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11 Signs You Might Have a Drinking Problem

If you’re wondering whether you have a drinking problem, it’s likely you do. Just asking this question shows that you think your drinking levels may be problematic, and you are likely already recognizing some of the signs of alcohol abuse.

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According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 29.5 million people ages 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year.[18]

Untreated AUD is serious, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 140,000 people die from excessive alcohol intake in the United States every year.[19]

Signs you have a drinking problem include neglecting relationships or commitments, missing classes or work, and experiencing psychological or medical issues—all because of drinking. Other people like friends, family, employers, and teachers may notice the signs that you are drinking too much and too often. Perhaps they’ve expressed concern to you or pointed out that you should drink less.[1]

There’s not a single sign that you have a drinking problem. Instead, a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder includes a constellation of symptoms.

How Do Doctors Diagnose AUD?

Blood tests and physical exams can highlight the physical damage AUD can cause. However, doctors don’t use these results to diagnose AUD. Instead, they use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).[2]

During an interview, doctors will ask questions to assess your symptoms. You’re encouraged to consider your life over the last year before you answer. The questions include the following:[2]

  • Have you drank more or longer than you intended to?
  • Have you tried to cut down or stop drinking more than once and couldn’t make the change last?
  • Have you spent a lot of time drinking or being sick from drinking?
  • Have you wanted to drink so badly that you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Have you found that drinking or recovering from drinking interfered with your home, family, job, or school responsibilities?
  • Did you keep drinking even though it caused you problems with your family and friends?
  • Have you given up or cut back on the activities you loved so you could drink?
  • Has your drinking gotten you into situations where you could get hurt?
  • Did you keep drinking even though it made you feel anxious or depressed?
  • Have you been required to drink more than you did in the past to get the effect you wanted?
  • Have you felt sick or uncomfortable when you tried to quit drinking?

Doctors assess AUD severity by scoring your answers. The more you agree with, the more you need help.

How to Use This Article

You’re reading an article about signs you have a drinking problem. It’s important to learn all you can about how AUD works and why the problem is serious. However, know that a self-assessment can only provide so much help.

We’ll outline signs that you have a drinking problem below. As you read each section, take these steps:[2]

1. Consider whether the signs apply to you based on your behavior in the last 12 months.

2. Be honest with yourself.

3. Keep notes and write down how many signs you seem to have.

4. If you meet fewer than two criteria, you may not have a problem. If you meet six or more, you might need help.

A self-diagnosis tool like this should prompt you to talk with your doctor. However, you can’t treat AUD without help. People who quit drinking abruptly often have serious problems (like seizures).

Instead, use your score as a conversation starter with your doctor. Explain what you’ve learned, and find out if treatment is right for you. Addiction experts can offer an appropriate treatment program and help you feel better about yourself and the future.

Signs of a Drinking Problem

Ultimately, if drinking is having a negative effect on your life, it’s a sign that there is a problem and that you may be struggling with alcoholism.

The following are some specific signs that your drinking may have become problematic or compulsive:[1],[2]

1. You Drink More Than Planned

You might intend to have only one drink, but you end up having five or six. Or you intend to drink during happy hour but it turns into a long night of binge drinking. Maybe you say you are going to take a week off from drinking but don’t even last a day. If you are unable to hold yourself to your goals when it comes to drinking, it’s a sign that your drinking is out of your control.

2. You Need to Drink More to Get Drunk

If you need to drink more to experience the same effects you used to experience with less alcohol, it’s a sign of tolerance. This means your brain has grown accustomed to certain levels of alcohol. People may refer to this as “holding your liquor,” and while some people may brag about this, it’s actually a sign of alcoholism. [1],[3]

Tolerance to alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you are addicted to it, but it’s a sign of a developing problem.[3] It’s also a risk factor for becoming dependent on and addicted to alcohol.

3. You Are Unable to Cut Down or Control Drinking

Say you make a plan to cut down on your drinking, such as by only drinking on weekends or only drinking a few drinks per week. Being unable to stick to this plan and moderate drinking is a sign that your alcohol use has become problematic or compulsive.

4. You Experience Strong Cravings or Urges to Drink

When you aren’t drinking, do you think about drinking a lot? Do you experience strong urges to drink that you aren’t able to resist? Experiencing alcohol cravings is a sign of alcohol use disorder.

5. Spending a Great Deal of Time Drinking or Recovering from Hangovers

If you’ve been spending an excessive amount of time drinking lately, such as most evenings and weekends, you may be struggling with a drinking problem. The same can be said for recovering from the next-day effects of alcohol such as severe fatigue, depression, and hangovers.

6. Failing to Fulfill Obligations Due to Drinking

You may find that some people with alcohol use disorder are able to continue meeting their responsibilities, but many cannot. You may find that you are slipping up at work, calling in sick, and missing deadlines. Or you may fail a class or forget to pick your child up from school. Whatever the responsibilities in your life, compulsive drinking can negatively interfere with them.

