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5 Early Signs of Alcoholism

early signs of alcoholism

Do You Know the Early Signs of Alcoholism?

Given that alcohol is one of the few mind-altering substances that’s legal in all 50 states, it’s not surprising how many people drink in the US. Many drink to excess, and there are both mental and physical consequences of imbibing too much alcohol not only in one sitting, but over time as well. Fortunately, it’s entirely possible to recover from alcohol use disorder. By paying attention to the early signs of alcoholism and getting help, you can stop drinking before it’s too late.

It’s important to understand that one person’s “rock bottom”, where they recognize they have a problem and may need help recovering, is very different from someone else’s. One person might decide they have a problem after one charge of driving under the influence (DUI), while someone else may need three DUIs and an accompanying jail stay to recognize the issue.

But you don’t have to get a DUI to know that alcohol is disrupting your life. Nor do you have to lose your home, your car, friends, and jobs to decide that you’ve gone far enough and it’s time to dump the alcohol, literally and figuratively. If you’re not sure that you (or a loved one) has a real drinking problem, keep reading to see if you’re undergoing any of the symptoms and learn the early signs of alcoholism.

Not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, and for some people, simply reducing the amount they drink is both doable and recommended. Some who do have alcohol use disorder are able to stop drinking by themselves, and others need help to stop. Generally, the more you drink and the longer you’ve been drinking, the more likely you are to have the disorder and to need help to quit.

How is Alcoholism Defined?

While there’s a technical definition for experiencing alcohol use disorder (AKA alcoholism), basically if your drinking is interfering with your ability to live life the way you want, you have a problem. More specifically, it’s developing a pattern of drinking where you can’t control your intake, are constantly thinking about drinking or how to get alcohol, and continuing to drink even though it’s causing problems (such as losing your job, going to jail, or having other legal or money issues.)

Normal drinkers will often stop drinking when alcohol makes them feel ill. Or if they’ve experienced a blackout. In other words, when they first run into a problem, they’ll stop drinking. Alcoholics and heavy drinkers won’t necessarily stop just because they black out or end up in jail, and over time may find they can’t stop. If you’ve developed a dependence on alcohol, whether it’s mental or physical, and are concerned about what would happen if you stopped drinking, you have a drinking problem.

The unhealthy use of alcohol also includes drinking so much that you put your health and physical safety at risk. For example, fighting and driving after drinking are both risky behaviors you probably wouldn’t engage in (or approve of) when you’re sober.

Binge drinking is often a part of the pattern for alcoholics, where you drink too much too fast. Binge drinking for men is defined as five or more drinks in two hours, and for women four drinks in the same timeframe. Men and women metabolize alcohol differently, so women are more likely to feel the effects with fewer drinks compared to a man with the same drinking habits.

Although binge drinking is often associated with the early stages of alcoholism, it doesn’t have to result in alcohol use disorder. Teens and young adults may experiment with drinking, including binge drinking, but many stop the unhealthy behavior when they’re older and are able to imbibe moderately and responsibly. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to moderate, and binge drinking can be considered the early signs of alcoholism.

Recovery is a process that lasts a lifetime.

5 Early Signs of Alcoholism

There are several signs that you’ve got a problem with alcohol. Usually, the early signs of alcoholism are characterized by drinking more alcohol at any given time and drinking more often. For example, where you used to have one glass of wine at night to relax, now you need two. Maybe you used to drink on the weekend, but now you find yourself with a beer in your hand five nights out of seven. 

You drink when you’re bored.  Those who don’t have a problem with alcohol may only drink on special occasions, or during a nice meal, or at other specific times. They enjoy the taste, and take their time sipping one or two drinks. They’re not using alcohol as a way to escape from their problems.

But if you drink because you don’t know what else to do and you’re bored, you’re no longer enjoying the taste. You’re using the substance as a way to feel something different, which is unhealthy. Alcohol is more socially acceptable than other drugs (and legal), but using alcohol to numb out is basically no different from using illegal drugs to capture the same feeling. That’s a problem, and signals that you might be more dependent on booze than you originally thought.

