Recognizing the signs of alcohol addiction, whether in yourself or a loved one, could help you to kick start recovery before alcohol use disorder becomes more severe, and consequently more complicated to treat. With the help of sober living homes and communities like The District Recovery, people
Alcohol use disorder is the clinical descriptor for alcoholism. This chronic and relapsing disease is diagnosed based on the criteria set out in the APA’s DSM-5, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
If you’ve been asking yourself, “What are the signs of an alcohol problem”, you’ll find the answer to that question in the DSM-5 criteria for alcohol use disorder.
Anyone suspected of alcoholism is asked the following 11 questions, all based on the previous year.
- Have you found yourself drinking more than you intended, or drinking for longer than intended?
- Have you tried and failed to moderate or stop drinking?
- Do you spend excessive amounts of time drinking and suffering from the after-effects of alcohol abuse?
- Do you get strong cravings for alcohol?
- Has your tolerance to alcohol built so you need more to achieve the same effects?
- Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms when you stopped drinking?
- Are you neglecting your responsibilities at home, school, or work as a result of alcohol abuse?
- Do you continue drinking despite the problems it causes with your family and relationships?
- Are you losing interest in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed?
- Have you found yourself drinking in dangerous situations (while driving, for instance)?
- Do you continue to drink even though it’s making you feel depressed or sad?
With today’s guide to the signs of alcoholism, we’ll be examining how the above criteria are interpreted, and we’ll outline the difference between various stages of alcohol addiction. Whether you are drinking heavily, or you have a loved one abusing alcohol, we hope you find the inspiration you need today to take action.
We’ll get started by exploring how to tell if you have a problem with alcohol.
How to Know if You are Abusing Alcohol
The criteria set out in DSM-5 account for both the psychological and physical components of alcohol use disorder.
According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), although physical dependence is a component of alcohol addiction, it is not synonymous with alcohol addiction. Just like with other addictive substances, including prescription painkillers and illicit drugs, you can be physically dependent on alcohol without developing psychological dependence.
Physical dependence is characterized by the following:
- Tolerance to alcohol builds, so you’ll need more and more to experience the same effects.
- If you stop drinking alcohol, you will undergo withdrawal symptoms.
Most people suffering from alcohol use disorder – what is informally known as alcoholism – will present symptoms of physical dependence alongside some psychological effects of alcohol addiction.
As a progressive disease, not all cases of AUD are equal.
There are three broad forms of AUD:
- Mild alcohol use disorder
- Moderate alcohol use disorder
- Severe alcohol use disorder
Mild Alcohol Use Disorder
Someone displaying up to two of the symptoms in the DSM-5 criteria is diagnosed with mild alcohol use disorder.
The early phase of alcoholism is often characterized by experimenting with alcohol in many forms.
Often, and especially for high school students and college students, drinking takes the form of binge drinking. According to NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), binge drinking occurs if your blood alcohol content hits levels of 0.08 or greater in a two-hour period. This is around four drinks for women or five drinks for men in that brief period. Regularly, binge drinkers go well beyond this threshold.
Of those engaging in binge drinking, many never progress beyond this experimental phase of a short partying stage of life.
Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder
Moderate alcohol use disorder is characterized by intention as well as the frequency of consumption. This is diagnosed if you meet 3 to 5 criteria from DSM-5.
At this stage of alcoholism, you may or may not be physically dependent on alcohol. If so, you will experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking.
For those who develop an emotional attachment to drinking – relying on alcohol to have a good time or to destress, for example – problematic drinking habits will become harder to shake as an addiction more firmly takes hold.
By this point, you should resist the temptation to stop drinking by going cold turkey at home. This will not only be uncomfortable but possibly even dangerous.
Instead, seek medically supervised detox. Here, you’ll have the qualified medical help you need on-demand, and you’ll also benefit from FDA-approved medications to streamline the withdrawal process.
Severe Alcohol Use Disorder
The presence of six or more criteria from DSM-5 results in the diagnosis of severe alcohol use disorder. Intervention and treatment is vital at this stage to arrest any further damage and minimize the chance of serious adverse outcomes. These can include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage
- High blood pressure
- Infectious diseases
If left untreated, an end-stage alcoholic loses all control over alcohol, instead of being completely controlled by alcohol.
Becoming aware of what are the signs of an alcohol problem and acting in time could stop you from ending up in this situation with severe alcohol use disorder.
What Are the First Signs of Alcoholism?
Before we round out, we’ll rewind to what happens at the beginning signs of alcohol addiction.
When drinking has moved from social drinking to problematic drinking, you can expect to notice any or all of the following psychological, physical, and behavioral signs of alcoholism:
- Slurred speech
- Appearing intoxicated
- Poor personal hygiene
- Impaired thinking
- Memory issues
- Problems with coordination
- Desire to stop drinking but an inability to discontinue or even moderate intake
- Spending inordinate amounts of time on drinking and recovering from the effects of drinking
- Becoming secretive
- Engaging in reckless or risky behaviors
- Feeling distressed at the thought of not having alcohol
- Being in denial of having a problem with alcohol abuse
What to Do When You Recognize the Signs of An Alcohol Problem
The most important thing to do if you feel you or a loved one is abusing alcohol is to commit to tackling this problem. Left untreated, alcoholism almost unfailingly gets worse. The effects ripple out far beyond the person drinking, too, with the whole family impacted.
Denial is one of the main barriers preventing many people abusing alcohol from getting the treatment they need. If you have reached the stage where alcohol abuse is affecting your life at home and work, as well as causing problems in your closest relationships, the best thing you can do is explore your many options for treatment.
While you may require medical detox if you have severe alcohol use disorder, most cases of alcoholism can be effectively treated without residential rehab.
So, rather than continuing to make excuses for your drinking, get the help you need instead.
Overcoming the Signs of Alcoholism at The District
Alcohol use disorder can be debilitating, and possibly even fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, most of those who engage with professional treatment can expect favorable outcomes.
In most cases, outpatient treatment is highly effective for treating AUD. For anyone requiring more support and time commitment, we offer both IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs) here at The District Recovery Community.
There are several FDA-approved medications to reduce the intensity of both cravings for alcohol and the withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience during detox. Our evidence-based treatment programs use MAT (medication-assisted treatment) in combination with the following:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Holistic therapy
- Adventure therapy
- Vocational development
We’ll help you build a firm foundation for sustained recovery at TDRC, and we’ll also ensure you have a robust aftercare plan in place when you complete your treatment.
To start moving beyond alcoholism and reclaim the life you left behind, reach out to admissions right now at 844.287.8506.