15 Warning Signs Of Alcoholism: Knowing When To Stop

Last Updated: April 10, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

One probably got away with nothing more than a mild tick off from the teacher or parents after getting drunk at a college campus party. One probably doesn’t raise the eyebrows oneself or the roof when a loved one gets drunk at a New Year Eve’s party.
Drinking is socially acceptable in many cultures around the world. This is probably one reason why the signs of alcohol abuse and problem drinking are so often overlooked.
Alcoholism carries a stigma with it. So those who abuse alcohol and their loved ones sometimes find it comforting and assuring to rationalize problem drinking behavior or deny the signs of abuse. It is a dangerous tactic. Both binge-drinking and chronic daily use—whether a person drinks a can of beer or down four bottles of whiskey every day, down tequila shots on the weekend or gulp down a bottle of wine—increase their risk of becoming an addict.

Warnings Signs Of Alcoholism

The warnings signs of alcoholism include:

  • Lying about drinking habit
  • Blackouts
  • Binge drinking
  • Drinking in dangerous situations
  • Denying drinking
  • Physical signs of alcoholism
  • Alcohol is the focus of life
  • Foregoing favorite activities
  • Drinking when stressed
  • Poor workplace and school performance
  • Negligence to duties and responsibilities
  • Relationship Issues
  • Alcohol tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Inability to stop drinking

Signs of alcoholism include:

  • Smell of alcohol on the breath
  • Extreme weight loss or gain
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Broken facial capillaries
  • Brittle hair and fingernails
  • Dry skin
  • Poor hygiene
  • Premature aging
  • Intoxication-related bruises
  • Jaundice
It is important to recognize the warning signs of alcoholism and seek help before it is too late.

The following are the signs to watch out for:

15 Symptoms of Alcoholism

1. Hiding or Lying About Drinking Habits

Those who have a drinking problem tend to hide or lie about their habits hoping that people around them won’t notice or those who are suspicious will be convinced that there is nothing to worry about.

Those with a drinking problem tend to exhibit the following secretive behavior:

  • Drink alone or hide in their rooms to drink.
  • Lie about their drinking habits.
  • Go to such lengths as buying alcohol from different stores to avoid making people suspicious.

2. Blacking Out Temporarily from Binge Drinking Episodes

If drinking leads to a temporary blackout and an individual emerges from the episode with no memory of it, it indicates that one has been drinking too much. If these episodes are too frequent, they point to a drinking problem.

3. Binge Drinking and Not Being Able to Stop

If an individual can’t stop drinking till they have gulped down a full bottle of whiskey or a whole crate of beer and still crave “one more,” they have a drinking problem. Not being able to control how much they drink is a sign of a problem.

4. Drinking in Risky Conditions or Inviting Trouble

If a person has a drinking problem, they will drink despite knowing about the consequences their actions may lead to. A person will exhibit the following behavior:

  • Drink against doctor’s warnings.
  • Drink despite knowing about an underlying health condition—heart disease or liver cirrhosis—that alcohol will worsen.
  • Drink before driving a vehicle.
  • Drink despite being charged earlier for driving under the influence (DUI) of an intoxicating substance or other illegal disorderly conduct.
  • Drink before going to work.
  • Drink before operating machinery.
  • Sustain drinking by stealing money.

Risk-taking behavior indicates that the person is so intoxicated that he is unable to gauge the consequences of his actions or prioritizes alcohol over his well-being or the safety of others.

5. Denying Drinking

Those who abuse alcohol tend to dismiss that they have a problem. They do so either to rationalize their actions or to assure their loved ones that their drinking habits are not problematic.

The following are the characteristics of denial:

  • Understating how much alcohol a person consumes
  • Ignoring or downplaying the adverse effects of drinking
  • Believing and asserting that the loved ones are exaggerating
  • Blaming the drinking habits on other people—the “nagging” wife or the “difficult” boss—or circumstances beyond control
  • Believing that a person does not have a drinking problem because they are functioning ably in the workplace or school
  • Believing that a person cannot “abuse” alcohol because it is not a “drug”
  • Believing that an individual is not an alcoholic because they do not drink every day or consume only beer or wine

6. Exhibiting Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism wreaks havoc on the body and destroys all the major organs. The following are the tell-tale physical signs of alcohol abuse especially when some of them occur together:

  • Breath that reeks of alcohol
  • Drastic weight loss or gain
  • A flushed appearance
  • Broken capillaries on the face
  • Brittle hair and fingernails
  • Dry skin
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Signs of premature aging like the appearance of wrinkles and age spots
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries that may be the result of intoxication-related accidents or violence
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes that indicates liver dysfunction

When these signs are visible, it is likely that alcohol has already started to affect the brain.

