How To Spot An Alcoholic: Signs And Symptoms Of The Disease

Last Updated: April 10, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

An alcoholic does not always have the physical capability or mental clarity to recognize their early signs of alcoholism, let alone put a stop to them. Some abusers will go to great lengths to mask their alcoholic tendencies. It falls on us to recognize the physical signs of alcoholism and the alcoholic behavior patterns they exhibit. Only then can we help someone get rid of this dangerous addiction.

How to Tell if Someone Has a Drinking Problem

Alcoholics see their next drink as the number one priority. An addicted person can not function without it; what is more, they are no longer in control of it, rather alcohol takes control over them. To prevent them from spiraling down into their addiction, one has to identify an alcoholic behavior as soon as possible. By doing this, they will minimize damage to both the physical and social aspects of one’s life.

Young man businessman drinking whiskey with a feeling of despair
Having an occasional drink is a ritual of plenty of social occasions. Drinking within limits, therefore, carries no particular harm and should not cause concerns. Yet, if taken a step further, drinking can become a dangerous habit and needs to be nipped in the bud. Certain signs and symptoms can help people determine if the person they know might be dealing with alcohol dependency.

There are distinct behavioral patterns displayed by those with an addiction. The vital signs include:

  • Getting intoxicated frequently
  • Experiencing bad hangovers.
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about drinking
  • Often needing a drink to relax or feel better
  • “Blacking out” or loss of memory of the events after drinking
  • Losing the ability to control the number of drinks consumed
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is unavailable

Physical Signs an Alcoholic Exhibits

Apart from the behavioral patterns the person might acquire, there are physical signs of alcoholism, which often help to spot an alcohol abuser straight away.

man drinking whisky at home
Physical signs that can help in spotting an alcoholic include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor balance or clumsiness
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Stomach pains
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Redness of the face

What are the 10 Warning Signs of Alcoholism

A person who is facing an alcohol misuse problem will most of the time fit into the context of the ten warning signs of alcoholism. These symptoms range from physical to behavioral indicators, which negatively affect one’s personal and professional life. The following list isn’t conclusive but can provide people with guidance in spotting an alcoholic.
How to spot an alcoholic? Here’s what they are likely to do:

  • Neglecting Responsibilities
    An inexplicable absence from work declined productivity, and neglect of household chores by an otherwise responsible individual are signs that the person probably does not have the physical energy or mental focus to perform his or her usual duties. This is not necessarily due to an alcohol misuse problem but is usually a good starting point for identifying one.
  • Drinking in Dangerous Situations
    Often, an individual will retain their drinking habits even in situations they are aware pose an increased danger to themselves and those around. Drinking while or before driving, for example, is one such situation. Mixing alcohol with illicit drugs like cannabis and cocaine or prescription medicines are also situations that act as signs of alcohol abuse. Being cognizant of the dangers is an indication that the person is willing to take risks for the sake of pleasing their drinking habit. This abusive alcoholic behavior can be terrifying for those witnessing its manifestation.
  • Exhibiting Abnormal Mood Swings
    Alcohol abusers can have unexplained mood swings during the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Sudden and unexplained mood swings in an even-tempered person or someone who does not suffer from mood disorders may indicate the early phase of alcoholism. If a person exhibits alcohol withdrawal symptoms, he or she has likely been drinking for quite some time.
  • Lying About Alcohol Use
    This indicates that the person is aware of his or her drinking habits being problematic or abnormal but is trying to mask them or play them down. This is one of the most reliable signs of alcohol addiction.
  • Displaying a High Tolerance to Alcohol
    This is a telltale sign of chronic alcohol abuse or full-blown alcohol addiction. The person not only drinks more but also shows the symptoms of resistance to alcohol when compared to his or her friends. Their body has become used to having a high concentration of alcohol in the blood.
  • Exhibiting the Physical Signs of Alcoholism
    These will be more tangible conditions, such as those listed above. An alcohol abuser is also less likely to care about their appearance with a flushed-looking face, trembling hands, and red or blotchy skin being the typical physical signs of alcoholism.
  • Being Unable to Maintain Loving Relationships
    Reduced attention to their partners, secretive behavior or dishonesty, and concerns over finances take a toll on relationships. If a person is unable to quit alcohol for the sake of restoring harmony in a romantic relationship, it is evident that they value alcohol more than their partner. Alcoholic behavior in relationships is an excellent method to spot a way of alcoholic thinking.
  • Getting into Trouble with the Law
    If frequent clashes with the law on charges of driving, disorderly conduct, or violent behavior in a drunken state cannot keep a person away from alcohol, what can? Such an attitude firmly he or she prioritizes alcohol over life, safety, and acceptable social behavior. Once a person is controlled by alcohol, their decision-making abilities become clouded, too.
  • Experiencing Binge Drinking Blackouts
    Commonly present among the youth who begin to experiment with alcohol, binge drinking is a gateway to addiction. It is also one of the early signs of alcoholism. Because of the strong, devastating properties of the episodes, one can quickly notice a person is indulging in such activities too often. Binge drinking is a problematic drinking behavior.
  • Drinking at Inappropriate or Unusual Times
    Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are double trouble. They don’t only bring heavy discomfort to an affected individual; they also prompt them to drink more to alleviate the adverse symptoms. Even if a person wants to quit, the pain might be unbearable, and they find temporary salvation in their next drink. In the case of many alcoholics, these symptoms start to manifest within 24 hours of having the last drink.

Therefore, those affected by a more severe addiction tend to drink at unusual intervals. Mornings or afternoons are some of these atypical times.
Not all of the above-mentioned alcoholism signs may show up together. In fact, some might never manifest at all. So if someone notices someone who is exhibiting abnormal drinking behavior, which is consistently landing him or her in trouble, advise them to seek professional help. When these signs show up, it is an index that alcohol has already started to affect the body and the mind of the individual.

How to Deal with Signs of an Alcohol Problem

Spotting an alcoholic is one thing, but extending a helping hand is the step that takes audacity. Confronting someone about an alcohol problem can be a daunting task, especially if the alcoholic is in denial about their addiction. In such a dilemma, it is important to think about the difference щту will have made to someone’s life. It could be a life-saving decision.

group of friends supporting a man
One is encouraged to approach the individual gently and use encouraging words to make them feel at ease, letting them know they are not alone in this struggle. There are facilities in place that will effectively target any alcohol addiction. Staging an intervention is another viable solution that may require a few caring individuals who are close to the person dealing with an alcohol use disorder.

Page Sources

  1. Dunn EV, Kandel S, Hilditch J. Signs and symptoms in male alcoholics. Can J Public Health. 1985.
  2. Chafetz ME. Alcoholism criteria: an important step. Am J Psychiatry. 1972 Aug;129(2):214-5.

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 10th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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