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The Warning Signs Of Alcohol Use Disorder

The Warning Signs Of Alcohol Use Disorder
This entry was posted in Alcohol Abuse and tagged on by .

Although it is acceptable to drink socially, more and more people are binge drinking or start to drink by themselves to feel better or forget, and this becomes a slippery slope that could lead to alcoholism. It’s not always easy to tell when social drinking has become alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD). If you are worried that you or your loved one may have become addicted to alcohol, there are several warning signs to heed. They can be broken into three categories: they are social, emotional, and physical warning signs.

Social Warning Signs of Alcoholism

The most obvious social sign of a drinking problem is legal problems related to drinking, like getting a dui/dwi or criminal charges as a result of being drunk, such as a brawl or holding up a liquor store. But this is the last sign you will need, and really don’t want. The others are below.

Twisted Priorities

Our priorities, as adults, should be our loved ones, our jobs, our responsibilities (i.e., bills) and even having fun. When drinking starts to overshadow those priorities, such as with increasingly poor job performance due to drinking or quitting or cutting back on activities that had been important in order to drink, or neglecting loved ones in order to drink, these are some of the social warning signs of AUD.

Social Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Neglected Relationships

Our relationships are important to us: spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends and coworkers. When any of these relationships are neglected because of drinking or hurts the ones we love with lies to cover up the drinking, or we are having problems at work or at home due to hangovers, these are sure signs of a drinking problem.

The Company We Keep

If drinking buddies are all heavy drinkers and use any excuse to drink, even silly ones, like Groundhog Day, we may want to rethink the drinking and our friendships. Worse yet, is if we stop keeping company in order to drink. Predominantly drinking alone is a sign that screams the need for help.

Emotional Warning Signs Of Alcoholism

These are a little harder to discern, because they might not be due to drinking, however they still need to be evaluated to see if alcohol use is the source.

Denial and Defensiveness

“The lady [or gentleman] doth protest too much, methinks…” The line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet nails it. Being in denial about how much the drinking is affecting our life, or wondering if drinking is affecting you, that is an indicator of a drinking problem. Trying to defend drinking against someone who seems reasonable or worse yet, defending your sobriety while drunk, is a serious criterion of AUD.

Denial and Defensiveness


Concern From Others

If family or friends show concern for your drinking and how they perceive the effect it has on you, this means that there is a marked difference in your demeanor when drinking. Taking a closer look at your drinking and cutting back or quitting should be considered as options. Sometimes it’s easier for others to see our problems before we do. They might be seeing our emotional withdrawal from them as well as our changed behavior.


Many times, when a person gets emotionally or psychologically attached to drinking, they also become ashamed of themselves and will go to great lengths to hide it from loved ones. In other words, if you feel that you are not happy or relaxed or feeling good unless you drink, but you don’t want to drink around others, because you fear what they might say or you just don’t want to deal with your emotions, you may have crossed the line from drinker to alcoholic.

Physical Warning Signs of Alcoholism

These signs are much easier to see and note differences in your appearance and habits. Most of them could be exhibited by a non-alcoholic; this is why they are warning signs, and not symptoms.

High Tolerance/No Limit

To many, that slightly intoxicated feeling is a feel good spot. Those with AUD, however start to build a tolerance to the alcohol, the more they drink, the more they need to drink more in order to get to the feel good spot. Another indicator is drinking past that spot, basically, drinking until you can’t anymore or until you pass out. And of course, the more you drink, the more you have to drink to pass out. This is a sign of binge drinking.

Physical Warning Signs of Alcoholism

The Daily Double

There was a time, when people would come home every day and have a martini, glass of wine or beer to finish off the day. As a matter of fact, that daily glass of red wine was considered good for you. Nowadays, drinking daily, even that glass of wine, has been shown to negatively impact your health. And if you’re getting drunk every day, then you are absolutely an alcoholic and you definitely need to seek help.

(Not) Keeping Up Appearances

When you get to the point where you no longer care what you look like and your hygiene is questionable, at best, this would be a good point in time to stop drinking. You are now an alcoholic.

The Morning After?

If you didn’t drink the night before, but are experiencing the morning after hangover symptoms, this is a serious sign of alcoholism and you need to quit now. Should you feel shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, a seizure, or seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there, after the buzz wears off, these are part of delirium tremens,  a rapid onset of confusion usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol. This is usually three days into the withdrawal and is a very serious sign of alcoholism.

Staying Vigil

Drinking socially, whether with friends, colleagues, coworkers or family, is a wonderful thing. Spending time with great people, having good times and good conversation with the people you care about is ideal. But when it stops being just a good time, when you find yourself drinking too much, too often, or needing, really needing, that drink, or even making excuses to drink more, that’s when it’s time to stop. Heed the warning signs and drink responsibly. (It’s not just an ad campaign.) Should drinking becomes an obsession, it’s definitiely time to quit.

If you are worried about a loved one, talk to them. They may deny any problem. This is when the other warning signs need to be addressed. Be sure, but don’t wait too long. If more than two of the warning signs for AUD are apparent, it might be time for them to quit, or at least rethink their drinking habits. And quitting can be hard, very hard. This is when you ask for help.


About Dr. Greg Gale, MD

Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County. Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD 

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