April 11, 2024

Early Signs of Alcoholism: What to Watch For

an image representing the early signs of alcoholism

Identifying the signs of early alcoholism enables timely intervention and appropriate treatment. Some potential indicators of alcohol abuse are easily noticed, while others can be subtle and more challenging to recognize. Alcoholism is clinically described as alcohol use disorder, a condition which presents on a spectrum from mild to severe. This means it is beneficial to act on early warning signs rather than minimizing or ignoring these potential red flags. 

Common Early Signs of Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic and progressive brain disorder that typically worsens unless treated. Fortunately, alcoholism is treatable with evidence-based treatment that usually involves medications, talk therapies, and counseling. 

Early signs of alcohol abuse can manifest physically, psychologically, or through behavioral changes. 

Physical Signs 

  • Development of tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation
  • Deterioration in physical appearance 

Development of tolerance

Addictive substances like alcohol work by triggering an outsized release of dopamine in the brain. Over time, the brain undergoes changes and develops tolerance, becoming less sensitive to the effects of dopamine. As the effects of alcohol diminish, more is required to deliver the initial effects. If you or someone you know is drinking more alcohol than before without appearing more intoxicated, this indicates the development of tolerance. Tolerance is a diagnostic criterion for alcoholism that should be taken seriously. 

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking is another of the early physical signs of alcoholism that’s also among the 11 criteria for alcohol use disorder outlined in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). When someone develops tolerance to alcohol and increases consumption as a result, this accelerates the formation of physical dependence. Someone who is alcohol-dependent requires the substance for normal functioning and experiences uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. 

Deterioration in physical appearance

In the early stages of alcoholism, drinking assumes more and more importance in a person’s life. While alcohol use disorder in its early stages is unlikely to trigger direct physical damage, many people invest less time and effort in their physical appearance and personal hygiene as drinking becomes more of a driving force. 

Psychological Signs 

  • Regularly drinking alcohol alone
  • Depressed mood when not drinking alcohol
  • Inability to control consumption
  • Problems in relationships
  • Failed attempts to discontinue use of alcohol 

Regularly drinking alcohol alone

Drinking alone is a major red flag for alcohol abuse. For many people, there’s nothing wrong with coming home and enjoying a glass of wine or beer with dinner on their own. Problematic solo drinking occurs when someone is drinking alcohol alone with the aim of getting drunk. 

Depressed mood when not drinking alcohol

When someone starts becoming addicted to alcohol, this usually involves the development of dependence, which is associated with the presentation of withdrawal symptoms in the absence of alcohol. Depressed mood, irritability, and anxiety are all early warning signs of alcohol withdrawal. 

Inability to control consumption

When someone is unable to control the amount of alcohol they consume, this is a classic early sign of alcoholism. Addiction is characterized by compulsive substance use regardless of adverse outcomes. People who do not have a problem with alcohol can enjoy a drink or two without turning it into a binge drinking session. 

Problems in relationships

Addiction and healthy relationships don’t mix. Hiding your substance use from loved ones and prioritizing your addiction over their needs creates stress between you. Long before you experience some of the more obvious signs of addiction, your relationships with family and friends may feel that strain. If your relationships with those around you are under pressure, try to look at the role that drinking might have played in causing the problem. 

Failed attempts to discontinue use of alcohol

There is a growing trend of people taking a break from drinking for their health with challenges like Sober October or Dry January. If you attempt one of these challenges and find that you are unable to achieve a month of sobriety, this suggests a growing problem with alcohol abuse that’s worth further exploration and assessment. 

Behavioral Signs 

  • Hiding alcohol consumption from loved ones
  • Endangering self or others
  • Blacking out 

Hiding alcohol consumption from loved ones

When someone exhibits problematic patterns of drinking, they often become aware of this subconsciously. Hiding the problem from loved ones is one way that the subconscious mind protects the discovery of substance abuse. Anyone who hides their alcohol consumption is almost certainly dealing with problems under the surface. 

Endangering self or others

Another common sign that alcohol addiction is developing is when someone puts an addictive substance ahead of their health and safety. There are many times when drinking alcohol is inadvisable – before working, when driving, or after taking medication, for instance. Anyone who endangers themselves or others by drinking in inappropriate situations is demonstrating inappropriate and problematic patterns of alcohol consumption. 

Blacking out

Binge drinking is a growing problem in the United States. It’s defined as consuming five or more drinks within two hours for men, or four or more drinks for women. Roughly one in six adults in America engages in regular binge drinking sessions. Not everyone who consumes alcohol in this way is dependent on alcohol or addicted to the substance, but any abusive patterns of consumption can be signs of developing alcoholism.

What to Do When You Notice the Early Signs of Being an Alcoholic

Recognizing the early signs of alcoholism in yourself or someone close to you is a fundamental first step toward recovery. Once these signs are identified, though, knowing how to respond is essential for initiating a positive change. Here’s what to do when you notice the early signs of alcoholism. 

  • Acknowledge the problem: The first step in addressing alcoholism is acknowledging the presence of a problem. Denial is a common obstacle for many people battling addictions. Accepting that alcohol use might be becoming problematic is integral to engaging with appropriate professional assistance.
  • Learn as much as possible about alcoholism: Learn more about alcoholism and its effects. Understanding the chronic nature of the condition, its impact on physical and mental health, and the benefits of recovery can motivate you or your loved one to seek help.
  • Reach out for support: Reach out to trusted family members, friends, or professionals who can offer support and guidance. Sometimes, just talking about your concerns can be a relief and an important step toward recovery.
  • Get professional help: Contact healthcare providers or addiction specialists who can offer expert advice and treatment options. This may include counseling, therapy, medication, or a combination of these approaches tailored to individual needs.
  • Participate in support groups: Many people in recovery from alcoholism find comfort and strength in support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or SMART Recovery. These groups provide a sense of community and shared experience that can be incredibly helpful in recovery.
  • Develop a personalized recovery plan: Work with professionals to create a personalized recovery plan. This plan should address not only the alcoholism but also any co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety or depression, that may contribute to substance use.
  • Set and maintain healthy boundaries: If you’re supporting someone with early signs of alcoholism, set healthy boundaries to protect your well-being while offering support. This might involve setting limits on what you will tolerate and how you will engage with the person.
  • Encourage and support ongoing treatment: Encouragement can be a powerful motivator. Whether it’s for yourself or someone else, maintain a hopeful outlook on recovery. Celebrate small victories and stay committed to the journey ahead.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Gratitude Lodge

Although alcohol addiction can be debilitating, it’s also highly treatable. If you or someone that you care about needs help addressing problematic patterns of consumption, call Gratitude Lodge today. 

Begin your recovery with supervised detox at one of our luxury rehabs in Long Beach or Newport Beach, California. You can access clinical and emotional care to streamline alcohol withdrawal. you can also take advantage of medications to reduce the intensity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. After a week or so, you’ll move into ongoing inpatient treatment. 

All alcohol addictions are unique, so treatment plans at Gratitude Lodge are highly personalized, blending holistic and evidence-based therapies that include: 

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapies like CBT and DBT
  • Motivational therapies
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • One-to-one counseling
  • Holistic interventions
  • Aftercare planning

The sooner you engage with treatment for alcohol addiction, the more seamless your recovery will be due to the progressive nature of the condition. Call 800-994-2184 and begin your recovery right away.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.