As casual drinking accelerates into the compulsive patterns of addiction, a person’s behaviors can drastically change. As this occurs, their relationships, physical and mental health, and social functioning can all begin to suffer.

When a person first begins to drink they may try to hide it. But the more serious the alcohol use disorder, the greater the severity and frequency of symptoms. An alcohol use disorder may be mild, moderate, or severe. These stages include what is commonly referred to as alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

1. A person drinks for longer periods or in a greater amount than they anticipated.

When a person has an alcohol use disorder they may not be able to control the amount they drink. After claiming they’re only going to have one or two drinks, a person may binge drink and consume a large amount over a short period of time. Or, if a person says they’ll only drink one day during the week, they may continue to drink for several days after.

2. Even after trying several times, a person is unable to reduce the amount they drink or quit drinking altogether.

Many people know they have a drinking problem, but try as they might, they struggle to stop drinking. Drinking may continue because cravings become too persistent or severe. If a person is dependent to alcohol, they may drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms or to reduce them once they set in.

3. A person gives up large portions of their day to drinking and/or from being hungover.

As cravings and dependence become more intense, a person will begin to choose alcohol over other important aspects of their life. A person may set out to have one drink, then realize that hours have passed as they’ve become inebriated. They may also spend most of the day in bed as they nurse a hangover.

4. Thoughts of drinking push most everything else out of a person’s mind.

A major sign of an alcohol use disorder is when a person develops cravings or frequent urges to find and use alcohol.

As this occurs, a person may frequently talk about alcohol or joke about needing a drink. If alcohol isn’t near, they may become panicked or upset. Because they’re focused on alcohol, a person may lose track of important things they need to do, such as attending a meeting, grocery shopping, or picking up a child.

5. Drinking, or its aftereffects, frequently disrupts a person’s family, home life, job, or schooling.

Instead of going to work, school, or spending time with family, a person may drink. They may also be too hungover to take part in these things. A person may lose their job or miss out on a valuable promotion or raise due to their drinking. Due to intoxication or a hangover, a person may not prepare meals, watch over a child, or remember to pay bills.

If a person is going to school they might skip classes, drop out, or get kicked out due to alcohol’s effects. Alcohol abuse and addiction frequently cause relationship troubles, that when severe could lead to divorce. Under the influence, a person may not properly look after their child’s needs or be a good role model.

6. A person keeps on drinking even after it begins to creates issues in their relationships.

A hallmark sign of a drinking problem is when a person continues to drink despite the fact it’s hurting them or the people they love. Many people spend too much money on alcohol, creating tension within the home. Instead of spending quality time with close family and friends, a person may begin to isolate themselves because they’re ashamed of their drinking. A person may make plans, only to break them, because they’re intoxicated or because they prefer to drink.

If a person’s partner or spouse threatens to leave them because of their drinking, they may continue to drink. This could be because they’re addicted and can’t limit their consumption or because they’re trying to drown the fear this situation causes.

7. A person drinks instead of taking part in important responsibilities or things that bring them pleasure.

When addicted, a person will desire alcohol above most all else in their life. A person may stay home and drink or go to the bar when they should be at work or school. Hobbies, favorite recreational activities, and family events may be cast to the wayside so a person can drink. Before a person takes part in an activity they might go out of their way to find out if alcohol will be present.

8. A person takes part in risky behaviors while under the influence, such as unsafe sex or operating a vehicle.

Alcohol can greatly impair a person’s judgement. Because of this, a person may get behind the wheel of a car after drinking. The slowed reaction time that results from drinking can jeopardize their safety and that of those around them.

Additionally, alcohol can reduce a person’s inhibitions. Paired with impaired judgement, this can lead a person to have unsafe and unprotected sex.

9. Drinking doesn’t stop even after it causes anxiety, depression, or a memory blackout.

Alcohol abuse can cause or aggravate mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. Some people first begin drinking to self-treat these or other conditions. As these problems become worse, a person may continue to self-medicate. This behavior can fuel the fire and make both the mental health and alcohol use disorders more severe.

Alcohol abuse can cause memory loss or an amnesia-like state. During an alcohol-induced blackout a person may experience partial or complete memory loss of while they were drinking. During the blackout, a person may carry on as normal and talk, laugh, or even drive or have sex.

10. The typical amount a person normally drinks doesn’t create the effect they desire, leading them to drink more. This is called a tolerance.

When a person begins to drink more frequently, or in greater amounts, their body adjusts. At this point, the number of drinks that once created pleasurable feelings no longer does. To overcome this, a person may drink a significant amount more. Some people may even make comments or joke about having developed a tolerance.

11. Withdrawal symptoms set in if a person suddenly stops drinking or if they drastically cut back on the amount they consume.

Frequent use of alcohol can cause a person’s body to become dependent on it. This means that it is reliant on regular doses of alcohol to function. Without it, the body begins to malfunction, symptoms otherwise known as withdrawal.

Signs of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • cloudy thoughts
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • shifting moods
  • sweating
  • tremors or shakes

Alcohol withdrawal can become severe, a state known as delirium tremens or DTs. Delirium tremens can be deadly if not promptly treated with medical care.

Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • cognitive problems
  • delirium
  • excitability
  • hallucinations
  • restlessness
  • seizures
  • sleeping deeply
  • stupor

In addition to these signs, a person with a drinking problem may drink when they wake up to reduce symptoms of a hangover or to calm their nerves. This is frequently called the “hair of the dog” or an “eye opener.”

People who are struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction don’t have to fight it alone. Comprehensive treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient care, exist to help a person regain sobriety and a healthier life.

Contact DrugRehab.org to speak to a treatment specialist about alcohol addiction treatment options.


MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal, Delirium tremens
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5