Recognizing Alcoholism

Although there are numerous hallmarks of alcoholism, because many people enjoy drinking recreationally, it can sometimes be difficult to discern between an occasional indiscretion and a genuine health problem. Although a person can drink heavily and regularly without necessarily suffering from alcoholism, one should never dismiss the potential signs that someone may be an alcoholic.

The longer an individual leaves a dependence on alcohol untreated, the greater the likelihood they will experience health, relationship, or occupational problems. Although society does not stigmatize alcohol consumption in the same way it does the abuse of other substances, attributing recurring habits to a personality quirk or to a sign of immaturity can unnecessarily prolong the problem. The tendency to dismiss abuse of alcohol in adolescents and young adults as natural experimentation during this period of their lives is dangerous. Age should never be used to justify or ignore destructive habits.

Many individuals suffering from alcohol dependence attempt to hide their drinking, making the problem difficult for their loved ones to detect. Some signs of alcoholism can include:

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol (i.e., needing more drinks to “get buzzed”)
  • Becoming irritable or angry when alcohol is not available
  • Missed work or school, or a decrease in performance and financial issues
  • Poor nutrition that may result in weight loss
  • Poor attention to grooming
  • Hiding extra alcohol in unusual places
  • Spending more time alone or a growing habit of disappearing for periods of time

North Americans in general and Canadians in particular drink more than 50 percent above the global average, and show a more detrimental drinking pattern than most EU countries, with more binging.

Acknowledging the destructive potential of alcoholism early can be the first step toward helping an alcoholic get help. If you have observed these signs in a loved one, do not allow yourself to simply explain it away; have a conversation with them, and do not hesitate to seek outside help when necessary.