11 Signs of Alcoholism and How to Get Help for an Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Experts now refer to alcoholism as a mental health condition called alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • Major signs include food cravings, difficulty controlling alcohol intake, and drinking that affects your daily life.
  • A therapist or recovery professional can help you change your drinking habits and create lasting change.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

Maybe you’ve never had impaired driving or lost a job because of drinking – but you could still be at risk for it. alcohol use disorder (AUD) – formerly called alcoholism.

In fact, a 2017 to study out of 36,309 American adults found that one in eight American adults meets the AUD criteria – and most people don’t even realize their drinking has become a problem.

Here are the 11 symptoms of AUD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

1. You drink more alcohol or for a longer period of time than expected

You might say to yourself, “I’m just having one drink tonight and then I’m going home.” But at midnight, you’re down to four drinks.

A 2019 NIH Study reported that more than 28% of people aged 18 and over engaged in binge drinking in the past month alone.

binge drinking refers to when a woman has four or more drinks or a man has five or more drinks in just a few hours.

2. You have trouble quitting drinking alcohol or sticking to the limits you set for yourself

the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults who drink limit their intake to no more than two glasses per day for men or one per day for women.

You may want to cut back on your alcohol consumption until it meets these guidelines, but find it difficult to control how many drinks you drink.

While it’s not uncommon to set limits and find yourself falling short, you might want to ask yourself if this is a one-time event or a constant pattern.

Research suggests it takes between 18 and 254 days to break a habit – but if you’re struggling to change the unwanted behavior on your own, professional support can help.

3. You spend a lot of time consuming alcohol, drinking, or recovering from drinking episodes

You’ve spent more than a few Sunday mornings with hangover symptoms, including headaches and nausea. Or maybe you often feel too tired to clean your house or do chores after a night out with friends.

This may not be a problem on its own, but it could warrant further thought if you keep promising yourself to change your drinking habits and find it hard to follow through.

4. You get food cravings when you’re not drinking alcohol

Cravings can come from specific triggers, like the strong desire for a pumpkin spice cocktail that hits when you think of Thanksgiving. But more frequent cravings can also be tied to your emotions.

You might crave alcohol when you feel strong emotions, such as anxiety in a social setting or grief after grief, especially if you’ve used alcohol to cope with these feelings in the past. This happens partly because alcohol releases endorphins, creating temporary feelings of pleasure or happiness.

5. Your drinking habits are causing problems at work, school or home

Drinking at parties or after work with colleagues has become, for many people, a ritual that is an integral part of their week. However, it could create problems in other areas of your life.

One in four students report academic difficulties such as missing class or falling behind on homework because of alcohol. At work, excessive alcohol consumption can be a factor frequent delays, missed deadlines or careless errors which could result in consequences, such as disciplinary action.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to increase in debt when you spend more money than you have on partying or gambling while drinking – or forgetting to make credit card payments later.

6. Your drinking habits are starting to affect your personal and professional relationships

AUD can affect your dating partner, children, and others family members. Over time, a romantic partner may fall into a role of caregiver or rescuer, which can lead to patterns of codependency and empowerment. On the other hand, a partner can put their foot down by leaving the relationship.

One in five American adults lived with a parent with AUD during their teenage years, which increases their risk of experiencing emotional problems such as aggression and suicidal thoughts. In addition, the children of people with AUD are four times more likely develop AUD themselves.

7. Drinking alcohol causes you to cut back on work, hobbies, and other activities

Your hobbies and drinking can combine: a few drinks on the golf course, a glass or three of wine while painting, or a few beers in the lodge between hits on the slopes.

“The more the consumption of alcohol increases, the more it becomes prohibitive and the person plays less golf, paints or skis less and drinks more”, explains Michael Genovese, MD, JD and Chief Medical Officer at Health Acadia. “Eventually the hobby becomes ‘less interesting’, or you hear, ‘I don’t have time, I’ve been so busy. Eventually, the hobby is no longer a hobby. The hobby is drinking.

8. You drink alcohol even though it poses a safety risk

You probably know not to drink and drive. But even skiing, swimming or hiking under the influence can lead to injury or worse, Genovese says.

Likewise, performing work that impacts the safety of others – if you are a surgeon, pilot or machine operator, for example – also puts you and others at risk.

9. You keep drinking even though you know it’s affecting your well-being.

“Alcohol reduces the quality of your sleep and contributes to both


and anxiety,” says John Mendelson, MD and Chief Medical Officer of Ria Health.

These negative effects can snowball. Over time, it can become difficult to do well at work, to have healthy relationships at home, or to find the energy to pursue the things that once brought you joy.

10. You develop an alcohol tolerance

Tolerance occurs when more alcohol is needed to produce the same effect. Tolerance to most effects of alcohol typically develops over several drinking sessions.

In basic terms, tolerance means that your body has started to adapt to the presence of the chemicals in alcohol, gradually requiring larger amounts to feel the same effects.

“If you felt relaxed, you only had a glass of wine but now you need a bottle of wine, that person has an increased tolerance,” Mendelson says.

11. You experience withdrawal

Withdrawal refers to symptoms that occur after a long-term reduction or cessation of alcohol consumption, whether you reduce your weekly drink count or go cold turkey. These symptoms can start in a few hours to end a drinking session, and can last for weeks.

The withdrawal may have physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Sweat
  • racing heart
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

“These symptoms are often relieved in the short term by the consumption of alcohol. To avoid withdrawal symptoms, some may drink a little alcohol. [in a Bloody Mary or other mixed drink] after a night of drinking. When AUD progresses, many drink not to feel good, but to avoid experiencing terrible withdrawal symptoms,” Mendelson explains.

Do I have AUD?

The easiest way to determine if you might have AUD is to honestly assess whether alcohol is significantly affecting your life.

Genovese suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I there for my children by helping them with their homework or enjoying the school play?
  • Is my work of the same caliber as it always has been?
  • Can my friends count on me like they always have?
  • How do I feel? Am I tired all the time? Am I out of shape?
  • Do I often or constantly think about the next opportunity for a drink?

According to CDC, excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for one in 10 deaths among adults aged 20 to 64.

Helping yourself or a loved one cope with AUD can seem daunting, but if you’re ready to quit drinking and get the support you deserve, you can work on your recovery no matter how bad it gets. your drinking or your feelings of helplessness. And you don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom: you can make a change anytime, right now.

Insider’s Takeaways

AUD is a serious medical condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible. If left untreated, it can have lasting effects on your physical and mental health and strain your relationships at work and at home.

If you think you have AUD or are at risk of developing it, talk to a doctor about next steps to get the treatment you deserve.

About Rhonda Lee

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