease that takes hard work and dedication in order to recover. There is no “cure” per-say for alcoholism however there are many things people can do to recover and maintain their sobriety. For example, so people enter treatment centers while others join support groups to gain the tools necessary to cope and move forward from their alcoholism.




About the Author

Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.

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