There’s a saying that rings true for many people – “If you have to ask if you have a drinking problem, you probably do.”
Because addiction is complex, it’s not always clear for individuals with the condition, or for those around them, to know they’ve developed a drinking problem. In many cases, denial can keep a person from realizing their alcoholic tendencies even as it ruins their life and destroys their health.
A recent study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), found that about one-third of adults in the United States have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), and that only 20 percent of those with AUD ever seek treatment.
While there are numerous reasons such a low percentage of people seek treatment for alcoholism, at least some of them might not realize they have it.
How Do I Know if I Have a Drinking Problem or an Addiction to Alcohol?
Many people drink alcohol regularly without any problems, and it doesn’t mean they will become an alcoholic. Everything is under control and they don’t rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism to overcome other issues in their life. They might have good genes, or simply drink in moderation.
For other people, a number of variables can combine to make them a candidate for addiction.
For people with a predisposition to becoming an alcoholic, it’s important to understand how or why people become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Usually there are five or six factors that contribute to alcohol addiction, and these factors will impact each person differently.
Factors That Contribute to Alcohol Addiction:
- Social or Environmental variables
- Mental health issues
- Age of first use when they started drinking
- Childhood or adult trauma
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a good resource page on their website with Frequently Asked Questions about alcohol.
It’s important to know that there is a difference between heavy drinking and being an alcoholic.
It’s also necessary to understand that there are stages of alcoholism and most people will begin at the first phase and progress through to the other phases before the problem becomes a full-blown addiction.
For anyone concerned they may have a drinking problem, the only way to know for sure is to seek medical help and have a proper assessment by an addiction professional.
It usually takes time for the majority of people to recognize they might have an issue with alcohol, and even then, denial runs deep among problem drinkers. If they do realize they need help, the stigma of addiction keeps a lot of people from speaking with a doctor.
It often takes drastic negative life consequences such as a health scare or multiple DUI citations to push them into considering treatment, and only then do they do it out of desperation.
Before alcohol causes any legal or health issues, most people should learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of problem drinking, either for them, or for a friend or family member.
If these signs become a regular occurrence or habitual, it could be time to put down the bottle and seek help.
Here Are 21 Signs You May Have a Drinking Problem
1. You’ve built up a tolerance and it takes more alcohol to feel the same effects as it once did previously
2. You notice that your friends can’t drink nearly as much as you can
3. Your parents or other relatives have a drinking problem
4. You’ve had one or more DUIs and still continue to drink and drive despite the consequences
5. Your emotions rise to the surface when you’re drinking and you’re unable to control them no matter how hard you try
6. You realize when you’re not drinking, you’re not happy, and it takes a few drinks to get back in a good mood again
7. You’re always able to find money for alcohol, even when you can’t pay your bills
8. Whenever there’s a problem in your life, your first instinct is to have a drink until you feel better and forget about it
9. Your relationships with family and friends are suffering due to your drinking problem
10. Frequent hangovers have you calling in sick to work or missing classes on a regular basis
11. You find yourself lying to others about drinking or hiding how much you drink
12. Instead of having a drink or two, you always binge drink, as outlined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
13. You have patchy spots in your memory or frequently blackout after a night of drinking
14. You engage in risky behavior while drinking, such as driving drunk, getting into fights, or engaging in sexual behavior you wouldn’t normally do when sober
15. All the signs you have a drinking problem are present, but you continue to deny to yourself and others that there’s any problem
16. You’re constantly checking the time to see if it’s happy hour yet
17. Every picture of you on social media shows you with a drink in your hand
18. You only hangout with other people who also like to drink, or you plan your social life around alcohol
19. Your drinking has taken a toll on your physical or mental health or has negatively changed your appearance, yet you still continue to drink on a daily basis
20. When you start drinking, you can’t stop and you always want “just one more” drink
21. You regularly experience not only physical withdrawal after drinking, but also emotional issues, such as depression, guilt, shame, stress, or anxiety
Understanding Alcoholism and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Some people have experienced an Alcohol Use Disorder as described by the Mayo Clinic, and have been able to come through it on their own. However, a greater number of individuals that develop alcoholism won’t get better without treatment and support of some kind.
For anyone who regularly experiences one or more of the 21 signs of a drinking problem listed above, but aren’t sure if you, or a friend or family member have an addiction to alcohol, it might be time to see a specialist.
The most important signs to recognize are 1) developing a heavy tolerance to alcohol and 2) having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. If you need a drink to avoid shaking and to steady the hands after a day or night of drinking alcohol, this is a clear sign of withdrawal.
Of course, all of the signs are important to notice and regularly experiencing more than a few of them could be a serious red flag.
Nobody should ever have to lie about drinking or hide it.
At the same time, nobody should feel guilt or shame about seeking treatment and getting help when alcohol causes them to be depressed, or when it destroys family or work relationships.
Having a problem with drinking is often times a signal that a person has other concerning matters at hand, such as depression, stress, or any number of unresolved mental health issues.
Treatment for alcoholism and addiction can help people overcome all of it, and allow them to feel normal again without resorting to relying on happiness found in a bottle.