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How to recognize alcoholism and the need for help

Posted May 24, 2021 by Kelli Blue, LPCC, LICDC

woman looking at a glass

For many, alcohol is used occasionally as a way to celebrate, relax, bond and socialize with friends and loved ones. It’s a toast to wedding nuptials or an anniversary, or a shared drink with a loved one to kick off the weekend.

When drinking is done in moderation, it is generally not considered to be dangerous to your health or mental wellbeing. The problem for some is it can be difficult to tell when their alcoholic intake has crossed the line from casual or moderate drinking to something more.

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), can take many forms and the stereotypes don’t always hold true. You might think your drinking isn’t a problem because you have never stolen money to buy alcohol, gotten in a bar fight or received a DUI. Someone who is suffering from AUD might have a family, stable job and are fully functional in their daily life.

Recognizing that there’s a problem is the first step in getting help to cut back to healthy levels or quitting altogether. Summa Health discusses alcoholism and what it looks like to help you determine if there’s a problem and when it’s time to reach out for help.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a psychological brain disorder and chronic condition that results in an inability to stop drinking, even if it’s causing problems in your life.

Alcoholism, which can range from mild to severe, can lead to significant health disorders, including liver disease, high blood pressure, heart failure and certain types of cancers. It also can negatively impact your life due to an increased risk of injuries, job loss, strained relationships with loved ones and even legal issues.

Alcohol abuse from heavy or binge drinking at times does not mean you have an alcohol addiction. However, it can put you at a higher risk of developing one.

Do I have an addiction to alcohol?

Look for signs of an alcohol addiction. Once you’re aware of what alcoholism can look like, it’s easier to determine when your drinking habits have crossed the line into addiction territory and you need help.

You can start by asking yourself these questions. If you answer yes to any of them, it may be time to talk to your doctor about an alcohol addiction.

  • Do you crave alcohol, and have a physical or mental dependence on it?
  • Do you have difficulty limiting how much you drink?
  • Does your drinking interfere with your professional and social relationships, and is it affecting your health and/or finances?
  • Do you choose to continue drinking despite these negative consequences in your life?
  • Have you found that your usual number of drinks has had much less of an effect than before? 
  • Then, watch for typical signs of alcoholism, which include:

  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Experiencing guilt associated with drinking
  • Making drinking a priority over responsibilities and losing interest in activities you used to find enjoyable
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, shakiness, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety and depression
  •  Feeling a strong urge to drink alcohol An inability to stop or control the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Loss of memory, or blackouts, from the events that occurred while intoxicated
  • If you are experiencing more than one of these signs, it’s a good indication you’re struggling with alcohol. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change and help.

    Getting help

    The sooner you identify the problem, the better. Getting help early can reverse many of the mental, emotional and physical side effects of heavy drinking. But if it goes untreated, cirrhosis and liver failure can occur and are irreversible.

    If you think you’re struggling with an alcohol addiction, talking to your primary care provider or a mental health professionalis a good first step. They can help you craft a treatment plan and be a good source for referrals to additional resources.

    You may be recommended a combination of the following treatments:

  • Behavioral therapy, which is aimed at changing your drinking behavior through counseling and therapy, such as setting goals, avoiding triggers and developing skills to stop drinking.
  • Medications, which can help reduce your urge to drink.
  • Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, provide peer support while you’re quitting or cutting back on your drinking.
  • Remember, the first step is recognizing the problem and reaching out for help. Once you do, the effects of alcohol addiction in many cases are manageable and treatable so you can get your life back. 


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    If your situation is an emergency, call 911.