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How to Know If You’re an Alcoholic: Warning Signs

There is a widespread misconception that the only people who are alcoholics are those whose lives are falling apart or whose drinking problem is obvious to everyone around them. The stereotype of a messy alcoholic applies to only a portion of the population. Many alcoholics don’t want to admit that they are sick or that their alcohol use creates havoc in their lives and in the lives of those around them. Making excuses or compensating with nice gestures are two ways alcoholics try to conceal their alcoholism. Alcoholics may tell their loved ones, or even themselves, that they are functioning normally in society despite their drinking. These people may even consider themselves alcoholics, albeit functioning alcoholics. What is most important is that the person suffering from an alcohol use disorder recognizes their problem and can accept the label “alcoholic” and seek help.

Alcoholism is now officially called an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Outside of clinical terms, labeling the disorder becomes difficult, and usually, the label “alcoholic” must be self-claimed and motivated by the individual with the AUD for a successful recovery.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

Statistics show that AUDs affect millions of U.S. citizens a year. In 2014 alone, 16.3 million people in the United States experienced life with an AUD, and of those individuals, less than 9% received treatment. One reason for this disproportionate ratio could be that people are unaware or refuse to accept that they are alcoholics. It is important to know the warning signs of alcohol use disorder and understand how to recognize if your patterns align with the formal diagnosis.

Some warning signs of an alcohol use disorder are clear to see, while others are not apparent on the surface. Depending on the severity of the AUD, the signs may be subtle or obvious. Detecting warning signs sooner rather than later prevents an alcoholic from spiraling out of control and allows them to improve their quality of life before it worsens. It is essential to keep in mind that there is no “exact formula to determine whether or not someone is an alcoholic.” However, common warning signs of an alcohol use disorder include:

  • Blacking out
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Sudden irritability
  • Intense mood swings
  • Relying on excuses like “I need a drink to relax, unwind, or de-stress”
  • Needing a drink to feel normal
  • Prioritizing drinking over your responsibilities and obligations
  • Isolating to drink or to avoid concerned loved ones
  • Distancing yourself from friends and family
  • Drinking alone
  • Sneaking alcohol or drinking in secrecy
  • Feeling hungover when not drinking
  • Letting yourself go
  • Poor hygiene
  • Looking bloated or puffy in the face
  • Having a red flushed face
  • Changing social groups and the people you chose to hang out with
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor work performance
  • Making inappropriate comments

Alcohol Abuse Screening Tools

One common issue with evaluating yourself and whether you are an alcoholic is the bias of knowing your body. This bias can express itself as denial and prevent the foundational step in recovery; acceptance. To avoid bias in figuring out if you have an alcohol use disorder, different screening tools are accurate and efficient if you are willing to answer honestly.

The first screening tool is CAGE, a questionnaire that measures the intensity of a drinking problem. There are 4 questions in this screening questionnaire, and if you answer “yes” to at least half of those questions, then your drinking patterns could be an alcohol use disorder and you should consider seeking help from a health professional. The 4 CAGE questions include:

1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?

According to CAGE questionnaire advocates, regardless of the answers to those four questions, if your drinking is negatively impacting any area of your life, regardless of how much alcohol you drink, such warning signs should be addressed by a medical professional.

Diagnosing Alcohol Use Disorder

Medical professionals have a questionnaire to determine if you are suffering from an AUD. Since the medical professional is the one conducting the questionnaire, responses are less biased. In a clinical setting, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used to assess and diagnose alcohol use disorders fairly. The questions asked are regarding the past year of alcohol use. DSM questions for AUD include:

  • Have you continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem?
  • Have there been situations where you ended up drinking much more than you intended?
  • Have you lost interest in other activities and hobbies since you started drinking?
  • Have you experienced symptoms associated with an alcohol withdrawal?
  • Have you felt an urge or craving to consume alcohol?
  • Have you gotten into situations while drinking that increased your chances of harming yourself or others (i.e., drinking and driving)?
  • Have you been in trouble with the law due to alcohol-related problems?

Acknowledging The Problem

It’s important to be wary of the warning signs of an alcohol use disorder. It is difficult to know if you are experiencing an alcohol use disorder, but there are resources available to help you figure it out. If you are living with an AUD, it is critical to accept the diagnosis to avoid the cascading issues that come with prolonged drinking.

Drinking for years puts you at risk of having serious and life-threatening health issues. By acknowledging that you are an alcoholic, you have the opportunity to take your life back and enjoy the way a healthy life feels. This opportunity only becomes available if you seek help and stick with your recovery. Please reach out to Boardwalk Recovery Center if you have any reason to believe that you have an alcohol use disorder.

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