Alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects some of those who drink alcohol. It's a disease because it causes physical effects in the brain. It's not a sign of moral weakness or anything like that; it's a physiological response.
Consequently, it has symptoms, just like any other disease. This means there are signs and markers that you can use to test whether you or a loved one suffers from this disease. While it's not quite the same as a virus (where you would use blood cultures) or a condition like asthma (where you blow into a big tube to measure lung function), there are set criteria for alcoholism.
Obviously the first is drinking. If you don't drink, you can't develop a tolerance for alcohol. This is why many people promote abstinence as the main way to prevent alcoholism.
The next stage is regularity. How regularly do you drink? Drinking once a year is not going to lead to alcoholism except in very unusual circumstances. Drinking once a day, however, is much more likely. Usually, if you drink more than three times a week, you're much more likely to develop the signs of alcoholism.
Tolerance is the next sign. If you're able to drink 20 pints of beer (that's 320 ounces) with relative impunity, you might have a tolerance. To be honest, if you're not blabbering around like an idiot after 20 pints (I would be comatose at around 10), you almost certainly have a tolerance.
Tolerance leads to a range of behaviors, and these may crop up with a number of alcoholics, although the presence of a few are usually signs of alcoholism.
Denial is the first real sign of a drinking problem. If you bring up the issue and the person denies having a problem with alcohol and refuses to discuss it further, it's possible that that person has an issue with alcohol.
Disguise is another common symptom. Alcoholics often disguise their drinking habits from loved ones as they either are ashamed of their habits or do not want to go through the same arguments.
Alcohol for stress relief isn't uncommon, but it is an indicator of an alcohol addiction. If you find that stress in work or life sees you hitting the bottle…well, you know the rest.
7. Change of Personality
Change of personality is a common side effect of alcoholism, and this may last even when the person is supposed to be sober. As Raymond Chandler wrote:
"A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can't predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before."
8. Neglect of Social Life
Neglect of social life that doesn't involve alcohol is usually a big sign of alcoholism. Usually, those who are addicted will exclude activities that do not allow them to drink, and this will become apparent. If your loved one only goes to the pub, this can be a sign.
9. Lack of Control
A lack of control is a defining symptom. You might hear "OK, I'll give it up," but if you've heard it before and it hasn't happened, it's possible that your loved one is an addict. Addicts and alcoholics persist in their symptoms no matter what, which leads to problems. Someone who isn't an addict should be capable of giving up for a week or two at least.
10. When Drinking Affects Work or School
When drinking affects work or school, it's an issue. Most people will have a hangover at some point in their lives, and occasionally, it will affect that person's attendance. It's relatively normal for it to happen once or twice. However, if it happens regularly, you might have a problem.
Withdrawal is a big indicator of dependence on alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms happen because of the changes in the brain that take place. Alcohol affects brain function in that it stimulates the release of certain chemicals in the brain. The body becomes used to this effect and suffers when alcohol is no longer in the body. Shakes, fever, and convulsions are all signs of serious withdrawal, along with lesser symptoms like cravings, thirstiness, and anxiety.
12. Liver Problems
Liver problems result in one of the most serious symptoms of alcoholism. It's one of the leading causes of death for alcoholics, and it occurs because the liver scars over. It quite literally destroys it. As a result, addicts turn yellow, suffer immense pain, and then die. It's not a nice way to go, and it exceeds the discomfort of withdrawal.
Death by alcohol may be what awaits many with an alcohol use disorder, so do yourself a favor and get help. If you're reading this, you likely suspect that either you or someone you know might have an addiction to alcohol, so take action. If you or a loved one has an issue with alcohol, call us today at 1-800-928-9139 .