Is my husband an alcoholic? Does my mom have a problem with drinking? Is my sister OK? Watching a loved one cross the line into problem drinking can make you question everything you think you know is real. Then, there’s the fear: How can you help if you can’t even tell when there’s a problem? What are the signs that someone needs rehab? First, the reality is that if you’re asking yourself these questions then your loved one is likely not a “normal” drinker. But, there is hope. With education and awareness of what signs of alcoholism to look out for, you can get help for your loved one and your family before it’s too late.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a chronic brain disorder more commonly referred to in clinical circles as “alcohol use disorder.” That terminology highlights the fact that what we think of as alcoholism has less to do with how much alcohol someone is drinking, and more with how they are using it. People with alcohol use disorder often consume alcohol in the hopes of changing their mental or emotional state: to feel happy when they are sad, to feel relaxed when they are stressed, or to feel confident when they feel anxious.
Of course, many people who drink do that. (If not most!) However, the key element of alcohol use disorder is an inability to control one’s drinking. People with alcohol use disorder often drink even when they’ve sworn to themselves that they won’t, or when they know that drinking will have negative consequences. In addition, that compulsion is often accompanied by an almost obsessive thought pattern centered around a desire to drink.
Signs of Alcoholism
Therefore, the clearest signs of addiction to alcohol are really the negative consequences that pile up in a problem drinker’s life. If your loved one is experiencing troubles at work, in court, with friends, or in your relationship due to their drinking, it’s likely that they have a problem.
Alcoholism has physical symptoms as well. People in later stages of alcoholism often experience withdrawal when they have not had a drink for a period of time. Withdrawal symptoms include sweating, shaking, delirium, and in some cases heart attack, coma, or death. (That’s why alcohol detox is best managed by a medical professional.)
Earlier on, signs of alcoholism could include weight gain (due to alcohol’s calorie-dense nature, as well as a drinker’s tendency to indulge in unhealthy foods when their inhibitions are low while drinking).
Medically, someone meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder if they have experienced two of the eleven symptoms outlined in the DSM-V, a book that doctors use to diagnose illness. More than two symptoms can indicate mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder.
Is My Husband a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
Many people wonder if they have to watch their loved ones struggle until some “rock bottom” moment is reached. You may be asking yourself if it’s really “that bad.” Indeed, functional alcoholics can often manage to hold down a job, take care of their responsibilities, and achieve success while drinking excessively. It’s important to remember, however, that all of that is only happening on the surface.
If someone is drinking to excess, they almost certainly are doing so to self-medicate a deeper issue, such as depression, trauma, anxiety, or a mental health disorder. That deeper issue is not going away on its own; in fact, excessive drinking may be making it worse. Your loved one will continue to struggle in pain until that underlying issue is addressed.
Get Help for Alcoholism
In residential addiction treatment or outpatient addiction treatment, caring professionals will work with your loved one to identify and heal that deeper wound while also sharing tips for navigating life substance-free. To find out if addiction treatment would be helpful for your husband, mother, sibling, or loved one, contact our admissions team today for a no-pressure conversation. They’ll answer any questions you may have and give you the tools you need to plant the seed of hope for yourself and your family.