What Are The Subtle Signs of Alcoholism?
When we think of an alcoholic, we most often picture somebody that is really out of control and drinks all of the time.
This person may have lost their job, had relationship issues, or financial struggles that all relate to alcohol. This story keeps us from questioning our own habits by saying, “I don’t drink like so-and-so. I must not have a problem.”
While many people may seem like more “obvious” alcoholics, you may be beginning to wonder, “Are there more subtle signs of alcoholism?”
The answer is yes.
If you are interested in learning some of the more subtle signs of alcoholism so that you can seek support for yourself or a loved one, then keep reading!
All Your Plans Involve Alcohol
This may seem like an obvious sign, but it is surprisingly deceptive.
Meeting up for dinner or for drinks may not seem like one of the signs of alcoholism at first, especially since alcohol has really engrained its way into every crevice of our society.
Now, you are able to drink without notice at the movies, bowling alleys, sporting events, and more.
However, if you notice that you only make plans somewhere that you can drink, this may be another subtle one of the signs of alcoholism.
If you find yourself turning down invitations to events where no alcohol will be served, or you start drinking before a no-alcohol event, this could be one of the signs of alcoholism.
Take notice of how frequently you account for alcohol when making your plans to see if a pattern appears.
Your Tolerance Has Increased
Another subtle one of the signs of alcoholism is that your tolerance has increased.
When we start drinking alcohol, depending on our age, gender, and weight, it takes very little to start feeling the effects of alcohol.
As you continue drinking more regularly, you will find that you need more and more alcohol to get the same effects that you used to. You may transition to harder liquor or start drinking over a longer period of time to try to achieve this, which is unhealthy drinking behavior.
Next time you are out, and you are drinking alcohol, try to take careful notice of how you feel after just one or two drinks. Is it the same way you felt when you first started drinking?
You Cannot Stick to Limits
This subtle sign of alcoholism goes hand in hand with increased tolerance.
Many people, once they noticed that they are drinking more and more to reach the effects of alcohol, try to set “limits” on themselves.
This could be something like only drinking 1 glass of wine with dinner or only getting 2 drinks at cocktail hour at a wedding. It could also be setting a spending limit on one’s self or setting a weekly drink limit.
If you find that you are consistently breaking these limits to consume more alcohol, this could be a sign of unhealthy drinking habits emerging.
You Hide Your Drinking
Hiding your drinking may seem like a big red flag and not a subtle sign of alcoholism, but this sign often goes missed.
Hiding your drinking maybe something like ordering drinks while no one else is around, drinking ahead or after an event, or hiding alcohol in your own home.
When people that are struggling with alcohol use disorder start to hide their drinking, they can often justify it to themselves so that it doesn’t seem like they are “hiding” anything.
Each time you drink, try writing down where and when you drink and how you feel. If a pattern emerges where you feel ashamed of your drinking, or you are lying to others (or yourself) about your drinking, it may be time to seek support for alcohol use disorder.
You Have Memory Loss
When too much alcohol is consumed, it can lead to blackouts as well as memory loss.
While blackouts have been normalized in excessive drinking, this is actually a serious issue and dangerous for your brain health.
When you have total blackouts or intermittent memory loss after a night of heavy drinking, this is actually because so much alcohol has been consumed that your brain cannot transfer short-term memories into long-term storage.
Intermittent memory loss after a night of drinking may also be referred to as a brown-out or a grey-out.
If you are having trouble piecing together the events of the night prior, it may be a sign that you are consuming too much alcohol.
Your Have Mood Swings or Personality Shifts
While drinking, did you engage in behavior that just isn’t like you?
Did you argue with a loved one? Pursue someone you aren’t interested in? Share the secret of a friend?
Do you find that when you are drinking, you become anxious, angry, or depressed?
These are all things that may happen if you are over-consuming alcohol.
Keeping a daily journal is a great way to track your own behavior to see if your behavior is drastically different while drinking than in your day-to-day activity.
You Are Full of Excuses
Someone that is struggling with alcoholism often is full of excuses and justifications for why they are drinking.
If you hear yourself start to say things like, “It was a tough week at work, I deserve this,” or, “I was just drinking so much because I was celebrating,” then you may want to start keeping track of the amount you are drinking.
This is a tricky sign to recognize since this kind of language is so ingrained in our culture. However, people that are really struggling with alcohol will have an excuse to drink for any occasion, even ones where no one else is drinking.
Loved Ones Have Approached You About Your Drinking
If a family or a close friend has explicitly approached you about your drinking, it can be easy to deflect away from the attention from yourself and not take this seriously.
It is especially troublesome to brush off if you haven’t experienced health issues, financial difficulties, or fractures in your relationships.
If nothing has gone “seriously” wrong, it is easy to tell a friend, “Alcohol doesn’t really affect me,” or worse, point out flaws in your friend to deflect the attention away from you.
However, try to be mindful that it was probably extremely difficult for your family or friend to bring this up to you, and they are doing it from a place of love and concern for you. Oftentimes, the people around us notice more than we do about ourselves, and it can’t hurt to listen to them.
Your Physical Appearance Has Changed
Alcohol can take a toll on your physical health, and this includes your appearance.
If you find that you have gained significant weight, this may be due to “liquid calories.” Beyond just the alcohol in drinks, they are high in carbohydrates, calories, and sugar, all of which can contribute to weight gain.