7. You Continue to Drink Despite Relationship Problems Caused by Alcohol Abuse

You may notice that you and your partner are fighting more lately. Or you have caused fractured relationships within your family or friend group. Maybe your children don’t want to be around you because of your drinking. These interpersonal issues are signs that your drinking has become compulsive.

8. You Neglect Hobbies or Activities You Love

A common sign of alcohol addiction is neglecting previously enjoyed activities in favor of drinking. This might mean giving up a sport or a creative pursuit like painting, playing music, or writing. You may do this in order to devote as much time as you can to getting drunk.

9. You Use Alcohol in Dangerous Situations

Using alcohol in hazardous situations, such as before driving or while caring for a child, is a telltale sign of alcohol use disorder. You’re willing to put yourself and others in danger because of your alcohol abuse.

10. You Continue to Drink Despite Psychological or Medical Issues

Many people with a drinking problem will continue consuming alcohol despite the medical or mental health issues they experience. These issues may have existed prior to alcohol use disorder and the drinking has exacerbated them or the drinking may have caused these problems. For example, if you have depression or anxiety, your drinking likely makes the symptoms of these disorders worse, but you continue drinking to alleviate these symptoms.

11. You Experience Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms When You Stop Drinking

If you abruptly stop drinking or reduce how much you drink, you may notice alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, tremors, sweating, nausea and vomiting, rapid pulse, seizures, and hallucinations.[1], [4], [5]

Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Drinking

When you seek medical help from a doctor, addiction treatment specialist, or therapist, they will ask you some questions to determine the scope of your drinking. If you think you might have alcohol use disorder, start by asking yourself these questions:

Questions About Frequency

  • How often do I have an alcoholic drink?
  • How many drinks do I typically have? 
  • Do I often have taller pours or “extra” shots?
  • How much money am I spending on alcohol each week?
  • Do I sometimes feel like I can’t stop drinking?
  • How often have I failed to complete work or school tasks due to drinking?
  • How often do I start the day with a drink?

If men have more than 4 drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks per week, it could be a sign of a problem. If women have more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week, it could indicate problem drinking.

If you feel like you are unable to limit your drinking, your work or school performance is suffering, or you regularly start the day with a drink, you likely have a drinking problem.

Questions About Feelings

  • Do I feel guilty or ashamed about my drinking?
  • Do I lie about how much I drank?
  • Do I often hide my drinking?
  • Do I sometimes experience a blackout?
  • Do I often swear that I’m not drinking again, only to drink again soon thereafter?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above, you may struggle with alcoholism.

Questions About Feedback from Others

  • Do I get angry when someone comments on my drinking?
  • Have others expressed concern about my drinking?
  • Has anyone gotten hurt or injured due to my drinking?
  • Have I been in treatment for alcohol abuse before?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above, it’s worth talking to someone about your drinking.

What is an Alcoholic?

Though the term has a lot of negative connotations or stigma, an alcoholic is someone who has alcohol use disorder. This is the preferred term to use rather than alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative consequences.[2] Alcoholism is a complex, progressive brain disorder that affects a person’s behavior, physical health, mental health, and brain physiology.

A person with AUD may experience severe consequences at home, at work, and with their health, but they are still unable to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time focused on drinking, thinking about alcohol, and recovering from the effects of drinking. Despite any intentions, they cannot control how much alcohol they consume.[6]

Treatment for Problem Drinking

If you’ve determined you have a drinking problem, there is reason to be hopeful. Many people struggle with alcohol use disorder and are able to effectively stop drinking.

Quitting drinking is not something you have to do on your own. In fact, if you get help, you are more likely to get and stay sober.

Alcohol abuse treatment comes in many forms. Typically a person may move through the addiction continuum of care by first attending medical detox, which involves 24/7 care in a hospital or detox center. Medical detox is an important first step of alcohol addiction treatment because it helps manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms and keeps you safe and comfortable.

Once you complete alcohol detox, you’ll want to transition into an alcohol rehab program, such as:

  • Inpatient rehab: Involves living at the facility for between 30 and 90 days, receiving intensive and highly structured care.
  • Partial hospitalization: You live at home or in a sober living facility and attend up to 30 hours of therapy per week.
  • Intensive outpatient: You reside at your house or in a sober living home and attend between 9 and 20 hours of counseling each week.
  • Outpatient rehab: The most flexible option, you live at home or in a sober living facility and attend a few hours of care per week. This option is typically reserved for people with a mild drinking problem who also have a strong support system.

While in treatment, you may opt for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol use disorder, which involves the use of medications and behavioral counseling.

Take the First Step Today

If you’ve been drinking too much and it’s having negative effects in your life, it’s a sign that you may need help. With the right treatment program and support, you can stop drinking and embrace a healthier future that isn’t governed by alcohol.

Take the first step toward a better life by reaching out to us at Boca Recovery Center today.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 22, 2024
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