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Ask Horizon: Signs of Alcoholism

Do you suspect that a relative or friend, someone you love or care about, is drinking too much? It can be hard to tell in today’s society, where drinking is taken for granted and part of socializing. And there’s a difference between someone who drinks a lot and someone who is truly an alcoholic. So, how can you tell if someone you love is in trouble?

Start by considering the following questions:

  • Have you ever felt that the person should cut down on their drinking? Has anyone else ever told them that?
  • Has that person ever gotten annoyed or defensive about such questions? Have they felt they are being criticized for drinking?
  • Have they ever expressed feelings of guilt, or just feeling bad, about their drinking?
  • Have they ever had a drink in the morning, whether to “steady their nerves” or to help with a hangover?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, if you answer “yes” to more than one of those questions about someone, that person probably needs help.

Still not sure?

Consider whether the person seems to be frequently drinking to relax, or to deal with or avoid stress in their life. Many people do this occasionally, but high frequency can be a red flag. So is the person’s disregard for safety or responsibility, as when they drive or operate machinery after drinking.

Finally, consider how professionals diagnose alcoholism. They use criteria straight out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which conclude that people who are dependent on alcohol will display at least three of these criteria during a 12-month period:

  • Show tolerance – they need to drink more to get drunk or buzzed.
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, trembling, nausea or vomiting, or insomnia once the effects of alcohol wear off.
  • Ignore important work or other social activities in favor of drinking.
  • Spend most of their time getting alcohol, drinking it, and recovering from its effects.
  • Continue to drink even if they’ve been told it’s causing them physical or psychological problems.
  • Try and fail to cut down or control their drinking.

One final thing to watch for and evaluate is the drinker’s level of denial. Alcoholics will find ways to rationalize their behavior no matter the consequences. They may underestimate how much they’re drinking or downplaying the consequences. They may blame others for their drinking and say they can stop any time. Or point out that they can’t be an alcoholic because they don’t drink every day, or because they are doing well at work.

It’s a tough situation to be in, if you suspect that a friend or loved one has a drinking problem. You may feel shame, fear, or even guilt. We can help answer your questions and support you through this challenging time, just as we can support the person who wants to get better. Call us any time at (716) 831-1800 to set up an appointment with one of our counselors.