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Am I an Alcoholic? Find out Now

Definition Of An Alcoholic

What Qualifies You As An Alcoholic?

Alcoholism, also referred to as alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, is a condition that is characterized by the inability to stop or control alcohol use despite the negative consequences it has on one’s life, health, and well-being.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), describes the main criteria that qualify a person as an alcoholic, which include:

  • Losing power or control over alcohol use
  • Losing interest in things you used to love
  • Being unable to stop drinking even if you want to stop
  • Spending a significant amount of time and money on alcohol use
  • Consuming alcohol in high-risk situations
  • Developing an alcohol tolerance
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drinking stops
  • Having problems at work, school, or home because of alcohol use
  • Using alcohol as a way to cope or feel better
African American speaker explaining 4 signs of high functioning alcoholism in front of a white background
What is Alcoholism?

Can You Drink A Lot And Not Be An Alcoholic?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 out of 10 excessive drinkers are not dependent on alcohol.

Many people who drink a lot of alcohol are not considered alcoholics, and many people who drink can drink in moderation.

However, drinking heavy amounts often can quickly lead to health problems, including alcoholism.


Who Is Most Likely To Become An Alcoholic?

Certain risk factors can increase the likeliness of becoming an alcoholic.

These risk factors can include:

  • Beginning drinking at an early age
  • Genetics and family history of alcoholism or alcohol problems
  • History of trauma
  • Mental health conditions
Risk Factors Of Becoming An Alcoholic written out in a bullet-pointed list next to an illustration of a human figure hugging an alcohol bottle

Is It Possible To Be An Alcoholic Without Knowing It?

Some people may be an alcoholic but not be aware of the severity of their problem or even be in denial that there is a problem.

Many alcoholics don’t see their drinking as a problem. Because drinking is so common in social settings in the United States, it is also hard for people to see that excessive drinking can quickly become a serious health problem.

It is also possible for a person to have a drinking problem but still be able to function normally at work, school, or in their home life. Sometimes, this is called a “high-functioning alcoholic,” and it can be very difficult to tell that the person needs help.


What Are The Different Kinds Of Drinkers?

Different kinds of drinkers are often categorized into 4 different types based on motivation.

The 4 different kinds of drinkers include:

  • Social drinkers
  • Conformity drinker
  • Enhancement drinker
  • Coping drinker
Different Kinds Of Drinkers explained with texts and relevant digital graphics

Social drinkers usually use alcohol in moderation. Often to celebrate or when spending time with friends. Many young people are social drinkers.

A conformity drinker frequently drinks less than other people. They usually drink to fit in or only if they are with others who are drinking so they can feel the same or that they are a part of the group.

Enhancement drinkers are likely looking to have a “good time” and want to feel drunk. They are more likely to engage in binge drinking, which is commonly seen in college-aged young adults. Typically, enhancement drinkers also tend to act more extroverted and, sometimes, aggressive.

Coping drinkers use alcohol as a coping mechanism for worries or problems. Drinking as a way to cope often leads to more negative health consequences because the underlying problem is never addressed.

Causes of Alcoholism

What Is The Leading Cause Of Alcoholism?

Family history and environment play a large role in the likeliness of developing alcoholism.

When a person is exposed to excessive alcohol use at an early age, they are more likely to engage in heavy drinking patterns themselves. Normalizing an unhealthy amount of alcohol use leads young people to engage in excessive drinking without regard to its serious effects.

Additionally, when a person has a family history of alcohol addiction, they are more likely to develop alcoholism.

The Leading Causes Of Alcoholism; genetics and environment explained below each graphical representation

What Are The 4 Risk Factors For Alcoholism?

4 risk factors for alcoholism can include:

  • Family history of alcoholism
  • History of mental health problems
  • History of trauma
  • Beginning drinking at an early age


What Are The 5 Most Common Causes Of Alcoholism?

Some of the 5 most common causes of alcoholism include:

  • Family history
  • Stressful life events
  • Mental health conditions
  • An environment that encourages alcohol use
  • Underage drinking


Is It Ok To Drink To Cope?

Drinking as a way to cope can lead to an unhealthy cycle that can be very difficult to get out of.

Some people use drinking as a way to cope with stress, difficult emotions, or experiences that they want to escape from.

Using alcohol to cope can make matters worse because the person is, in a way, “numbing” themselves and never actually addressing the root of the problem.

Over time, drinking alcohol as a way to cope can lead to a pattern of unhealthy behaviors.

Young adult man
Alcohol to cope?

Signs Of An Alcoholic

What Are The Signs That I’m An Alcoholic?

