How do you know if you’re an alcoholic?

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Content Overview

If you use drinking as a coping mechanism or have experienced withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a while, you may need to take a look at the part alcohol plays in your life. Many people are too nervous to ask for help when they develop a drinking problem because they are scared of their family’s reaction or being stigmatised. If you are in this situation, please know that there are nuanced reasons for addiction, and that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

With heavy drinking such a part of our culture, how can you know that your alcohol use has risen to the level of addiction? This page will explain the various signs and symptoms to look out for which may indicate you need help.

What is considered an alcoholic?

The technical definition of an alcoholic describes someone with an addiction to alcohol. An alcohol addiction is made up of both physical and psychological elements. The physical side of addiction occurs when the brain mechanisms change, and you have to drink alcohol to avoid alcohol withdrawal. The psychological side of the addiction is the emotional connection to alcohol that develops when it is used as a coping mechanism. This makes it extremely difficult to stop drinking even when it is causing extensive damage to your life.

How do I know I’m an alcoholic?

There are various physical and mental health issues caused by heavy drinking, but in order to know if you have an addiction, you need to take a long look at your drinking habits and your relationship with alcohol.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I crave alcohol all the time?
  • Am I unable to stop drinking even though it causes harm to myself and others?
  • Do my emotions and mood change dramatically when I’ve been drinking?
  • Does drinking alcohol help me to feel ‘normal’ or ‘on the level’?

There are many people who drink heavily who are not alcohol dependent, but if you are constantly looking for the next drink, and experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get it, you may need to seriously consider treatment.

Denial in alcoholism

Denial is a common response to the experience of addiction. When someone becomes addicted, they often tell themselves that it’s not an issue and that “everything will be okay”. Some people convince themselves, “I know I drink too much, but things are getting better,” or “Maybe my drinking has become out of control in the past few days, but this was a tough week at work!”

Denial can cause conflict with your family and friends, because you may become aggressive or defensive when approached about your drinking. Ultimately, it can prevent you from ever admitting there’s a problem, even after years have gone by and alcohol abuse has taken its toll on your health, relationships and career.

Rationalisation in alcoholism

Denial is often used in conjunction with another common defence mechanism, rationalisation. Rationalising your behaviour might allow you to externalise the blame for your addiction onto others, and you may start telling yourself that your partner doesn’t understand you or that your boss treats you unfairly.

While neither denial nor rationalisation are positive responses, they are very common, and you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed about an alcohol addiction or any other substance use disorder. We often meet new clients who are really down on themselves when they start their treatment, but it is so important that you remain positive in order to take all the necessary recovery steps, and start to rebuild relationships with family and loved ones.

Warning signs of an alcohol use disorder

It is often easier to recognise signs of addiction in a loved one than it is in yourself, and while not everyone will exhibit all of these, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Obsessing over alcohol and constantly thinking about the first drink of the day.
  • Regularly binge drinking or drinking until you black out.
  • Experiencing extreme mood swings or overreacting to situations.
  • Having to drink alcohol in order to feel happy or confident.
  • Drinking alcohol by yourself to cope with stress, avoid symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, or because you have trouble sleeping.

Common symptoms of alcohol addiction

There are various symptoms of alcoholism but in the initial stages, you may not even be aware that there is a problem. Alcohol affects people differently, and many functional alcoholics are still able to perform at work and in other important areas of their life without any major problems arising for a long time.

However, for most people, an addiction to alcohol can have a significant negative impact on their family, health and happiness. Alcoholism is often associated with high levels of stress, so the negative coping mechanisms that you may have adopted when drinking become rooted habits over time.

The negative consequences of not seeking help can be severe and include long-term health complications, mental disorders, relationship breakdowns, and legal and financial issues. Excessive drinking and other substance abuse, such as illegal drug use, can lead to increased rates of unemployment, suicide, unsafe sex, child neglect and domestic abuse.

How to recognise alcoholism

Recognising alcohol addiction in yourself can be very difficult. You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, such as anxiety and tremors, or find that your judgement becomes impaired and that you are less able to control your impulses.

