Symptoms of alcoholism: An overview

Most people enjoy a drink, and most of us will have a few too many at some time, such as at Christmas, a wedding or a party. However, the difference between the occasional indulgence and an alcohol problem is how well you live up to that famous morning after vow of ‘never again’. Continuing to drink after it has begun to cause problems for yourself and those around you is one of the first symptoms of alcoholism.

This article on alcoholism symptoms is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

What is alcoholism?

Put simply, alcoholism is a dependence on alcohol. It is a disease that can strike anyone, regardless of their age, sex, race, profession or social status. Most importantly, it is not a reflection of poor character or weak will, but progressive disease that if left untreated, will become more and more severe and destructive as time goes by.

The symptoms of alcoholism should not be confused with binge drinking or alcohol abuse, although these are alcohol problems in their own right and are often the precursors of full blown alcoholism.

Early symptoms

Because it is a progressive disease, the early symptoms of alcoholism may be hard to spot. A few missed days at work or a willingness to drive under the influence may just seem irresponsible. However, as the incidences of drunkenness increase and a pattern of heavy drinking emerges, it will soon become apparent that there is a real problem.

So how can you tell whether you or someone close to you just likes to enjoy themselves or if they have a genuine problem? It is often said that if you need to ask, then you probably have a problem. One simple way to be sure is to use the CAGE test. Ask yourself or your friend the following questions:

  • Do you ever feel that you ought to Cut down on your drinking?
  • Do you ever get Annoyed when other people question your drinking?
  • Do you ever get Guilty feelings about drinking?
  • Have you ever felt the need to drink an Eye opener to face the day?

If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, then chances are there is an alcohol dependency issue.

Advanced symptoms

There are many other symptoms of alcoholism that will confirm your suspicions. These include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Difficulty in stopping once drinking has begun
  • Mood swings, behavioural changes and aggression when drinking
  • An established drinking routine and anger if this routine is changed
  • A preference for events that serve alcohol
  • Solo drinking
  • Drinking just to feel ‘normal’
  • Drinking just to get drunk
  • Drinking first thing in the morning
  • Drinking despite the consequences (such as missing work)
  • Tolerance of alcohol, leading to larger and larger quantities being required
  • Denial of the problem, often aggressively
  • Withdrawal symptoms, such as shakes and nervousness without alcohol
  • Hiding of alcohol around the house
  • The narrowing of drink choice to one brand or drink type

The more of these symptoms of alcoholism that you or your friend displays, the bigger the dependence problem is likely to be.

What to do if you spot the symptoms

Alcoholism is not only anti-social and destructive to the life of the victim and those around them, it also leads to a range of physical problems, from liver cirrhosis to blood pressure and heart problems, a weakened immune system and even malnutrition. So when the symptoms of alcoholism are noticed, it is vitally important that treatment is sought urgently, and support is maintained on an ongoing basis, to help overcome their problem.

Severe cases may require detoxification or ‘drying out’ in a specialist centre, with appropriate drugs to help with withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, alcoholism is a disease that cannot be ‘cured’ as such. Once you have passed into alcohol dependency, you will always be at risk. Indeed, one of the clearest symptoms of alcoholism is the inability to stay sober, even though you repeatedly promise yourself and your loved ones that you will quit. Even after a long period of abstinence, someone suffering from alcohol dependency can easily ‘fall off the wagon’ and so you need to be constantly on the look-out for the symptoms of alcoholism described above.

The most difficult symptoms

The hardest step in tackling the alcoholism symptoms is overcoming denial. Getting an alcoholic to admit that they have a problem can be incredibly difficult. However, the list of symptoms of alcoholism shown above may help them to realise how their behaviour is being affected and help you to help them to seek professional treatment and support.

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