Common signs of alcoholism include:

  • Wanting to stop drinking but can’t
  • Drinking more than intended, or binge drinking
  • Spending a significant amount of time and money on alcohol use
  • Continuing alcohol use even though it’s causing problems with your life and health
  • Losing interest in things you used to once love
  • Engaging in risky behavior due to drinking
  • Needing to drink more to produce the same desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drinking stops
Alcohol Withdrawal text written on top of bottles of alcohol graphic in the middle behind an x sign and different withdrawal symptoms surrounding the graphic

What Are The Symptoms Of Excessive Alcohol Use?

Symptoms of excessive alcohol use can include:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Memory impairment
  • Slurred speech
  • Blackouts


Physical Signs of Alcoholism

  1. Tolerance of alcohol

    When a person builds a tolerance to alcohol, they need more and more of it to produce the same desired effects.

    Over time, the body and brain get used to the alterations that drugs and alcohol cause. So, to feel the same effects they once did, they need more of it to do so.

  2. Withdrawal symptoms

    Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person has developed alcohol dependence.

    When the person stops drinking alcohol or significantly decreases their use, they will experience withdrawal symptoms as the body responds to the changes.

  3. Drinking more than intended

    When a person is an alcoholic, they are unable to control or stop their alcohol use. Even if they try to stop, they will experience cravings that keep them wanting more.

    They may try to quit or try to drink in moderation but may be unable to.

3 Physical Signs Of Alcoholism represented with relevant digital graphics

Alcoholic Behavioral Signs

Commonly, individuals facing challenges with alcoholism will show apparent behavioral signs that their loved ones may recognize.

However, the signs may not be as obvious for others as many people struggling with alcoholism try to cover up their drinking problem from their friends or family.

When a person is abusing alcohol, they will often exhibit changes in their energy, motivation, mood, and appearance.

They may show a lack of care for personal hygiene, and they often have problems in personal relationships from drinking.

Other behavioral signs of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Getting in trouble with the law, for example, drunk driving or assault
  • Showing up to important events intoxicated
  • Becoming defensive or overreacting when someone brings up concerns about their drinking
  • Experiencing financial problems because of alcohol
  • Stealing and lying
  • Engaging in risky behaviors


What Are Behavior Problems With An Alcoholic?

Excessive alcohol use can lead to behavior problems such as:

  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of attention and focus
  • Poor coordination
  • Aggression
  • Loss of inhibition
A visual infographic titled 'Behavior Problems of an Alcoholic' depicting various behavior problems that can arise when dealing with an alcoholic, including anger, neglect, dishonesty, and violence. The infographic uses digital illustrations and labels each behavior for clarity.

What Are The Behavior Patterns Of An Alcoholic?

A person facing challenges with alcoholism may display behavior patterns that can indicate a need for help.

They often follow patterns of controlled drinking, followed by uncontrolled drinking, where they will set limits for themselves for a few days and then lose control and go on a heavy binge to the point where they blackout or become reckless.

An alcoholic will also often face challenges at work or school, commonly because they start to lack motivation, focus, and energy to complete everyday tasks and manage priorities.


Psychological Signs

Alcohol can affect the brain in many ways.

These effects occur not long after a person consumes alcohol and worsen the more a person drinks.

A person may experience lapses in their memory, have sleep problems, and develop mental health disorders like depression or anxiety.

Alcohol can also cause cognitive problems like a lack of attention or problems with motor coordination.

In severe cases, a person can also fall into a coma due to alcohol use.

5 Psychological Signs Of Alcoholism listed out with digital graphics that represent each sign

What Psychological Problems Are Associated With Alcoholism?

Alcohol does not only impact a person’s physical health but their mental health too.

Some psychological problems associated with alcoholism can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Antisocial behavior

Psychosis refers to a loss of contact with reality and describes conditions that affect the mind, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Side Effects Of Alcoholism

What Happens To Your Body When You Become An Alcoholic?

Alcoholism can seriously harm a person’s physical and mental health.

Alcohol can impact major systems and organs like the brain, heart, pancreas, and liver.

When a person becomes an alcoholic, they lose the ability to control their alcohol use, despite its negative impact on the brain, body, and life.


What Happens If You Don’t Stop Drinking?

If a person drinks too much on one occasion or drinks over a long period of time, they can suffer serious health consequences.

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol overdose, which happens when there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream and important areas of the brain begin to shut down.

Warning signs and symptoms of an alcohol overdose can include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Trouble staying conscious
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • No gag reflex, which can lead to choking
  • Lowered blood pressure

If you believe someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose and is in danger, seek help immediately and call 911.

Signs of alcohol overdose are illustrated with different digital illustrations

What Does Alcohol Do To Your Personality?

Drinking alcohol, especially in large amounts, can cause changes in a person’s mood and emotions.

When a person drinks, they can become more irritable and also experience decreased inhibitions.

This can make it more likely for someone to become aggressive and can impact the way a person makes judgments.

Because of the way alcohol alters brain function, it can also impact an individual’s personality. A person may start acting completely different than what their loved ones know them as or may start acting out-of-the-ordinary.

What Does Alcohol Do To Your Brain?

Alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways and can impact the way it works.

Alcohol can affect the brain areas that impact:

  • Judgment
  • Memory
  • Balance
  • Speech

Additionally, heavy drinking over a long period of time can alter neurons, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Young brains are more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol use because their brains are still going through major development. Alcohol misuse during adolescence can potentially cause long-lasting changes to brain structure and function.

Alcohol-induced blackouts can also occur when a person is intoxicated and experiences gaps in their memory. This happens because alcohol temporarily blocks the transfer of short-term memories to long-term memory.

When a person drinks alcohol over time, brain structure and function can become impacted in such a way that a person loses control over their alcohol use, despite the negative effects they are facing, which is known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Alcohol use can also cause conditions similar to dementia, such as wet brain.

A visual image representing alcohol's impact on the brain by highlighting different areas of the brain and the functions that are impacted by alcohol consumption. The image features digital illustrations of the brain, with different sections labeled to indicate their corresponding functions and the effects of alcohol on each section.

What Are The Effects Of Alcoholism?

Short-term effects of alcoholism can include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex
  • Injuries, including motor vehicle accidents
  • Aggression and violence
  • Pregnancy and birth complications in pregnant women

Long-term effects of alcoholism can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Mental health problems
  • Dependence
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Social problems

Assessing Your Relationship with Alcohol

A digital illustration of a man and a woman drinking wine and contemplating their relationship with alcohol. The man is shown with his hand on his chest, and both characters have thought bubbles above their heads. The image portrays the internal struggle that can arise when questioning one's relationship with alcohol.

How Do You Know If You’re An Alcoholic?

Some questions a person can ask themselves to see if they may be an alcoholic can include:

  • Do I often end up drinking more than I intended?
  • Do I spend a lot of time and money on alcohol and drinking?
  • Do I need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects?
  • Am I craving alcohol?
  • Is drinking impacting my life at work, school, or home?
  • Do I feel less motivated or interested in things I used to once love?
  • Am I experiencing problems in my relationships because of alcohol?
  • Do I experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when I stop drinking?

If you think you or a loved one may be facing challenges with alcoholism, you should seek professional help from a healthcare provider or medical professional who can help you find treatment options and give you a proper diagnosis.


When Should Someone Stop Drinking?

Signs that may indicate a person should stop drinking include:

  • Tried quitting before but couldn’t
  • Experiencing physical and mental health problems that are caused or worsened by drinking
  • Facing problems at work, school, or home because of drinking.

Also, a person should not drink if they are taking medications that can interact with alcohol. For example, mixing Adderall and alcohol can have dangerous effects.

Signs To Stop Drinking are listed in a bullet-pointed list next to a digital illustration of a man holding x sign in front of an alcohol bottle

Should I Stop Drinking Altogether?

Many people can drink in moderation.

However, stopping drinking altogether may be a better choice for others.

For example, individuals with an alcohol use disorder or mental health disorders should stop drinking completely.


How Do You Know If You’re A True Alcoholic?

A. Taking An Honest Look At Your Drinking Habits

Many people who have drinking problems may not be honest with themselves about their drinking habits. They may be in denial and convince themselves it is “normal.” When a person takes an honest look at their drinking habits, they can recognize if they should talk to someone about it.

B. Asking Yourself Important Questions

Asking yourself important questions, like how alcohol is affecting your relationships, responsibilities, and health, can help a person identify the negative impact alcohol has, both short-term and long-term.

C. Seeking Professional Help

Seeking professional help through your healthcare provider or a medical professional can get a person a proper diagnosis and alcohol treatment.

It is important to find a treatment center that fits your needs the best.


You have questions. We have answers.

Our goal is to provide the most helpful information. Please reach out to us if you have any additional questions. We are here to help in any way we can.

When a person is an alcoholic, it means they have an excessive drinking problem, indicating a need for help and treatment.

Alcohol causes water-loss effects that can make a person appear more dull or more grey.

It can also lead to more wrinkles and dry skin.

They may look tired and that they have low energy.

Excessive drinking can cause long-term negative health problems.

Some studies also suggest that individuals with an alcohol use disorder have a shorter life expectancy than non-drinkers.

Some people drink at night as a way to de-stress from their day.

However, there are alternatives to drinking alcohol at night, which can include:

  • Tea

  • Water

  • Coffee

  • Sparkling water

  • Fruit-infused water

There are some options for non-alcoholic beer or non-alcoholic wine. However, with drinks like these, some people may feel tempted to have an actual alcoholic drink because it tastes similar or triggers the urge to drink more.

If you are going out, it can be helpful to know in advance if there will be non-alcoholic options for you.

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Let’s take the next steps together

Sometimes, the signs of alcoholism are not obvious. It is important to seek help if you or a loved one are facing challenges with alcohol use. Sandstone Care supports teens and young adults with mental health and substance use disorders.