Spotting the Signs of Alcoholism

Sections: The Signs of Alcoholism | The Stages of Alcohol Abuse | How You Can Help | Finding Treatment

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from alcohol use disorder—the clinical term for what is commonly referred to as “alcoholism” or alcohol addiction. Whatever you call it, alcoholism is a serious disease that can cause great mental and physical suffering.


Addiction to alcohol can devastate the body, weaken the mind, destroy relationships, and undermine a person’s quality of life. It can also burden family members, causing unnecessary stress, fear, pain, and worry. Over time, patience wears thin, and alienation sets in. In the long run, that can prove dangerous since a strong support network is often the only thing standing between an alcoholic and certain ruin.


How can you tell a loved one is addicted? Use this article as a guide to help you sort through the possible signs of alcoholism, and remember: Everyone is unique, every situation is different. No list can replace a personal evaluation made by a qualified addiction specialist or another medical professional.


Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism manifests in both behavioral and physical ways, and the effects often vary by person. One individual may excel at hiding their drinking from others, while another may struggle to keep up with their daily routine. Someone may suffer serious physical problems from the outset, while another may enjoy relatively good health for years before succumbing to the ravaging effects of long-term alcohol abuse.


The timeline of addiction varies from person to person, but alcoholism usually progresses gradually, from social or least occasional drinking to frequent drinking, to alcohol abuse, to addiction. The warning signs may differ at each stage and for each individual, but there are similarities that make it possible to spot a problem, regardless of how much someone drinks or how long they’ve struggled with alcohol dependence.


Early Signs of Alcoholism


Many people abuse alcohol long before they become physically dependent on it. They may not drink from morning until night; they may not suffer withdrawal symptoms, but frequent use has already set down the path toward addiction.


Early warning signs of alcoholism may include:

  • Diminished performance at work or school
  • Habitual tardiness
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Legal troubles
  • Risky behavior (e.g., drunk driving, fighting, operating machinery, etc.)
  • Disregard for consequences (e.g., negative social, financial, and health effects)


Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism


Addiction causes people to do strange things. Friends and family often complain that their loved one no longer acts like himself or herself. They may feel as if they’re losing someone they care about. In many cases, family members serve as the first line of defense, sounding the warning long before the alcoholic becomes aware of his or her own condition.


Signals to watch for include:

  • Inability to control drinking
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Neglect of other activities
  • Lying, making excuses, or hiding to cover alcohol use
  • Drinking to mask unwanted feelings (stress, loneliness, fear, disappointment, etc.)
  • Indifference to personal, social, and professional consequences
  • Frequent drunkenness, particularly at irregular times (e.g., morning)


Physical Signs


Alcohol use disorder changes the body in profound ways. Most alcoholics suffer from some form of physical dependency, which can make quitting painful, dangerous, and even deadly. In addition, long-term abuse may cause chronic health conditions, such as liver disease.

Regardless of the severity of the condition, alcoholism often causes physical symptoms such as:

  • Tolerance (a need to drink more to feel the same effects)
  • Cravings
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Intestinal problems
  • Redness of the nose and cheeks
  • Liver problems
  • Repeated infections or illnesses


Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Sad Man Laying Down In BedPhysical dependency occurs when the body becomes habituated to a drug and develops a tolerance to it. When someone with a physical dependency stops drinking, they experience a number of discomforting symptoms, which can range from the mild to life-threatening, depending on the individual’s health, the extent of alcohol abuse, the treatment provided, and other factors.


Withdrawals primarily affect the central and autonomic nervous systems and can be separated into three categories, or “stages,” according to onset and severity. Stage 1 withdrawals start relatively early and are typically mild. From there, the physical effects get progressively worse with Stage 2 and Stage 3 symptoms.

Stage 1 (Mild) Symptoms


Early and/or withdrawal symptoms can start as early as six hours after the last drink. They may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Heart palpitations
  • Stomach problems


Stage 2 (Moderate) Symptoms


More serious symptoms may begin to develop about 12 hours to one day after the last drink. Someone with stage 2 withdrawals may experience:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Mild hyperthermia


Stage 3 (Delirium Tremens) Symptoms


The most serious cases experience what is known as delirium tremens, which can lead to major health concerns, including death, if not treated properly. Delirium tremens may manifest in the following ways:

  • Disorientation
  • Impaired focus
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heart rate


How You Can Help

If you suspect that a friend or loved one may suffer from alcoholism or has placed themselves on the road to addiction, then it’s time to take action. Intervening before alcohol use disorder causes irreparable harm may not be easy, but it’s crucial.


The process often starts with an intervention, a well-planned, supervised meeting in which relatives and close friends try to make the individual aware of their condition, and try to convince them to seek help. Done right, an intervention can lead to treatment, which can eventually lead to recovery.


Alcoholism is a disease that requires specialized treatment in a dedicated addiction facility. The rehab center should offer monitored withdrawals and long-term, comprehensive treatment options. Registered CCAPP counselors and on-staff psychiatrists should oversee the recovery process


Recovery takes time, dedication, and persistence, not to mention support, professional help, and a safe environment. At Yellowstone Recovery, we provide everything individuals need to overcome their past and lay a strong foundation for a sober future. Contact us to learn more about our effective yet affordable alcohol treatment programs in southern California.




  • Treatment Options
  • Program Curriculum
  • Program Services
young man talking to his therapist

Intensive Outpatient (IOP)

Intensive OutPatient treatment (IOP) helps people establish the foundations for lifelong sobriety…

patio with tables covered by umbrellas


Our California alcohol and drug addiction treatment program is predicated on restoring you to your ideal health. Detox is a crucial part…

gate for one of the rehab facility homes

Primary Care – Residential Treatment

The first phase of our program is primary care. During this phase clients will be in a 30-day “blackout” period…

three straw men standing in front of two trees

Residential Treatment – Extended Care

Residential treatment extended care starts on day 31 and goes through day 90. This period is very important for a client in early recovery…

small outdoor pond

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment serves as aftercare for clients who have completed extended care (90 days of residential treatment)…

gate for one of the rehab facility homes

Sober Living

Sober living at Yellowstone begins after the initial residential treatment portion of the program is successfully completed…

emotional support group with five men and women

Weekday Schedule

Detox and Residential Treatment

Depressed woman looking away

Experiential Therapy

Experiential Therapy is therapy of the mind rather than the body. It is a tool to help…

typewriter writing the words

Contact Yellowstone Recovery