It’s hard to be objective when it comes to figuring out whether you or your loved one has a problem with drinking. Emotions run high, rationalizations and denials lead to confusion and it can seem hard to draw the line between what’s acceptable and what’s going too far. Although the boundaries are fuzzy, issues with drinking are either classed as problem drinking or alcohol dependence. Problem drinkers don’t have a full-fledged addiction to alcohol, but their drinking may be starting to take its toll on their everyday lives and they are at greatly increased risk for becoming dependent later. So while some of the warning signs of alcoholism are technically signs of problem drinking, there is a lot of overlap, and identifying either one is cause for concern. Here are 10 of the most important things to look out for in yourself or your loved one:
- Lying About or Hiding Your Drinking – Denial is common with people having problems with alcohol, so both problem drinkers and alcoholics might drink secretively or lie about how much they drink to make it seem like less of an issue. This can be hard to spot for anybody but the individual, due to its very nature, but it’s an important sign of a more serious problem.
- Drinking to Relax or Feel Better – Almost all people struggling with addiction abuse their substance of choice for emotional reasons. Whether it’s stress, depression, anxiety or anything else, using alcohol as a method of easing negative feelings is a risky habit—the “relief” it provides is only temporary and it ordinarily makes things worse in the long run. If you drink more when you’ve had a stressful day or need a drink to feel like you can really relax, it’s a big sign that you’re using alcohol as an emotional crutch.
- “Blacking Out” Regularly – Drinking so much that you have no memory of what happened is another red flag for a problem with alcohol. Simply put, it means you drank way too much. If you find this happening to you (or notice it happening to someone else), you have to ask what is driving you to drink so excessively? You don’t need to black out to have fun, so what’s the real reason?
- Being Unable to Stop Once You Start – If you always finish a bottle of wine once it’s opened or drink all the beer in the house once you’ve had one, it’s another sign you aren’t in full control of your drinking and you may have a problem.
- Drinking in Dangerous Situations – Drinking when you really shouldn’t—like before work, before you have to drive somewhere or drinking against your doctor’s orders when you’re on medication—is an important sign of problem drinking. Even if something hasn’t gone wrong yet, every time you do something like this you run the risk of serious consequences. Regularly taking those risks strongly implies that alcohol is the main priority in your life.
- Neglecting Your Responsibilities – If you’re having problems at work, school or with your household responsibilities because of your drinking, you have a problem. Alcohol has crossed the line from an occasional indulgence to something that seriously impacts your day-to-day functioning.
- Having Trouble in Your Relationships – This is closely related to the last point, but it’s in many ways more important. If your drinking is causing problems with your closest friends, your significant other or your family, it’s an indication that alcohol is a bigger priority than even the most important people in your life. These last two symptoms are general signs of any addiction, and might mean that your issues are going beyond the problem-drinker stage.
- Being Able to Drink More Than You Used To – Tolerance is another key sign of addiction, so if you can drink more than you used to and need to drink more than you did before in order to get drunk, it’s a strong indicator that you’re becoming an alcoholic. It means your body is exposed to alcohol regularly enough that it has adapted to cope with it better.
- Experiencing Withdrawal – Withdrawal is different from a hangover; it’s the reaction to the lack of alcohol rather than too much alcohol. If you start to feel irritable, tired, depressed, nauseous or anxious when you haven’t had a drink, there’s a possibility you’re going through withdrawal. Other signs include having trouble sleeping, losing your appetite and experiencing shakiness or trembling.
- Trying to Quit but Being Unable to – If you have realized your drinking is becoming a problem (or someone who cares about you has) and tried to make a change but have been unsuccessful, you should seriously consider finding additional help. Deciding to quit drinking shows that you understand the impacts it’s having on your life, but the fact that you’re unable to means there’s a big chance you’re struggling with alcohol addiction.
It’s important to note that experiencing just one of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a problem drinker or an alcoholic, but if you’re experiencing a few of them (or you see numerous signs in a loved one), there is a very strong possibility your drinking has gone too far. The latter five symptoms in particular are signs of addiction rather than problem drinking.
It might not be an easy road ahead, but one day you’ll see deciding to get help as the day your life started to change for the better.