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How to Recognize an Alcohol Addiction

Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Addiction

It’s easy to tell when a person has been drinking. Signs include slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, lowered inhibitions, and alcohol breath. However, identifying a deeper addiction may not be so black and white.

Alcoholics may be able to hide many of the more obvious symptoms of addiction for a long period of time. Too often the addicted person and the people around them choose to ignore the addiction, or find themselves in a state of denial about the realities of the alcohol addiction.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Pay attention to the warning signs if you suspect that a friend or loved one is addicted to alcohol. Certain behaviors may indicate that a person’s pattern of drinking is the result of addiction.

Signs of alcoholism include:

  • being unable to control how much you drink
  • being unable to control when you drink
  • feeling compelled or having uncontrollable cravings to drink
  • having a "tolerance" to alcohol so that you need to consume increasingly larger amounts of alcohol in order to experience the same effects
  • having to drink in order to feel "normal" or "good"
  • storing alcohol in hidden places, such as at work, in your car, or in unusual places in your house
  • drinking alone or in secret
  • irritability if you can’t drink when you want to
  • continuing to drink despite negative consequences in your personal or professional life
  • preferring to drink over engaging in other activities and hobbies, including spending time with friends and family
  • experiencing blackouts, or periods of time when you can’t remember what you did, where you were, or who you were with

You may also experience physical symptoms (known as "withdrawal") when you’re unable to drink. These symptoms are signs of a physical addiction, when your body feels it’s unable to act and function as it should without the alcohol. These symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • hallucinations
  • convulsions
  • vomiting

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is different from alcoholism. People who abuse alcohol but are not physically addicted may experience the same signs and symptoms as people who have alcoholism. But people who abuse alcohol often don’t have the same cravings or need to drink that a person with alcoholism does. Instead, a person who abuses alcohol isn’t able to control their drinking when they do drink.

Alcohol abuse is a less serious issue when compared with alcoholism. At the same time, it can come with many health complications and can lead to alcoholism if it’s not treated.

How Is Alcoholism Diagnosed?

There is no simple diagnostic test to confirm an alcohol addiction. Rather, addiction is a diagnosis of exclusion. When all behaviors and health problems are taken into consideration, your doctor may determine that your drinking is in fact an addiction.

To reach a more informed conclusion, some doctors use questionnaires to evaluate your dependence on alcohol as well as your behavior when you consume it. Your family members, colleagues, and friends may also be asked to answer similar questions. They may be able to help your doctor understand the root of your problem as well as any behaviors that trigger drinking. Knowing this will help your doctor determine the best course of treatment for your specific situation.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Jun 02, 2015: Steven Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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