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How to Instantly Spot Signs of Alcoholism

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

As common as alcohol abuse and dependence are, people handle alcoholism differently. Some of the signs of alcoholism displayed by one person may not be at all noticed in another person. This is especially true when dealing with a subset of the alcoholic community known as high functioning alcoholics. This subset gets its name from the fact that those who are considered high functioning are able to continue living a 'normal' life even while being addicted to alcohol.

High-functioning alcoholics are still able to:

  • perform up to standard at work or school
  • maintain personal relationships
  • effectively manage their finances
  • keep the obvious signs of alcoholism hidden.

The challenge for both professionals and general members of the community is to learn how to spot the early signs of potential alcoholism even in cases where an individual is able to successfully lead a double life. This can be easier said than done, but with a little knowledge and some thought, it is possible to instantly spot a developing alcohol problem as it progresses.

Common Signs and Symptoms

It is generally accepted that there are some common signs and symptoms that all alcoholics or future alcoholics exhibit, even in the midst of other symptoms that may not be shared. For example, not every alcoholic is willing to go to the extent of criminal activity to support his or her habit. However, all of them will go above and beyond societal norms in order to procure alcohol.

Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms shared by all alcoholics; if you observe carefully you should be able to spot one or more of them in someone with a legitimate drinking problem:

  • Personal Associations – One of the most obvious signs of alcoholism many of us ignore is one of personal associations. In other words, the alcoholic would rather associate with those who share similar views of alcohol than with those who do not. The alcoholic will find other drinkers at a party and spend the entire evening with that group, even if the members of that group are not known friends.
  • Alcohol Cravings – By definition, an alcoholic is a person who has become dependent on the drug. Such dependence always results in cravings that can only be filled through further drinking. If you frequently hear someone talking about alcohol and saying things like, “I really need a stiff drink right now”, you may have an alcoholic on your hands.
  • Association with Alcohol – Another sign that makes it possible to instantly spot on alcoholic is to consider whether or not that person is always associated with alcohol – in your mind. In other words, some people are known because of their passion for a favourite football team. If you step back and examine the situation only to discover that the person you suspect of having a problem is always associated with drinking, it should be a red flag.
  • Planned Drinking – A person who suspects he or she has a drinking problem may resort to planning strategic times to consume alcohol so no one else finds out. For example, plans to attend a dinner party may be preceded by three or four stiff drinks so that the person can limit alcohol consumption during the party.
  • Compartmentalising Life – Alcoholics are good at compartmentalising their lives. They may put on a show of being morally upstanding and exceptionally responsible when out in public or at work, only to behave differently at home with drink in hand. The alcohol user who purposely compartmentalises life may already be alcoholic.

As mentioned previously, there is a long list of symptoms and signs of alcoholism that some alcoholics never exhibit. Therefore, if you want to instantly spot alcohol problems you have to concentrate on the characteristics that are similar to all alcoholics.

When Symptoms Are Present

Recognising some of the early signs of alcohol dependence is not necessarily cause for instant confrontation. But it is a valid reason to observe an individual more closely and with greater scrutiny. For example, perhaps you have noticed that a friend or a loved one is exhibiting the two symptoms relating to personal associations and alcohol cravings. You might want to spend the next few weeks observing more closely to see if other, less obvious symptoms also exist. Examples of those symptoms include:

  • reduced productivity, growing carelessness
  • gradual withdrawal from social activities
  • a cavalier attitude about drinking
  • defensiveness over one's drinking habits.

The idea here is to take the time to observe and scrutinise in order to be more sure that an alcohol problem exists. If all of the most prevalent signs of alcoholism are present in a person's life, it can be assumed the problem is real. Those involved can then begin taking the steps necessary to get help.

Confronting the Alcoholic

Once you reach the conclusion that someone you love is addicted to alcohol, your natural reaction is to want to do something. The first thing to understand is that you cannot force anyone to change behaviour. You cannot force your loved one to get help, nor can you force a person to come to terms with his or her alcoholism.

Also, keep in mind that one of the significant signs of alcoholism is denial. You may confront your loved one only to be told that you don't know what you're talking about, that it is none of your business, or that you have nothing to worry about inasmuch as your loved one has things under control. Do not be surprised by this denial. It may require multiple confrontations before your loved one is ready to even consider that a problem exists.

It is recommended you approach your loved one with empathy and compassion. You don't want to establish a relationship of division when you are trying to help someone in need. If you find that confronting your loved one does no good after several attempts, you might want to seek the help of a professional counsellor who can guide you through the process of banding together with family members and friends to conduct an official intervention.

Physical, Mental and Emotional Damage

Any signs of alcoholism you may recognise in someone paint only part of the picture. Persistent abuse of alcohol does a great bit of damage to the physical, mental and emotional state of the person, in ways that are never seen on the surface. So understand that there is more going on inside the body and mind of the alcoholic than you can actually see.

The physical damage of alcohol abuse is such that an individual can eventually die from it. Cirrhosis and kidney failure are just two of the medical problems that can result from long-term alcohol abuse. Mental illness is also possible, especially in people who might already be prone to such illnesses even before drinking begins. The sooner you can spot the signs of alcoholism in a loved one, the greater the chances of mitigating the physical and mental damage.

Lastly, do not be discouraged by the false assumption that you should have spotted the symptoms of alcohol dependence earlier. Alcoholism is a complicated condition that follows a different course in every individual. Be thankful you did spot the signs when you did, and that you were able to begin the process of helping your loved one.

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