Frightening Signs Someone You Know Is an Alcoholic (and What to Do About It)

More than 7% of American adults have an alcohol use disorder. This number reflects those who have reported or sought treatment and excludes those who may be silently struggling or ignorant to their addiction.

Studies have found the maximum number of drinks you should drink a week based on your weight, biological sex, and height. However, the number of beers you notice a friend downing or shots they take isn’t the only factor that influences potential alcohol misuse. These signs may indicate the frightening reality that someone you care about is a struggling alcoholic.

They drink excessively when they’re alone

Bartender pouring strong alcoholic drink into glasses.

How can you tell if someone is an alcoholic? | Bogdanhoda/Getty images

If you’ve ever found stashed empty bottles or received a drunk call from your friend who was “laying low for the night,” it may be a cause for concern. Drinking alone isn’t inherently bad, and many people have a drink after work or pair one with dinner. When the drinking becomes excessive, secretive, or used as a distraction, it should become a concern.

Another red flag is a friend who shows up to a gathering alone but already a few drinks deep. Drinking alone to quell social anxiety indicates self-medicating, a clear sign they’re relying on alcohol as a distraction from other issues.

They prioritize social drinking over other obligations

Glasses and shots with different colored cocktails.

They might opt for parties instead of family time. | Tsuguliev/Getty Images

New Hope Recovery’s signs of a secret alcoholic reports that they will shirk responsibilities like work, childcare, or previous engagements for social events that could involve drinking. They may obsess over the next event or time they’ll be able to drink and coordinate their schedule accordingly.

Alcoholics will also find excuses to drink at any time of day. If they’re adding alcohol to coffee or juice in the morning or having a few too many drinks during their lunch break, beware. These are warning signs that a person isn’t in control of their drinking.

They experience drastic mood swings

Group of friends partying in a nightclub and toasting drinks.

Alcohol can mess with people’s moods and emotions. | Jacoblund/Getty Images

An alcoholic will alternate between stages of intoxication and withdrawal, which may have an obvious influence on their mood. The inability to control their reactions may include unprecedented outbursts, intense anger, or signs of depression.

These mood swings can escalate and affect a person’s normal personality traits. If you notice a friend expressing narcissistic, aggressive, or immoral behavior, especially when intoxicated, it’s a reflection of how their heavy drinking is affecting them. The Casa Palerma treatment center gives an in-depth explanation of how alcohol affects your emotions.

They’re in financial trouble

People dancing at the beach with hands up.

They spend their entire paycheck at the bar. | FS-Stock/iStock/Getty Images

Excessive drinking can influence even the tightest of budgets. It’s well-known that misusing alcohol can put you in debt, however this isn’t only a result of the money spent on alcohol.

Lowered inhibitions are an obvious side effect of heavy drinking. This side effect generally sets in while someone is still in control of their motor functions and their wallet, and can have terrible consequences for their budget. An alcoholic’s finances can be influenced by more than just money earned and affect their work and school performance. This can leave their job or classes in jeopardy and influence future earnings.

They’ve built up a high tolerance for alcohol

Two martini glasses with garnish.

They can guzzle the hard stuff like it’s water. | Adam Berry/Getty Images for Belvedere

The Help Guide links an increasing tolerance to early signals of alcohol misuse. If you notice your coworker can suddenly drink double what you can during happy hour with little to no visible effects, you’re right to be wary.

Tolerance is reflected by the amount of alcohol you need to feel the effects of being drunk. Tolerance is a slippery slope, as someone with a higher tolerance may feel nearly sober but have a BAC that exceeds the legal limit, leading them to drive or take other risky actions while intoxicated.

They exhibit withdrawal symptoms

Young woman passed out on bar counter.

Pay attention to any new behaviors they might exhibit. | XiXinXing/Getty Images

Common alcohol withdrawal signs include; excessive sweating, shakiness, nausea/vomiting, and heightened anxiety. Symptoms can begin four to 12 hours after the individual reduces or stops their alcohol intake.

If someone you know exhibits these signs when sober, it’s a clear indication that their body has come to rely on a consistent, heavy intake of alcohol. 

They’ll deny an addiction

Three friends enjoying wine at an outdoor bar.

An alcoholic might not understand their limits. | Monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

The crux of recognizing someone you love is battling addiction is that they’re unlikely to listen to your concerns. The Casa Palerma treatment website recognizes how dangerous denial is for an alcoholic; “Alcoholics will deny they have a problem in order to keep drinking, or may not even realize how serious their drinking really is.”

In an article on dealing with denial in alcoholism, Mark S. Gold, M.D. noted that not all alcohol abusers have the same level of denial. Professionals are now matching a person’s level of denial to the appropriate treatment plan. He found that typically, the more severe the addiction, the stronger the denial.

How to get them help

Cheerful young people spending nice time together.

If alcohol starts to wreak havoc on a loved one’s life, there are many ways for you to be supportive. | G-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Communicating with someone battling alcohol misuse isn’t easy. Following the proper protocol and using the right resources is important to get them the best possible treatment with the least damage to your relationship. Both Healthline and Psych Central offer helpful tips in talking to an alcoholic partner.

If you feel stressed or incapable of deciding how to confront a loved one’s alcoholism, consult a trained professional or addiction help center about how you can best aid an alcoholic’s recovery.

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