Identifying the signs of alcoholism can be challenging, especially if the person you are worried about is truly an alcoholic. There can be both physical signs of alcoholism as well as emotional signs of alcoholism. In addition, signs of alcoholism are very similar to signs of alcohol abuse.
It often starts with noticing small changes in your loved one’s behavior, patterns or their attitude. You may ask questions about their whereabouts or behavior and their explanations are vague, or evasive. It doesn’t feel right, so you press a bit and you are met with uncharacteristic defensiveness.
They may seem moody and irritable. Sometimes you know you smell alcohol, but they deny having a drink. Sometimes they will admit to drinking one or two, but their behavior, speech or eyes tell you that it has been much more.
You may think back and realize this has happened before or this might be the first time. If it is the first time, and they are an alcoholic, it won’t be the last.
The disease of alcoholism is insidious because it seems to a non-alcoholic that stopping drinking should be easy, but to an alcoholic, it is one of the hardest things they will ever have to face.
Some signs might include, isolating (eg: spending more time in the basement, garage or at work), losing interest in things which they used to enjoy doing such as hobbies, sports and social outings.
When confronted, they will either become defensive or very remorseful and apologetic, promising not to do it again, cut down or seek help.
Things might improve for a while after a confrontation or a bad bout of drinking but if the disease of alcoholism has taken hold, they will invariably drink again.
At times it may seem to be improving but you may notice a pattern of every few weeks or few months, they will get drunk. They may have learned to temporarily control their cravings for alcohol but have started to become a binge drinking alcoholic.
Binge drinking alcoholism follows predictable patterns. Vows to quit drinking are followed by weeks or months of abstinence. They will most often be irritable and moody and can have difficulty sleeping because, without knowing, they are going first, through a period of alcohol detox, followed by something called Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptom or PAWS. PAWS can last up to 24 months. If they drink again to medicate these or any other feelings, they will be back at the start.
Typically, with binge drinking alcoholics, the sober breaks in between binges become shorter and the binges become worse.
As the disease of alcoholism escalates the alcoholic will lie more about their drinking, their whereabouts and you may find it harder to reach them when they are at work or when you call them on their cell phones. They will continue to make excuses about having to work late, about their cell phone dying or being turned on silent or why they were late coming home. They will invent reasons to run errands, go see a friend or to go out to their car to get something they forgot.
These behaviors and excuses occur because the alcoholic needs to protect their drinking. Some of these alcoholic behaviors are conscious and some are subconscious.
As things progress, signs of alcoholism can include hiding bottles, putting empties in the trash instead of recycling and looking for, or suggesting events or reasons to drink more frequently.
If you are already aware that someone you care about is an alcoholic these signs of alcoholism are familiar to you and you should trust your instincts. If you are new to this, your first instinct is to believe their excuses and be in denial about the severity of the problem. We offer counselling for Family and Friends which you may find helpful.