Alcoholism Signs: When Do You Know You’re an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism Signs

What Makes You an Alcoholic?

Social drinking is a big part of our culture, which can lead many people to abuse alcohol without realizing that it’s become a problem. Alcohol abuse can damage your health, ruin your relationships and create major problems in your life. But the biggest danger of alcohol abuse is developing a dependence on alcohol and becoming an alcoholic. If you don’t know what makes you an alcoholic, you should learn more about the warning signs and symptoms associated with alcoholism. If you’re exhibiting the signs that you’re an alcoholic, it’s essential to seek out immediate treatment.

Definitions of Drinking

First, it is helpful to learn some basic definitions about drinking so you have context to better understand your alcohol consumption levels. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has set a definition of what a “standard” drink is. This is determined not by volume (the amount you drink), but by a specific alcohol content. The institute defines a standard drink as containing about 14 grams of pure alcohol. So the stronger the alcohol level, the smaller a standard drink will be. Some basic guidelines for a typical standard drink by type of alcohol:

  • Wine: 5 fluid oz.
  • Regular Beer: 12 fluid oz.
  • Malt Liquor: 8 to 9 fluid oz.
  • Distilled Spirits: 1.5 fluid ounces

Now that you know what is considered a standard drink, you should also understand what is considered safe alcohol consumption. The federal government outlines its suggestions in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. According to these guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.  In contrast, high-risk drinking is categorized as four or more drinks per day, or eight or more drinks per week for women; for men, it’s five or more drinks a day or 15 or more per week. If alcohol consumption is higher than that, it is considered excessive drinking. One category of excessive drinking to note is binge drinking. According to the guidelines, it’s considered binge drinking when, in the space of about two hours, women consume four or more drinks and men have five or more beverages. 

This can give you a good framework to better understand your drinking habits. But if you are trying to figure out what makes someone an alcoholic, it also helps to learn more about the disease itself.

Alcoholism vs. Alcohol Abuse

People who abuse alcohol drink too much on a regular basis. Their abuse can be self-destructive or dangerous to others, but they are still able to demonstrate some control over their drinking and set limits. Alcohol abuse can become a long-term pattern that increases the risk for progressing into alcoholism.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism fall under the umbrella of alcohol use disorder. The spectrum of alcohol use disorder can start with a mild level of alcohol abuse. You may find your time is increasingly taken up with consuming alcohol (or recovering from alcohol consumption), to the detriment of your job performance, relationships, or recreational pursuits. As you drink more frequently, your alcohol use disorder can progress to the moderate stage. Cravings will intensify and you may not be able to set limits on your drinking. In fact, you can develop a tolerance that means you need to drink more alcohol to get the pleasurable effect you desire. Also, what used to be a hangover the morning after can turn into withdrawal symptoms in the lulls between alcoholic binges. Even if on some level you want to stop drinking, you may find it impossible to do so on your own. Without addressing the issue, you may find yourself quickly spiraling to the most severe stage of alcohol use disorder: alcoholism.

Alcoholism, also called alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence, occurs when drinking alcohol becomes essential in order to function. Unlike alcohol abusers, alcoholics will experience uncontrollable drinking, craving, physical dependence and tolerance. An alcoholic will be unable to stop drinking despite severe physical and psychological consequences.

This information may have you asking yourself, am I an alcoholic? That’s when you need to examine yourself for the signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

What Makes Someone an Alcoholic: Physical and Mental Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcoholism can take a severe toll on your health, both mentally and physically. This type of excessive drinking can manifest itself in many different ways, so if any of the following symptoms sound familiar to you, it is time for you to pursue alcohol rehabilitation treatment.

* Weight loss due to malnutrition

* Insomnia or oversleeping

* Unexplained nausea or sore stomach

* Redness of the face or cheeks

* Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

* Tremors or shaking

* Erectile dysfunction

* High blood pressure

* Increased irritability, agitation, anger and violence

* Excessive displays of emotion, such as uncontrolled crying

Alcoholism Signs: When Do You Know You’re an Alcoholic?

If you want to know if your alcohol abuse has crossed the line into alcoholism, ask yourself the following questions:

* Have you ever felt the need to cut back on your drinking?

* Do you get upset when people ask questions about your drinking?

* Do you feel guilty about your drinking?

* Do you hide your drinking from friends and family by hiding empty bottles or lying about consumption?

* Is it hard for you to stop drinking after one or two drinks?

* Do you often have to drink “the hair of the dog” in order to get over a hangover or steady the shakes in the morning?

* Do you consume more than seven alcoholic beverages a week?

* Do you keep alcohol in unusual places at home, work or in the car?

* Do you often drink to the point of blacking out or passing out?

* When you’re sober do you regret what you’ve done while drinking?

*  Have you promised a loved one to stop drinking or cut back on your drinking and failed?

* Has your drinking caused problems meeting responsibilities at home, work or school?

* Do you worry that a party or social function won’t have enough alcohol so you have a few drinks before you go or bring your own?

* Have you had legal problems because of your drinking, such as a DUI?

* Do you experience withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink, such as nausea, sweating and shaking?

Seeking Treatment: Alcohol Rehab

If you answered yes to more than one question above, or you are experiencing any of the listed symptoms, you are at risk for alcoholism. Unfortunately, denial is a common characteristic of alcoholism, so itís highly unlikely that a person who is dependent on alcohol will seek medical treatment on their own. It often takes loved ones such as friends, family and co-workers to intervene and persuade a person to go to rehab.

If you feel like your drinking has become a problem, or you know someone whose drinking has become out of control, an alcohol rehab facility is an important first step in the recovery process. Alcohol rehab will provide a variety of treatment options, including detox, counseling, group and individual therapy, residential treatment programs, education and family involvement. Highly qualified medical professionals and staff members can offer compassionate support and knowledgeable guidance as you develop the skills and tools to effectively cope with the ups and downs of life without depending on alcohol. They can also help you examine and address the underlying issues of your alcoholism so that you can move forward in recovery with enlightenment and wisdom. A high-quality rehabilitation program will tailor an individualized treatment plan to your specific situation and will focus on whole-person healing by addressing the body, mind, soul and spirit. It should include medical supervision during the all-important detox phase, as well as a holistic approach to treatment that combines counseling and support group services with complementary approaches such as biofeedback, acupuncture and yoga. This type of solicitous and comprehensive attention to every patient should continue across the entire continuum of care, which includes partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and after care programs.    

The decision to enter into an alcohol rehabilitation program is one of the most important choices you can make; it can truly be transformative and turn your life around towards a new direction. Don’t wait any longer to take this momentous step.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.