First off, we don’t love the term ‘alcoholic,’ both because it has so many negative connotations from popular culture and because it suggests that alcohol dependence is a disease you have or don’t have, rather than a progressive addiction that develops over time in anyone who drinks above a certain level.
With that out of the way, we wondered a few times in life whether we might have a drinking problem, and we weren’t sure what to look for in terms of signs or symptoms of alcoholism.
Based on scanning several popular tests used for diagnosing alcoholism (see our previous post on this topic, called ‘Am I an alcoholic?’, for a list), these are the simplified things to look for that might indicate a drinking problem severe enough that you ought to do something about it.
Signs or symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence:
You find it difficult to stop after one or two drinks. This one is perhaps the easiest to spot. Do you often have drinking nights where you have one or two glasses of wine - or does it become the bottle pretty much every time? Do you drink for that initial feeling of tipsy-ness, or drink to get drunk? (The latter isn’t good).
Your tolerance has gone up - significantly. Your tolerance for alcohol is always going up, but if you notice that it takes twice as many drinks to feel as good, that’s not a good sign.
You’ve tried to quit and failed. We experienced this one ourselves. Not failing to quit, exactly, but by attempting to quit, we realized how much we WANTED alcohol. We didn’t think we were addicted until we stopped.
You keep drinking even though it’s causing harm to your career, your personal life, your emotional health or your physical health. This can be a tricky one. A lot of high-functioning alcoholics are perfectly capable of holding down a good job and having a respectable family/social life. But this can be true even if you just notice that alcohol causes you to embarrass yourself, or get in dumb arguments, and yet you keep it up.
Friends or family have suggested you cut down. Again, this is a tough one, because in certain settings, like college or business school, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to call you out on your drinking. But if someone has expressed concern, you should take it seriously, because they may have felt concerned for a while and only just worked up the courage to say something.
You’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal makes a person very anxious, typically, as your body fights off the calming effects of alcohol. You get nauseous and sweaty, with your heart racing, and find it tough to sleep. Sometimes people don’t even recognize this as withdrawal, because they’re expecting seizures, or seeing things that aren’t there, but withdrawal can also show itself as just very strong anxiety.
If you’re noticing some of these symptoms, and you want to make a change, download Drinker’s Helper today! It’s our app that helps people quit or cut back on drinking with a combination of therapeutic exercises, an anonymous, personalized support group, and tracking of your drinking, with insights on what makes you want to drink.