Alcoholism is characterised by the compulsive need to drink alcohol despite the physical, psychological, and financial consequences. What many believe to be a lack of willpower or self-control is in fact a serious psychological illness, one that requires treatment in a registered rehab facility.
Alcohol addiction also referred to as alcohol dependence, is a lot more than binge drinking on the weekends. Once someone becomes physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol, they are unable to function without it, and risk experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop.
Many people assume they are able to identify a person suffering from alcoholism based on representations seen in the media. However, the image people associate with alcoholism usually depicts the later stages of the disease.
In fact, most of the time, addiction is invisible, especially to those who are unaware of the signs and symptoms to look out for. The signs of alcoholism can manifest behaviorally, psychologically, and physically.
The most common behavioural signs of alcohol addiction include:
Someone suffering from addiction will do everything in their power to conceal the true nature of their illness. This could include lying about the amount they’re drinking, their whereabouts or their finances.
- Lack of interest in activities
Once a person becomes dependent on alcohol, it’s difficult for them to think about much else. You may notice they no longer socialise or enjoy the activities they once did. This is because alcohol becomes their only focus.
- Drinking at inappropriate times
Needing alcohol to feel normal often means drinking at inappropriate times of the day, such as early in the morning and even during work hours.
- Poor work/school performance
Someone with an alcohol addiction may find it difficult to focus on tasks and their work may suffer as a result. This could be because they’re too busy obsessing over their next drink, or because they’re experiencing the effects of withdrawal and find themselves unable to function. It may also be because they’re intoxicated and cannot perform to the best of their ability.
- Isolating themselves
Isolation is known to fuel the flames of addiction. The more time a person spends alone with alcohol, the more comfortable they become in that environment and leaving this seemingly safe bubble often leads to feelings of anxiety.
The psychological symptoms of alcohol addiction
- Depression/Anxiety/Mood swings
Although people drink alcohol for the “buzz”, the long-term effects of heavy drinking on the brain should be cause for concern. While drinking initially boosts dopamine levels, the brain adapts to the dopamine overload with continued alcohol use. It starts to produce less of the chemical and reduce the number of dopamine receptors in the body. As dopamine levels plummet, so does your mood. As a result, people with an alcohol addiction may consume even more alcohol in an unconscious effort to boost their dopamine levels and get that spark back.
Alcohol can significantly affect the way people perceive their surroundings. In addition to cognitive impairment and mood swings, heavy and frequent alcohol use could result in feelings of paranoia and even alcohol-induced psychosis or delusions.
- Low self-esteem
No one wants to become dependent on alcohol, and for most people, addiction is accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-worth. Being stuck in the cycle of addiction can leave people feeling hopeless.
- Inability to focus
Someone suffering from alcoholism will have drinking at the forefront of their mind for most of their waking hours. You may notice their lack of focus or inability to complete basic tasks.
The physical signs and symptoms of alcoholism are often the last to manifest. By this stage, the person will almost certainly become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol.
The most common physical signs of alcohol addiction include:
- Rapid weight change
Depending on the type of alcohol someone is drinking, you may notice a drastic change in their weight. Some drinks contain a lot of empty calories, and so you may notice the individual seems bloated as a result. Some people omit food altogether, in favour of alcohol. This inevitably causes a dramatic drop in weight within a short period of time.
- Lack of effort with physical appearance
Someone in the later stages of alcoholism will not be concerned with their physical appearance and may also stop taking care of their personal hygiene as a result. Where they may have been able to conceal the severity of their addiction at first, you may notice the smell of alcohol becoming more prominent.
- Lack of coordination or cognitive impairment
The slurring of words and issues with balance and coordination is often a sign that someone is intoxicated. If this becomes a regular occurrence, it’s more than likely that the person has an alcohol use disorder.
- Physical tolerance (signs of withdrawal)
This is by far the most obvious sign that someone is suffering from alcoholism. If a person’s brain has become accustomed to the presence of alcohol their body will struggle to carry out basic functions in its absence. This is known as withdrawal. The symptoms of withdrawal include excessive sweating, tremors, vomiting, and headaches due to dehydration.
Recognising the signs of alcoholism can save a life, so if you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s important that you reach out as soon as possible.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease and requires immediate treatment where possible. We understand how overwhelming it can be to take the first steps towards recovery, but you’re not alone. Our dedicated team is here to help you find the best treatment for you or your loved one.