You drink when you’re stressed out.  Similarly, if you use alcohol to calm yourself down when life is stressing you out, that’s a sign you shouldn’t ignore. An occasional drink is one thing, and drinking to escape reality is quite another. Using a drink to help you sleep at night is also a problem.

While many people believe that alcohol helps you sleep, it doesn’t really. It may help you fall asleep faster, due to its sedative nature, but it interrupts later sleep cycles at night which can wake you up and keep you awake. In fact, if you continue to drink past the early signs of alcoholism, you could end up with insomnia.

You need to drink more.  As you keep drinking, you’ll need to imbibe more and more to get the same effects. You’re building up a tolerance for alcohol, just as those with drug use disorders must take increasingly more of their drug for the effects they want.

Tolerance is your response to alcohol’s effects. Your natural tolerance (what you’d have before you started your drinking career) is dependent on a few factors such as gender, size, weight, and genetics. That’s why two people of about the same height and weight could tolerate very different amounts of alcohol.

As you continue drinking, you’ll gradually need more because your body and brain adapt to the alcohol you’re taking in. Alcohol and drugs cause changes in the brain’s chemistry as it grows more used to the substances.

You have blackouts.  Blacking out is different from passing out. When you faint, you temporarily lose consciousness. In blackouts, you have a brief memory loss, but you’re still awake. Drinking too much interrupts the memory transfer from short-term to long-term memory, and that’s how you end up with temporary amnesia. Being willing to accept that a night of drinking could result in a blackout is an early sign of alcoholism. This isn’t the result of moderate or healthy drinking.

You tend to binge drink.  Also not a sign of healthy drinking patterns is experiencing binges on a more regular basis. If you find yourself knocking too many back too often, you know that you’re in trouble. Because it’s no longer about the taste, but about using alcohol believing it will make you feel better.

These five signs are warning you that you have a problem. If you’re experiencing them, you likely have alcohol use disorder or you’re very close to it. You don’t have to go down the path of alcohol any further from here! If you’d like to talk to someone about getting help, call us at (818) 431-2224. There are only more worrying signs after the early ones.

Other and Later Signs of Alcoholism

As you progress through an alcohol use disorder, the symptoms grow more severe. The more you drink, the more damage is done to your mind and body. In order from least to most severe:

  • Cravings – These can appear at any time, whether you’re at home or work or school.
  • Dependence – At this point, you’re a bit beyond mere tolerance. Now you need to drink at certain times or to feel better. You often spend time thinking about alcohol and how to get it. The longer you drink, the more you’ll need more alcohol for the same effects.
  • Depression and anxiety – Because your brain isn’t producing as many neurochemicals since the alcohol is present, you may find that you’re anxious or depressed (or both).
  • Agitation – Similarly, you may find yourself agitated more often.
  • Nausea and vomiting – These conditions continue throughout all stages of alcoholism.
  • Faster pulse – You may find your heart beating faster, which can cause stress to your heart.
  • Sweating – This is a common withdrawal symptom, because once the brain is deprived of alcohol it will take some time to get the neurochemicals back in balance.
  • Severe dependence – Once you need alcohol to function, you have a severe dependence and may experience harsh withdrawal symptoms once you stop drinking.
  • Sleep issues – As noted earlier, insomnia is a common symptom of alcohol use disorder. The drinking has disrupted your ability to sleep, whether or not you’ve had a drink that night.
  • Hallucinations – You may start seeing things that aren’t there, or even smelled or heard something that isn’t there. You’re losing touch with reality.
  • Tremors – Delirium tremens (AKA “the shakes”) is a common withdrawal symptom for those with end-stage alcohol use disorder.
  • Seizures – Finally, you might even have seizures if you withdraw from alcohol without tapering off.

The more you drink, the more likely you are to suffer harm to your brain and body that may result in cancer or other conditions and diseases. While some damage may heal after you stop drinking, if you’re in the end stages of alcoholism, you may not be able to completely recover.

