What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?

As most people begin drinking in casual, social ways that gradually become more serious, it can sometimes be difficult to tell exactly when harmless drinking has transitioned into alcohol addiction, and professional help is needed. There are, however, some symptoms of alcoholism that can be observed in oneself or loved ones. It is important to pay attention to these and recognize them as warning signs that changes need to be made.

A person does not need to show all of these symptoms to need alcohol addiction treatment. Even just one or two can indicate the presence of an alcohol use disorder.

1. Neglecting Responsibilities

One of the major alcohol addiction symptoms is when the alcoholic begins neglecting their responsibilities at work, home or school. This may begin with poor performance and lateness, then progress to failures, accidents, and frequent absences. Relationships with friends and family often become distant and promises made to loved ones frequently broken. Functional alcoholics may manage to still fulfill their responsibilities despite heavy drinking, but on the inside, they are usually exhausted and frantic with the extreme effort it takes to keep up appearances.

2. Drinking To De-Stress

People addicted to alcohol start to feel as if they need alcohol to relax. They will turn to drink to get their mind off of challenges and conflicts, to banish negative emotions, and to cope with stress. They will use alcohol to temporarily forget their problems, but all they are doing is disconnecting from their emotions and preventing themselves from dealing with problems that will only become worse as the drinking increases.

3. Depression

While many people drink to self-medicate depression, regular drinking can also cause depression by interfering with the brain’s natural pleasure response. Chronic drinkers often find themselves unable to enjoy life without alcohol, so that their drinking leads to more drinking, which will only make the depressive symptoms of alcoholism progressively worse.

4. Anxiety

Initially, alcohol can seem to soothe anxiety. This is because it depresses the central nervous system. For some people, chronic drinking leads to a rebound effect, so that their nervous systems become overreactive, resulting in anxiety that can only be relieved with more drinking.

5. Mood Swings

Not only do varying levels of alcohol in the system result in shifting moods, but chronic drinking changes structures and chemical processes in the brain that disrupt normal emotional response. People become irritable and quick to anger, with frequent, unexplained changes in mood—although the alcoholic can often find a “cause” to blame for the mood, as a way of making these dramatic shifts seem justified.

6. Relationship Problems

The emotional ups and downs of drinking can easily lead to conflict between alcoholics and their loved ones. Uncharacteristic and hurtful behavior that results from drinking can damage relationships, creating pain, resentment, and distrust.

7. Legal Problems

Legal problems often accompany alcohol use disorder. This can be due to driving while under the influence, or engaging in fights and other kinds of risky behavior that happen while drunk. In addition, spending lots of money on alcohol while also facing professional problems or unemployment can lead some individuals to commit crimes in an attempt to fix financial problems. People who would never break the law while sober may find it very easy to commit a crime while drunk and desperate.

8. No Longer Feeling in Control of Your Life

One of the worst symptoms of alcoholism is when alcohol becomes the center of your life, taking control of your choices and responses, and shifting your priorities so that you become a stranger to yourself. You may promise yourself and others that you won’t get drunk, or won’t drink at all, and then break that promise over and over without wanting to.

When you see this, or any other symptom of alcohol addiction causing problems in your life, it’s time to seek professional addiction treatment.