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Drinking Habits

Alcohol Misuse: Signs Your Drinking Might Be a Problem

July 27, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 27, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 27, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 27, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 27, 2023
11 min read

It can sometimes be difficult to know when we have a drinking problem. We might think that we’re fine because we’re a social drinker and we can stop anytime we want. We might tell ourselves we don’t need to worry because we’re still fulfilling our duties and responsibilities. But we might be too close to the problem to see things accurately. What are some early signs of alcoholism? And how can we be more aware of alcoholism signs? Let’s find out more.

What Is a Drinking Problem?

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What, exactly, do we mean by a drinking problem? Someone with a drinking problem may or may not have an alcohol use disorder. In some cases, people who might be described as “problem drinkers” can reduce or end their alcohol intake when they realize it negatively affects their lives.

However, if we’ve ever told ourselves that we would never get that drunk again — or declared we’d never drink again — but found ourselves doing exactly what we swore we’d never do, chances are that our drinking falls into the category of alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol misuse is described as any “harmful use” of alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), our drinking may be considered risky if our alcohol consumption exceeds five or more drinks a day for men, and four or more drinks a day for women.

It’s worth noting, however, that even if we’re consuming less than these amounts, we still may have a drinking problem — particularly if we’re experiencing alcohol’s negative effects on our health and well-being.

How to Know if You’re an Alcoholic: Signs of Alcoholism

While each person is different, here are 11 common signs of alcoholism that indicate we might have a drinking problem:

Sign #1: Using alcohol in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than originally intended

This might mean not being able to control how long a drinking session is, how much alcohol we consume when we do drink, how frequently we drink, or being unable to stop drinking once we start.

Sign #2: Developing a tolerance to alcohol, so that greater amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve the same effects over time

In other words, we need to drink much more than we used to in order to get the dopamine “reward.” This is because our brain adapts to alcohol over time and can become less sensitive to its effects.

Sign #3: Spending a considerable amount of time and energy trying to get alcohol, use alcohol, and recover from its effects

This includes the whole drinking cycle: buying the alcohol, drinking it, feeling sick afterwards, and recovering from its effects (which can sometimes take the whole day).

Sign #4: Failing to fulfill responsibilities and obligations at school, work, or home

This might mean skipping work from being hungover, missing deadlines, forgetting to pick up the kids at school, or letting chores and housework (such as bill-paying, laundry, cleaning, or dishes) fall by the wayside.

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

Sign #5: Giving up important family, work, social, or recreational activities to use alcohol or because of the effects of alcohol use

This might look like giving precedence to drinking over other daily activities and responsibilities, even if it’s taking a toll on our health. It might look like no longer engaging in the activities we used to enjoy. In other words, we might realize that the only way we spend our free time anymore — the only thing we do for “fun” — is drink alcohol.

Sign #6: Continuing to use alcohol even when it causes stress or negative consequences in social or interpersonal relationships

This might look like continuing to drink even though it has led to trouble with our family, friends, or our partner. Even if they’ve confronted us about our drinking, we might continue to drink.

Sign #7: Trying to stop drinking alcohol but cannot

Maybe we continue to tell ourselves that we won’t drink tonight, but when 5pm rolls around, we simply cannot help ourselves.

Sign #8: Craving a drink so badly that the thought takes over other thinking

This might look like being unable to focus on anything until we start drinking, or going out of our way to get alcohol, even if it means missing something important. We also might drink on inappropriate occasions or at inappropriate places because our cravings are so strong.

Sign #9: Getting into physically dangerous situations as a result of consuming alcohol

This might include getting into risky situations, such as driving, swimming, fighting, operating machinery, or walking in dangerous areas. Even if nothing bad has happened to us yet, putting ourselves in these situations is often a warning sign.

Sign #10: Having withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit drinking alcohol

As the effects of alcohol wear off, we might experience a range of withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating.

Sign #11: Continuing to drink even though it’s impacting health in other ways

We probably have a drinking problem if we continue to drink even though we’re noticing problems with our physical health, such as numbness in our hands and feet, ulcers or an upset stomach, or erectile dysfunction or menstrual disruptions. It’s even more concerning if we have — or have had — a serious condition (such as cancer or a heart problem) and continue drinking.

Keep in mind that a medical professional might diagnose alcohol misuse if they see two or more of the above alcoholism signs based on an ongoing pattern of how we use alcohol. Usually, this is based on behavior over the last 12 months or more, but it can be diagnosed based on continuous daily use of alcohol over a period of at least 3 months.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that other mental symptoms can also indicate we might have a problem with alcohol — although these are often more apparent to our loved ones than they are to us. For instance, it’s not uncommon for people misusing alcohol to exhibit mood swings or unpredictable behaviors of aggression, violence, depression, anxiety, agitation or irritability. We might become particularly irritable whenever we’re not drinking. This is largely because excessive drinking damages neurons and interferes with our natural dopamine production, causing a wide range of psychological reactions. In extreme cases, we might experience memory loss, blackouts, or visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations (otherwise known as alcohol-induced psychosis).

The Bottom Line

If we’ve ever asked ourselves, “Am I an alcoholic?”, chances are we probably have a drinking problem. Sometimes it can be painful to realize we have a problem, but this doesn’t mean that something is wrong with us. Many people struggle with alcohol use, and there’s a world of help available. If we suspect we have a problem, the best thing we can do is to contact our healthcare provider and be completely honest about our alcohol use.

Reframe is also here to help. We’ve helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption or quit drinking entirely.

Take Control of Your Drinking With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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