7. Making Alcohol the Focus of Life

Alcohol takes over not only the body of the person but also his mind. The person who has a drinking problem has only one thing in mind—alcohol. Here’s how a person can be preoccupied with alcohol:

  • Spending inordinate amounts of time drinking and recovering from the effects of drinking
  • Spending more time and energy searching for and procuring alcohol than doing other activities
  • Spending money on alcohol to the point of being in debt, upsetting the domestic budget, or going bankrupt
  • Seeking out and/or attending only those social activities where alcohol is consumed
  • Preferring to hang out more with people who have drinking problems or abuse alcohol than acquaintances or loved ones who do not drink

8. Foregoing Hobbies and Cherished Activities

People who have a drinking problem often begin to forego their hobbies and favorite activities. It could be the effect of some of their physical symptoms. It is also likely that after overindulging in alcohol-related activities, these people usually have no time or energy left over for their cherished activities.

9. Drinking as an Escape from Problems or Stress

Many people who take to drinking do so as a way to escape from the stressful conditions in their environments or to alleviate negative feelings like depression, frustration, anger, resentment, or sadness.

These are the signs of a possible drinking problem:

  • Drinking when stressed
  • Believing that only a drink can relieve a stress and make one feel better
  • Drinking to feel “normal” or to relax
  • Drinking to forget problems

According to research, alcohol use disorder can intensify depression. Besides, alcohol abuse creates problems at the workplace or school and home. The user is caught in a vicious cycle where stress aggravates his drinking problem that, in turn, adds more stress in his life.

10. Not Performing to Earlier Standards at the Workplace or in School

Chronic alcohol abuse takes over the life and energy of the user. Focusing on and spending time and energy procuring alcohol and grappling with the physical and emotional side effects of alcohol abuse render a person incapable of performing in other areas of his life.

The following developments may indicate a drinking problem:

  • Falling grades in school
  • Fall in attendance at school
  • Worsening performance at the workplace
  • Increased absenteeism at work

11. Neglecting Duties and Responsibilities

Those who abuse alcohol tend to neglect their personal and professional duties and responsibilities. They do so for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They are physically incapable of carrying out the tasks demanded of them.
  • They are mentally incapable of concentrating on their duties and carrying them out satisfactorily.
  • They prefer to devote their time, physical energy, and mental focus on alcohol-related activities.

12. Difficulty Maintaining Relationships

People who abuse alcohol find it difficult to form and sustain relationships. They tend to exhibit the following behavior that strains relationships:

  • They lie about their drinking habits.
  • They are aggressive or violent with loved ones who point out their problems to them.
  • Those who deny that they have a drinking problem sometimes blame their loved ones for their drinking habits.
  • They isolate themselves from their loved ones in order to hide their drinking habits or to escape questions and/or accusations.
  • They willingly break ties with their loved ones when they feel their families and friends are being intrusive.
  • They neglect their duties and responsibilities, which puts physical and/or financial burden on their loved ones.
  • They may find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
  • Covering up for the alcohol-induced misdeeds of their loved ones or pretending to outsiders that a family member is not alcoholic strains relationships in the long run.

13. Developing Tolerance

Chronic alcohol use leads to tolerance. This means that a person progressively needs more drinks to be intoxicated. This is a sign that abuse has developed into an addiction.

14. Exhibiting Withdrawal Symptoms

The presence of withdrawal symptoms is a tell-tale sign of alcoholism. It means that the body has gotten so used to having alcohol in the system that it reacts violently when an individual stops drinking.

The following are the classic alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia

Alcoholics are often drunk even in the morning. They have to. To cope with their withdrawal symptoms.

15. Not Being Able to Quit Despite Trying

The physical and psychological damages of alcoholism are well documented. Many with a drinking problem are aware of these consequences and want to quit. Many others want to reclaim their lives, careers, and relationships that alcohol has destroyed. It is a definite sign of alcoholism if a person is unable to quit despite trying hard.

Is it hard to break an alcohol habit?

Yes, it is hard to break an alcohol habit, due to the physical and psychological dependencies that develop. Without professional help, it can be very difficult to quit drinking and further damage to the person’s health, career, and relationships can occur.

Physical and psychological dependence on alcohol makes it difficult to quit the habit without professional help.

The line between problem drinking and full-blown alcoholism is blurred. It does not take many more drinks for a person abusing alcohol to cross the line. Knowing about the early warning signs of alcoholism will help ещ prevent oneself or a loved one from tumbling over the precipice.

Page Sources

  1. Bifulco M, Citro M, Abate M.Symptoms of alcohol abuse: The first warning sign of cancer development risk. Eur J Intern Med. 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com/#!/content/playContent/1-s2.0-S0953620518302759
  2. Reinholdz HK, Bendtsen P, Spak F. Different methods of early identification of risky drinking: a review of clinical signs. Alcohol Alcohol. 2011 May-Jun;46(3):283-91. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/46/3/283/240127

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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  • marlene mannon
    My cousin says he is not an alcoholic, but when I take him to get cigarettes he always wants me to take him to a liquor store, which I usually do as he does not have access to his car at this time. I know I shouldn’t but if I don’t he will hire a cab driver to get it for him. Right now he is living with his sister till he finds an apartment. They are not getting along because when she comes in from work he is intoxicated. Should I stop trying to help him find an apartment and break all ties with him and explain why?