Here are 5 signs that you should reach out for help for an alcohol problem:
- You can’t stop thinking about drinking.
- It hurts when you stop drinking.
- You need more and more alcohol to get drunk.
- You keep drinking even when it causes problems in your life.
- You feel ashamed about drinking, but find yourself going back to alcohol anyway.
Sign 1: You Can’t Stop Thinking About Drinking
One of the signs that you should reach out for help for a problem with alcohol is if you find that you have an overwhelming compulsion to drink. This is distinct from moderate drinkers who can enjoy themselves without having alcohol, or who can go for extended periods of time without wanting to drink or feeling any ill effects from their lack of alcohol.
One of the signs of a drinking problem is having the overpowering and intrusive need for alcohol. Whether this means you actively want to be intoxicated or simply want to drink, the problem is the same.
This can mean everything from wanting to start your day with a drink to insisting on having a drink with every meal. It often involves making up excuses to drink. Even when you’re not drinking, you think about drinking, and you can’t wait to get back to drinking.
It can also mean resisting and rejecting attempts by friends and loved ones to get you to stop consuming alcohol. You may feel sick or depressed when you “miss” an expected time when you thought you would be drinking.
All of these are signs of a problem with drinking and a need for help. If you find yourself making excuses to drink and get drunk, at any hour of the day or any day of the week, this is a warning sign that you should talk to someone.
Sign 2: It Hurts When You Stop Drinking
Another sign that you should reach out for help with an alcohol problem is if you experience withdrawal symptoms from not consuming alcohol.
Someone who does not have some form of alcohol use disorder can suspend, or even discontinue, their consumption of alcohol and not experience any physical or psychological effects. Similarly, they can resume their consumption of alcohol at a standard frequency without disproportionate effects.
However, a person who meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder will experience significant withdrawal effects as soon as they stop drinking. Psychological withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, and agitation. Physical symptoms would cover insomnia, nausea, headache, and heart problems. Psychological and physical withdrawal effects are the symptoms of the brain and body becoming so dependent on alcohol that they cannot properly function without it.
People who experience withdrawal tend to drink even more heavily to try and overcome the effects, thereby deepening their dependence on alcohol and making it progressively harder to stop drinking.
If you find yourself struggling to cope when you stop drinking, and you tend to drink even more when you resume alcohol consumption, you should seek help immediately.
Do not attempt to discontinue drinking by yourself, as your body’s systems have become so hooked on alcohol that abruptly depriving them of what they need can be fatal. A hospital or a treatment facility can help you break your physical dependence on alcohol while providing you with medication and nutrition to keep you safe during the process.
Sign 3: You Need More Alcohol to Feel Anything
Another sign that you should reach out for help for an alcohol problem is if you have an increased tolerance for alcohol — that is, it requires more and more alcohol for you to feel any intoxicating effects.
A person who drinks in moderation will likely experience some degree of inebriation quite quickly, suggesting that they have a low tolerance. A person who drinks too much, on the other hand, will need many more drinks before they notice any similar effect because their body has grown accustomed to metabolizing increasingly larger amounts of alcohol. While a casual drinker will likely experience a low or mild degree of inebriation, a person with a high tolerance for alcohol will become very inebriated much quicker.
Additionally, even if a person with high alcohol tolerance does not show signs of being drunk, their bodies are still being forced to process high quantities of alcohol. This can do a lot of damage to the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys, even as the person feels like they are not drunk at all (so they keep drinking and drowning multiple body systems in alcohol).
If you find yourself needing to drink more and more just to experience any effects of alcohol, this is a warning sign that your body has become too dependent on alcohol.
Sign 4: You Can’t Stop Drinking, Even When It Gets Bad
An inability or unwillingness to stop drinking, even when it is clear that the consumption of alcohol has become problematic, is a surefire sign that you should reach out for help regarding your relationship with alcohol.
People who are not struggling with some form of alcohol use disorder can recognize when their drinking is getting out of hand. If they find they’re spending too much money on alcohol purchases, for example, or they feel that they do not like the person they become when they’re drunk, they might be able to distance themselves from drinking, either temporarily or on a much longer-term basis.
But someone who cannot stay away from alcohol, even when it eats into their budget, and even when their drunken behavior causes repeated problems for themselves and their loved ones, has an unhealthy dependence on alcohol that needs to be curtailed.
If you find yourself going back to drinking even when you know you can’t afford to buy more alcohol, and even when it is clear that your relationship with alcohol is causing issues for you, this is a sign that you should reach out for help.
Sign 5: You Feel Bad About Drinking and Still Keep Drinking
Lastly, a key indicator that you should reach out for help with an alcohol problem is if you feel guilty or ashamed for drinking.
Someone who drinks moderately will generally not have anything to hide about their private or public alcohol consumption. But a problem drinker who does not want to stop drinking, even though they know that their drinking is a problem, will go to great lengths to hide evidence of their drinking.
They will often feel deeply ashamed of what they are doing. These feelings frequently precipitate a new cycle of drinking.
In some cases, people who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol will swear that they will never drink again, only to return to their habits as soon as the following weekend. While an occasional regretful drunken night is not a sign of an alcohol problem in and of itself, a repeated pattern of shame and an inevitable return to drinking is a sign that your relationship with alcohol is adversely impacting your self-esteem and impulse control.
Do you notice that you feel bad about drinking but continue to drink anyway? Do you go to some effort to dispose of evidence that you’ve bought alcohol or have been drinking? Do you tell yourself (and others) that you will never drink again but then regularly get drunk after doing so? All of these are clear signs that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, that you are unable to enjoy drinking in moderation, and that you should reach out for help.
What Leads to Compulsive Alcohol Use? New Experiments Into Binge Drinking Provide Answers. (November 2019). EurekAlert!
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms. (March 2004). American Family Physician.
Quitting Alcohol Can Be Deadly: Hundreds in the Us Die Each Year. (November 2018). USA Today.
Content: Repeated Use of Alcohol Can Cause Long-Term Changes in the Brain. The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership.
7 Reasons You’re Drunker Than Your Friends. (August 2011). ABC News.
One in Ten People ‘Unable to Stop Drinking Once They’ve Started’. (June 2015). The Independent.
Brad Pitt Goes Sober: Why It’s So Tough to Quit Alcohol. (May 2017). LiveScience.
Alcoholism and Shame. (April 2016). Psychology Today.
Is Shame a Proximal Trigger for Drinking? A Daily Process Study with a Community Sample. (June 2019). Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.
Why You Experience Hangover Guilt or ‘Beer Fear’ After a Heavy Night of Drinking. (January 2019). Insider.