When is Someone Considered an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism – now referred to by professionals as alcohol use disorder – is the most common substance abuse diagnosis in America. People regularly consume alcohol in social settings, and sometimes, this becomes a slippery slope. They may find themselves drinking more often, downing a bottle of wine at home or unable to stop drinking once they start. However, you may not be able to identify whether someone has developed a dependency simply by looking at them. In observance of Alcohol Awareness Month, we would like to share some of the more subtle signs that someone you love is an alcoholic.


Alcoholic Stereotypes

Thanks to movies and television shows, many people unconsciously associate alcohol abuse with a specific type of person. They may think of someone who has lost everything and is living on the streets, or a person who is never seen without a bottle in their hand. The reality of alcohol dependency is much more nuanced, and if your perception comes from media depictions, this condition may not look the way you expect.

The stereotypes surrounding addiction are damaging for several reasons. They deter people from admitting that they have an issue and reduce access to social support and treatment. Most importantly, if you believe that all addicts behave a certain way, you won’t think that your loved one has a problem – even if their own drinking is spiraling out of control.


Common Problem Drinking Behaviors

While alcohol consumption is normalized in American pop culture, it is not a safe pastime. It can be helpful to check your barometer for which behaviors are truly “normal,” and which are the result of social standards.

Here are some examples of problematic drinking behaviors, some of which have been normalized over time. Where do you draw the line?

  • Grabbing a beer with friends
  • Having an occasional cocktail or glass of wine over dinner
  • Binge drinking 12-packs of beer on game days
  • Consuming entire bottles of wine or liquor on “girls’ nights”
  • Acting impulsively or embarrassing oneself while drinking
  • Blacking out on a regular basis, resulting in memory gaps
  • Drinking to combat stress or boredom
  • Drinking alone more and more often
  • Missing work or school because of drinking
  • Spending a lot of time and energy obtaining, using and recovering from alcohol
  • Sneaking drinks into events (or even work)
  • Trying to cut back but being unable to stop


Are They an Alcoholic? 7 Signs to Be Aware Of

As you can see, the above behaviors range from the everyday – sharing a few drinks with friends – to the highly problematic. The longer a person continues their binge drinking behavior, the harder it will be for them to quit. To help you identify AUD (alcohol use disorder), here are a few less obvious signs that someone you love may be an alcoholic.


They Start Drinking & Just Can’t Stop

This is a subtle sign that someone is developing a problematic relationship with alcohol. If your friend or family member says they’ll have “just one drink,” but regularly surpasses that limit, take note. Being unable to control the amount that they drink is an indicator that something is amiss.


They Have an Incredibly High Tolerance

If it takes a lot for your loved one to feel the effects of alcohol, they may have an issue. Developing a heightened tolerance is a key sign that a person is using too much of a given substance. It’s important to note that while they may not feel the mind-altering effects of each drink, the body is still working overtime to process the alcohol consumed. This can result in lasting damage.


They Say They “Need” Alcohol to Socialize

People who are anxious about social interactions may compensate by drinking heavily before, during or after events. Over time, they might come to believe that they “need” to drink in order to get through another party or gathering. This also applies to other tasks; you are probably familiar with the stereotype of a musician who feels he must drink in order to perform, or with the notion of having a glass of wine in order to sleep. This perceived need can be either physical or psychological, but it always represents the increased importance given to alcohol in a person’s daily life.


They Become Defensive About Their Drinking

An addict is always able to rationalize away their substance use – even if they’re obviously drinking or doing drugs at inappropriate times. If your friend or family member is excusing away strange behavior, such as drinking at work or at times when it is not socially acceptable, they may be well on their way to developing an addiction.


They Drink to Cope

How we choose to deal with interpersonal conflict, heavy workloads and unexpected life events is important. We all have stressful days at the office or in the classroom, but while some of us choose to decompress at the gym or through a long talk with a friend, others turn to drinking. If your loved one continually opens a beer or bottle of wine after a long day, they may be at risk for an alcohol use disorder.


They Have Memory Problems

Those who drink to excess may black out, resulting in patchy memories of a night on the town. However, it is also possible for alcohol consumption to affect a person’s ability to process and encode new memories. Long-term drinking damages the frontal lobe, resulting in a phenomenon known as alcohol-induced amnesia. If your friend or family member can’t seem to remember much, they may have a severe problem.


They Have Developed a Physical Dependence on Alcohol

Finally, we come to the most obvious sign that a person is an alcoholic. If they complain of withdrawal symptoms – headache, nausea, tremors, irritability and cravings – their body has adapted to a specific amount of this substance. Without it, they feel ill and may be difficult to be around. If you know someone who has become nauseated or irritable without their drink of choice, it is time to intervene.


Help for Alcoholism in Nashville, Tennessee

At Cumberland Heights, we know how confusing and frightening it can be to realize that someone you love has a problem. We also know how to help them to get better. Our team members have created a treatment program backed by science and years of clinical expertise. To learn more about getting help for an alcoholic in your life, contact Cumberland Heights.