  • Cirrhosis of the liver and other liver diseases including cancer – Because the liver is the organ that metabolizes alcohol, too much drinking often affects it.
  • Cancers – Alcohol is related to a number of cancers, including breast, esophagus, mouth, voice box, rectum, and colon.
  • Heart disease – By increasing blood pressure and other factors, too much alcohol can result in damage to the heart, including having a heart attack.
  • Stroke – Similarly, heavy alcohol use is shown to cause strokes, which happen when blood vessels leading to the brain either ruptures or gets blocked by a blood clot and deprive the brain of oxygen.

When to Get Help for Alcoholism

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms you just read about, it’s critical that you get help ASAP. You’re not able to solve the problem by yourself, and people who have knowledge and experience can help you. The earlier you can get help, the better.

But if you’re farther down the path and have gone beyond the early signs of alcoholism, don’t worry. You can still benefit from getting help for your alcohol use disorder. The research shows that people who get treatment are likely to have quit or reduced their drinking to a safer level.

When it comes to treatment, you have several options. Some are more beneficial to those who experience the early signs of alcoholism, while some will be more appropriate for someone who’s been drinking for a longer time. If you’re still in the early stages, you might not even need rehab – recovery meetings might be all you need.

Otherwise, you may or may not need to go through a medical detox. If you would experience the more severe withdrawal symptoms, you’ll need to detox in a safe place that can help manage your withdrawal symptoms. You may need some medication to help avoid the worst of it. Detox is often paired with inpatient treatment instead of outpatient because you need more time to build a foundation of sobriety. 

There are several levels of care when it comes to recovery centers. 

Residential.  If you attend an inpatient rehab, you’ll have a very structured day and the program is often for 30, 60, or 90 days. Healthy meals are eaten together at specific times of day. The mornings usually include therapy, both individual and group, and so do the afternoons. Evenings are usually for fun activities.  This allows you to learn healthy habits and take classes such as life skills. You’ll be able to practice them in a safe environment free of triggers.

Partial hospitalization (PHP).  In this type of treatment, although you live at home (or dorm or sober living house), you still spend most of the day during the week in therapy and classes. This is the most intensive outpatient program.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP).  At this stage, you’re receiving treatment a few days a week on nights and weekends. You still have some structure, but you’re spending more and more time in the world outside of rehab.

Outpatient.  Typically, you’ll be mapping out your plan to stay sober and continue on your recovery journey at this level. By now you have a more solid foundation of sobriety. The outpatient program provides support as you integrate back into your normal circumstances.

Some people choose to stay in a sober living house for a period of time after rehab. It’s especially helpful for those that don’t have a strong support system at home or school. Being a part of a community helps prevent relapse and will keep you on the right path. You don’t have to spend a lot of time in rehab to start enjoying the benefits of quitting alcohol. Yet, the longer you stay in recovery, the more time you have to heal.

Recovery is a process that lasts a lifetime.

Magnolia Recovery is Ready to Address Alcoholism

Whether you’re in the early stages of alcoholism or not, Magnolia Recovery can help you recover with detox and inpatient care – the first step in your journey to recovery – as well as outpatient programs. We meet you where you are, and can help guide you through the process of leaving alcohol behind. Our programs are based on the evidence, and we personalize your treatment to make sure you have the best foundation for an alcohol-free life.

We ensure that care is accessible for all in a shame-free environment, and that it’s affordable so cost doesn’t have to block you from receiving help. We work with many of the common insurance companies. At Magnolia we will help you tackle the underlying issues that resulted in alcohol use disorder, and provide counseling and therapy to help you succeed. Call us today at (818) 431-2224 to get started.

  • As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.

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Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. Before making any decisions on your physical or mental health, please consult your doctor. The staff at Magnolia Recovery Center will work with our patients on a custom diagnosis and care plan. Specific medical advice will be provided to our patients while in our care.