Recognising that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol is a difficult step and many of us feel we need reassurance that we’re not wrong.
The truth is that if you are worried about your own drinking or that of a loved one, that is enough to indicate that seeking professional help and advice is a good idea.
It may not be alcoholism. Occasional heavy drinking may well be harmful, but does not necessarily indicate dependence on alcohol. Regardless, help may be needed.
The exact point at which a person could be considered to be ‘alcoholic’ is an individual thing and can vary from person to person.
There are, however, signs and symptoms of alcoholism that are common to many. Not all of the signs may be present in everyone who has a problem with alcohol.
You or others worry about your drinking
If you are concerned by your drinking it is the first sign that you may have a problem. Perhaps you feel you should cut down or others have raised concerns that you should.
It’s easy to dismiss these worries and put them down to being overdramatic, but they are usually founded in some truth and it’s important to take note.
If you yourself, a relative, friend, doctor or other health worker has raised concerns about your drinking or suggested you cut down, it’s one sign you could be at risk of alcoholism.
Physical signs – alcohol withdrawal symptoms
Not everyone who has a problem with alcohol will suffer withdrawal symptoms. But the presence of withdrawal symptoms is a sign you could be at risk of alcoholism.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may occur if a regular or heavy drinker quickly stops or dramatically reduces their drinking.
Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Hand tremors (also known as the shakes)
- Seizures or fits
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Anxiety, especially after waking
Withdrawal symptoms can be relieved and managed through a properly managed detox and, where required, prescribed drugs.
You feel guilty or remorseful about your drinking
Another internal signal not to ignore is the one which makes you feel guilty about your drinking.
If you’ve told yourself you’re going to dramatically cut down or even switch to a different type or brand of drink to try to help you drink less, it can be a warning sign.
Many recovering alcoholics look back and remember times when they told themselves they’d only drink at a certain time of day or they’d stop for a period due to worries about their intake.
Of course, this in isolation is not a sign of alcoholism, in fact, it can just be good sense.
Remember though that not everyone with a drinking problem drinks all day every day. Being able to stop briefly or confine yourself to drinking after 9pm does not make it impossible that you are in the grip of alcoholism.
Feelings of guilt or remorse over your drinking could drive you to be secretive or dishonest about your alcohol intake, but conversely, it may also lead you to joke and talk about your drinking in a bid to relieve your anxieties over it. If you find yourself taking steps to mask the smell of alcohol on you, it is a signal you could have a problem.
Hiding alcohol in the home or frequently making promises to stop drinking, either to yourself or others, is another sign.
You drink regularly or drink a lot
The amount of alcohol you consume and regularity of drinking are two factors to be aware of.
You may be at risk if, as a male, you drink eight or more units of alcohol, weekly or, as a female, you drink six or more units weekly.
One unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to a single 25ml shot of spirits (such as gin, vodka or whisky), half a pint of regular beer, lager or cider or half a small 175ml glass of wine.
If you drink very often or drink very heavily on a typical day when you are drinking they are warning signs.
If you start drinking and find you cannot stop, if you’ve had a drink in the morning to get yourself going after a drinking session or if you or somebody else has been injured due to your drinking – it may also indicate an issue with alcohol.
Call back request
You have blackouts
Occurrences of not being able to remember what happened due to your drinking are a sign of harmful drinking or even alcoholism.
Similarly, uncharacteristic behaviour whilst drinking should also be seen as a warning sign.
You drink to cope, to destress or as a reward to yourself
If you regularly use alcohol as a means to get to sleep, build your confidence, de-stress or as a reward to yourself – perhaps for working hard – you could have a problem.
You neglect your responsibilities due to your drinking
A person may well manage to maintain a job, a life, a home and relationships whilst still battling with alcoholism – functioning alcoholics are a common thing.
However, missing appointments due to drinking, neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school or continuing to drink despite the problems alcohol causes in your relationships, are signs something could be wrong.
Perhaps you don’t accept responsibility for your behaviour – maybe blaming others for how you act or even for your drinking. Maybe you cut yourself off from others or go missing for days – all are signs to look out for.
If in doubt, reach out
The thing to remember about alcoholism is that there are grey areas and not all signs and symptoms will be present in everyone who is suffering.
Our advice would always be to go with your gut – if you are worried about your own drinking or that of a loved one, seek help. You can contact your GP or if you’d like to speak with someone who has been there themselves – contact Port of Call. All of our team has personal experience with addiction and we’re happy to listen to your concerns and advise on next steps. No question is a silly one.