Alcoholics often believe that if nobody notices their problem, then there’s no real problem at all, and it takes for them to hit their lowest point before they seek help. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many fantastic alcohol rehab clinics offering comprehensive treatment programmes that can help you to make the changes you need.

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Reasons why people drink

For many people, alcohol is considered a social necessity, and it’s very common to spend time drinking with friends at the weekend. Unfortunately, some social drinkers become alcohol dependent without realising, as an increased tolerance to alcoholic drinks means they need to drink more to feel any effect.

Some people drink because it helps them relax after work, or to deal with regular everyday stress that we all experience in our lives. Others use alcohol because they are bored and are looking for some excitement, and this often results in frequent binge drinking, which is a common pathway to alcohol abuse.

Life problems are another major reason for excessive drinking, and many people end up using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Relationship problems, issues at work, financial concerns and health worries can all lead to alcohol abuse. However, it is the underlying issues in the person’s life not being dealt with that drive the addiction, rather than alcohol itself. Not facing these problems often results in them exacerbating, which ends up further fuelling the addiction.

How many drinks a day is considered an alcoholic?

While counting daily drinks isn’t the best way to judge whether someone is an alcoholic, there are some limits and daily recommendations which can be used as a guide.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, six units of alcohol a day or a total of twelve or more a week is regarded as heavy drinking for women. For men, eight or more units a day or fifteen or more a week is considered a potential health problem.

These numbers are not an exact science, and if you are drinking as many as four or more drinks every day, you should try reducing your intake. If you find that you struggle to cut down, you may want to consider seeking treatment or speaking to a healthcare professional.

Does drinking every day make you an alcoholic?

Some people drink every day, but don’t have an addiction; there is a clear distinction between heavy drinkers and those with an alcohol use disorder.

As well as daily drinking, here are some other factors to consider when determining if you have a problem:

  • Do you ever experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, nausea or high blood pressure?
  • Do you ever go through periods in which you can’t stop thinking about alcohol?
  • Has a loved one ever spoken to you about your drinking?
  • Do you need to drink more than before for the alcohol to have the same effect?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should consider contacting an addiction treatment facility for help with alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Admitting you need help

You need to admit you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol before anyone can help. This is the first step on your journey of recovery and it may not be easy, but it is very difficult to overcome alcohol addiction without treatment because it feeds off denial.

It’s important that if you recognise any warning signs or symptoms of alcoholism in yourself, you seek treatment as soon as possible. The earlier you accept that you need treatment, the sooner you can take the necessary steps to overcome your addiction. This may mean undergoing detox, attending alcohol rehab and addiction support groups, and making general lifestyle changes to improve your health.

A comprehensive addiction treatment programme will usually involve a combination of all of the above, and the sooner you get started, the easier it will be to break the cycle.

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How to seek help for an alcohol use disorder

If you feel like you need help, or if your drinking is causing problems in your life, reach out to those who can offer support and guidance from first-hand experiences. There are so many fantastic rehab clinics which can provide medical advice and create a treatment plan to help you overcome your addiction and build a brighter future.

Alcohol addiction can have a huge effect on physical, emotional and mental health, but as soon as you get started with your treatment, you will see some significant changes in every aspect of your life.

It is imperative to look out for common signs of alcohol addiction in yourself and your family members, and if you identify any, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to seek advice from our friendly staff or discuss your treatment options. Nobody should ever have to deal with addiction alone, and we have helped thousands of people on their journey to long-term recovery.

As well as professional rehab clinics, there are many local support groups which can help you to overcome your addiction and get the support you need to stay sober. Reach out to your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where you can become part of a strong community supporting each other through the process.

Identifying an alcohol problem, especially in yourself, can be very difficult, but if you have any of the warning signs or symptoms explained in this article, the best thing to do is reach out to our addiction treatment professionals.

It is so important to remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Taking this first step is always the hardest, but it may be the turning point you need to begin a new and happy life, free of alcohol.