In addition, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes your body to remove fluids much more quickly than by drinking other liquids.
This can lead to dehydration and cause your skin to look fatigued and aged.
After a night of heavy drinking, alcohol can also cause your eyes and face to look puffy. It may also cause additional bloating in your stomach.
You Are Experienced in “Damage Control”
If you have gone to an event, and the next day you woke up with a hangover, you may be well-versed in “damage control.”
Damage control stems from anxiety that things did not go well the night before for a number of reasons:
- You said something you didn’t mean to say
- You broke something
- You can’t remember what happened
- You put yourself or someone else in a wreckless situation
- You weren’t acting like yourself
And a number of other reasons.
Waking up with this pit in your stomach isn’t fun for anyone. The next steps for someone might be to call/text people from the night before and apologize or try to piece the evening together.
If you find yourself doing this after every outing, you may want to seek out some resources to quit drinking.
How is Alcoholism Dangerous to Your Health?
Alcohol causes 200 different disease and injury conditions. It can also interfere with prescribed medications needed to treat illness or disease processes. Heavy alcohol use can cause many health problems and diseases including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cirrhosis (disease of the liver)
- Cancer in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage in the brain and throughout the body
- Infectious diseases like tuberculosis
- Gastrointestinal tract bleeds
Each year, 3 million people around the world die as a result of alcohol abuse.
Abuse of alcohol not only causes disease; it can also make many conditions worse. Liver disease, for example, is a very common one of the signs of alcoholism. Continued drinking worsens the condition and can lead to death.
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Physical defects include:
- Facial features that are characteristic of FAC.
- Deformed joints, limbs, and fingers
- Stunted growth before and after birth
- Problems with vision and hearing
- Small head and brain size
- Defects in the heart, kidneys, and bones
Problems with the brain and spinal cord include:
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Learning disorders and delayed development as well as intellectual disability
- Problems with memory, attention and understanding information
- Trouble with problem solving and reasoning
- Problems understanding how choices relate to consequences
- Jittery or hyperactive
- Extreme mood changes
Behavioral and social interaction issues include:
- Difficulty with school
- Problems making friends
- Difficulty with change
- Problem with impulse and behavior control
- Poor concept of time
- Trouble staying focused on a task
- Trouble working toward and achieving a goal
How Does Alcoholism Affect You Financially?
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that heavy consumption of alcohol affects our whole society. Industry, the government, and the U.S. taxpayers spend an estimated $249 billion each year on alcohol abuse related issues.
The primary cost comes from lost work time and productivity, and direct and indirect health care costs.
- Approximately $100.7 billion of these expenses were paid by state and federal governments
- Binge drinking directly cost $191 billion
- Underage drinking cost $24.3 billion
- Drinking during pregnancy cost $5.5 billion
At home, financial problems often result in lost income and increased amounts spent on alcohol. This can cause a loss of housing, malnutrition, broken relationships, and child neglect. Individuals put themselves and others in financial trouble by abusing alcohol.
Methods Used to Treat Alcoholism
Help is out there.
One method of treatment, abstinence, takes place in stages and often includes the following steps:
- Getting the alcohol out of your body through detoxification and withdrawal
- Programs to help you learn new ways to deal with stress and other emotions
- Individual and group counseling helps to address emotions and triggers that cause you to drink
- Support groups made up of former alcohol abusers provide encouragement as you work through the process
- Inpatient or outpatient medical treatment for health problems that may cause or result from alcohol use
- Medications to help control the symptoms of withdrawal and addiction
Should Alcohol Producers Take a More Active Role in Preventing Alcoholism?
Some individuals voice concerns about alcohol producers encouraging drinking to sell more product. Alcohol commercials appear prominently during sporting events. They feature groups of people having parties to watch the big game with everyone having a cold one.
The lack of regulation for nutrition labeling on alcoholic drinks also causes concern. In the U.S., producers are required to list the percent of alcohol by volume. There is no requirement to provide further nutrition information on the label.
If a company wishes to advertise their product as “low-carb”, the TTB Ruling 2004-1 states that there must be a statement of average analysis on the label.
They Don’t Make It Easy
The statement of average analysis means that labels and advertising must describe the serving size. “Per container” means the serving size is the amount in the container. If the serving size is more than what is in the container, it must specify how many servings.
The standard single serving size for malt beverages is 12 fl. oz., 5 fl. oz. for wine, and 1.5 fl. oz. for distilled spirits.
You should not assume that alcoholic drinks called “Light” or “Lite” indicate that they contain fewer calories than other drinks. Also, alcoholic drinks may not have labels stating “low carb” unless they contain less than 8 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
These names may be misleading according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The ATF considers companies who use these names as misleading if they don’t meet the required standards. Never assume that beverages with these names have value as diet aids.
Is it Possible to Recover from Alcoholism?
Once you have developed a problem with alcohol use disorder, it can be difficult to overcome. Many of the people who ask for treatment end up recovering. A strong support system often serves as a key element for complete recovery.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t waste another moment. Problems with alcohol only ever get worse, you have discovered a program that is internationally respected and rated. Give yourself the gift of a fresh start and don’t allow any more signs of alcoholism to develop – the next one could be the last.