Symptoms and Warning Signs of Alcoholism - Addiction Answers

Alcoholism hurts. Nearly fifteen million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. Many people can drink alcohol with no problems, but some struggle with how much they drink.

Alcoholism can seem shameful and isolating. But even people with the most severe cases of alcohol use disorder can recover. Knowing the signs of alcohol addiction is the first step toward getting treatment.

Here is a quick guide to the symptoms and warning signs of alcoholism.

Alcoholism and Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is when a man consumes five or more drinks during one day, or when a woman consumes four or more drinks within two hours. Binge drinking does not mean an individual is an alcoholic. But even one night of binge drinking increases the possibility for alcoholism.

Heavy drinking is when a man consumes fifteen or more drinks per week, or when a woman drinks eight or more drinks per week. Someone can exceed that limit without necessarily becoming an alcoholic. But most people will grow dependent on alcohol with enough weeks of heavy drinking.

Alcoholism is a brain disorder in which the brain becomes dependent on alcohol in order to function. When a person drinks alcohol, the brain releases a hormone called dopamine.

Dopamine is a pleasurable hormone, and the brain wants more of it. The person then drinks more alcohol to get more dopamine. The more alcohol they drink, however, the weaker the bursts of dopamine become.

The brain stops releasing dopamine during other experiences, and it starts becoming dependent on alcohol for dopamine. At the same time, the excess level of alcohol damages the heart, liver, and lungs.

Withdrawal is difficult because the brain is punishing the body for a lack of dopamine. A person is fighting against their brain’s own reward center.

The Signs of Alcoholism

There are many signs of alcoholism. Every person is different. Some may express only a couple of these signs, while others may express many signs.

A person’s drinking may affect their duties at home, work, or school. They may start drinking during the workday, or they may go somewhere to drink alone. They may start drinking to gratify themselves, or to increase their courage before a big task.

A person may run into legal or financial troubles because of their alcohol consumption. They may cause an accident, they may spend too much money on alcohol, or they may neglect a loved one’s health.

A person may get annoyed when someone criticizes their drinking habits. They may become irritable or depressed constantly.

A person may display continuous physical symptoms. They may smell of alcohol, suffer from shaking hands, or be unable to make eye contact. They may suffer from memory lapses, even in the short-term.

A person may change their physical appearance for no good reason. They may associate with people they haven’t associated with before. They may go out for long periods of time, with no one able to contact them.

A common clinical tool to assess alcohol use disorder is CAGE. CAGE is a simple questionnaire that is four questions long.

The questions are:

  1. Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  2. Has someone annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt guilty, bad, or depressed about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink early in the morning to calm yourself, give yourself confidence, or get over a hangover?

If a person answers yes to two or more of these questions, they should seek medical help.

Underage Drinking

More than 3,500 Americans under the age of 21 die from excessive drinking every year. The symptoms of underage drinking are similar to adult alcoholism, but underage drinking has some distinct warning signs.

Many teens drink to avoid stressful situations. They use alcohol to unwind from school or from family problems.

LGBTQ teenagers are 90% more likely to drink alcohol than teenagers outside of the LGBTQ community. Many LGBTQ teenagers struggle with their identities and encounter abuse in the home or school. They turn to alcohol as a quick fix for their problem.

Some teens drink to experiment with alcohol. They think underage drinking is acceptable or cool. They may use alcohol in combination with other drugs.

Many teens also drink to fit in with their peers. If they are in a friend circle with people who drink, they will drink to be accepted. Many young people see alcohol as a quick way to reduce anxiety and build their confidence around others.

Alcoholism can also run in the family. Genetics may play a role in alcohol use. Young people may become inspired to drink alcohol because they see their parents drinking.


Anyone with an alcohol abuse disorder can find help. They can talk to their doctor or therapist and begin developing treatment plans with them. If they want to find treatments anonymously, they can get help without having to identify themselves.

Inpatient rehabilitation provides a structured schedule for people. They remain in a facility, in contact with medical professionals who specialize in addiction. A person receives medications and attends therapy sessions to address triggers for their addiction.

Outpatient rehabilitation allows a person to receive the services of rehabilitation, but they are allowed to go home. A person can also live in a sober home, living alongside other people in recovery.

Twelve-step programs, online communities, and self-help groups are also available. There is no magic bullet for treating alcoholism. No one plan works for everybody.

But everybody has resources at their disposal. They just need to get started.

Get Help When You Need It

Alcohol addiction is a serious medical problem. But people can get help, once they know the warning signs.

One night of binge drinking does not cause alcoholism. If a person drinks more than two drinks per day every day, alcoholism can happen. The brain becomes dependent on dopamine produced through alcohol, and the brain then changes.

The signs of alcoholism include problems at work, dependency on alcohol for positive feelings, and persistent physical problems. Many adolescents can develop alcoholism because of difficulties at school or at home. But everyone can receive treatment.

You can get help when you need it. Addiction Answers provides confidential and professional support for people struggling with alcohol addiction. Contact us today, or call us at 844-311-6980.

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