5 Warning Signs Your Drinking Could Be a Problem

When someone’s addicted to alcohol, there are certain warning signs to look out for.

Whilst some of these warning signs might be easily recognisable, while others might be more difficult to identify.

Sometimes, the symptoms and warning signs might be difficult to identify at the start of the addiction.

For example, if an individual is drinking in private as their family and friends don’t know about their addiction yet, it becomes very challenging for family and friends to acknowledge the warning signs in the first place.

Additionally, warning signs might be hard to identify if someone is only mildly addicted to alcohol.

However, what might seem like a mild addiction to alcohol can change very quickly, and any early warning signs should be acknowledged and acted on quickly.

Recognising these early warning signs of alcohol abuse can help the individual cut their addiction and ultimately, save their life.

Whilst there isn’t exactly a textbook on whether or not someone is addicted to alcohol, there are common and well-known warning signs and symptoms.

1. You’re Drinking More Frequently and Excessively

Depending on your gender and body weight, everyone’s limits are different. Therefore, even some moderate drinking can lead to problematic symptoms and health consequences.

Binge drinking is considered five or more drinks in one day [2]. However, many alcoholics do tend to drink a lot more than this and it’s not unheard of for an advanced alcoholic to drink dozens of more drinks each day.

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol over an extended period of time can easily turn into excessive use of alcohol, which is a rocky path towards addiction.

2. You’re Starting to Lose Control

Losing control of their decisions, finances, promises, memory and addiction is a common symptom of alcoholism. Despite it becoming apparent that they’re losing control because of alcohol, they’re unable to stop.

The most common warning sign of someone who’s addicted to alcohol is when they frequently promise to stop but just aren’t able to.

No matter how many times they promise to never drink again, they simply lack the control to stop for good.

3. You’re Starting to Experience Withdrawal Symptoms

If an individual is drinking excessively and then all of a sudden stops, they will develop withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms might include being and feeling sick, struggling to sleep, irregular heartbeats, frequent headaches or migraines, shaking or tremors and excessive sweating.

On top of these symptoms, they might develop a form of depression, anxiety or feel irritable.

However, those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms might experience symptoms such as convulsions, blacking out, hallucinating (seeing things that aren’t really there) or experiencing a high temperature.

If an individual is experiencing any of these symptoms, then they should ring their doctor or go to their local media centre immediately.

4. You’re Often Drinking Alone

When someone’s addicted to alcohol, their friendship groups often change. Sometimes, they might stop seeing some of their usual friends and gain a new friendship group who also drink.

However, sometimes they might stop seeing friends altogether, and will start to drink alone in fear of judgement.

If you’re choosing to drink alone in fear of judgement or being outed as an alcoholic, it’s always better to be open with your friends and family about your excessive drinking.

Drinking excessively and alone can be dangerous, and you could seriously injure yourself if there’s no one around to help you whilst you’re intoxicated.

5. You’ve Developed a High Tolerance to Alcohol

When someone’s drinking too much, they become more tolerant to alcohol. It takes longer for them to feel the same effects from the same amount of alcohol.

As a consequence, this results in drinking more in order to feel the same way again.

When this happens, neuroadaptation occurs. This is where the brain and the body gets used to a substance in the body so much that they start to accommodate for it, by making compromises.

At this stage, the body no longer experiences the same effects from the alcohol and therefore, needs you to consume more in order to experience the same effects.

This increases your tolerance to alcohol in that you feel that your body can take higher levels of alcohol, but in reality, your body will still be internally struggling with the high amounts of alcohol you’re consuming.

What’s Defined as Excessive Drinking and Too much Alcohol?

Excessive drinking includes binge and heavy drinking [2].

Binge drinking is when someone is drinking too much alcohol in a short space of time. For women, binge drinking is when they drink 4 or more drinks at one time. For men, it’s 5 or more drinks [2].

Excessive drinking is when a woman drinks 8 or more alcoholic drinks every week, and a man 15 or more alcoholic drinks every week.

Recognising Your Alcoholism – CAGE & DSM Tools

A popular tool to help identify alcoholism within the medical and healthcare industry is the CAGE tool [1].

The CAGE tool is a simple questionnaire which is a type of screening tool offered to individuals who might be struggling with their excessive drinking.

There are only four questions to the questionnaire and if an individual answers ‘yes’ to 2 or more of the questions, then they’re struggling with their alcohol consumption and are drinking excessively [1].

The questions are: [1]

  1. Do you believe or have you ever believed that you should cut down on your alcohol consumption?
  2. Do people often comment on your drinking, and does it often annoy you?
  3. Do you feel bad or a sense of guilt about your alcohol consumption?
  4. Have you ever drank early in the morning to calm your nerves, or to help you get over a heavy drinking session the night before?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of these questions, please approach a medical professional for help.

Another popular tool and screening test for someone worried about their alcohol consumption is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is frequently referred to as DSM [1].

Like the CAGE tool, the DSM screening test is also a questionnaire, and individuals should answer taking into account their alcohol consumption within the last year.

.The DSM questions include: [1]

  • Have you ever felt a sense of depression or anxiety and have continued to drink?
  • Have you ever drank more than you intended to?
  • Have you started to lose interest in hobbies and activities that you used to enjoy?
  • Do you believe you have ever experienced withdrawal symptoms after stopping drinking alcohol for a period of time?
  • Have you ever craved alcohol?
  • Have you ever felt the need to harm yourself or others whilst intoxicated with alcohol? This could include driving whilst under the influence.
  • Have you ever been arrested or gotten in trouble with the law whilst intoxicated?

Dangers of Drinking Excessively on the Body [3]

Below we list the dangers of drinking excessively can have on your body.

1. Permanent Changes to the Brain

It’s well known that alcohol affects the brain. However, excessive drinking doesn’t just change the way the brain works temporarily, but it can change the way the brain works and ultimately looks for a lifetime [3].

2. Permanent Damage to the Heart

Drinking excessively damages the body and particularly the heart in many different ways [3].

This includes high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, increased risk of a stroke and a disease called cardiomyopathy.

Cardiomyopathy is where the heart can no longer effectively pump blood around the body as its walls have been made thick, damaged, or stretched by excessive drinking [3].

3. Increased risk of Developing Cancer

There is a lot of research linking excessive alcohol consumption to different forms of cancers such as [3]:

  • Liver cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Oesophagal cancer
  • Breast cancer

4. Liver Inflammation and Disease

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol damages the liver and can cause serious inflammation and liver disease.

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol frequently can cause fatty liver disease, whilst heavier and more excessive drinking can turn into more serious forms of liver disease such as fibrosis and cirrhosis which both cause irreversible damage [3].

5. Weakening Immune System

When an immune system is weakened, an individual is much more likely to pick up certain types of diseases, viruses and injections.

Individuals who drink excessively are therefore a lot more prone to catching colds, the flu and other more serious illnesses [3].

6. Damage to the Pancreas

When consumed, the byproducts of alcohol enter the pancreas and can create inflammation and swelling that makes it hard for your body to digest the alcohol and food [3].


[1] https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/alcohol/warning-signs/

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

[3] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body