Many of you may be aware of the term “alcoholism.” But how familiar are you with its signs and symptoms?
There’s a common misconception that alcoholism—or alcohol use disorder as we now refer to it—means you have to reach a rock bottom to get help. That’s not true! Alcohol use disorder exists on a spectrum, and many people experience a range of effects. Some may lose their homes, while others might still appear to maintain a normal life.
This article explores the key signs and symptoms across the spectrum of alcohol use disorder. It also includes self-administered questionnaires you can take and resources for additional help—whether that’s for you or a loved one.
What is alcoholism?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition characterized by an inability to stop drinking despite the negative consequences. Alcohol use disorder is commonly referred to as alcoholism, alcohol addiction, and alcohol misuse or abuse.
As we mentioned earlier, AUD exists on a continuum from mild, to moderate, to severe. Even if a person might only have a few symptoms of alcohol addiction, it could still be negatively impacting their life.
How common is alcoholism?
AUD is more common than you might think. According to a national survey conducted in 2019, nearly 15 million Americans aged 12 or over are impacted by alcohol use disorder. This figure includes 9 million men and 5.5 million women. Young adults and teens are also affected, with approximately 414,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years old being affected.
Most tragically, an estimated 95,000 Americans die each year from alcohol-related causes.
Signs and symptoms of alcoholism
There are a range of criteria, or symptoms, that healthcare providers use to assess if an individual has AUD. Having one of these symptoms is cause for concern, but having more symptoms indicate a more urgent need to get help.
- Drinking more, or longer, than intended
- Unsuccessfully trying to cut down more than once
- Spending a lot of time drinking
- Being sick from drinking
- Cravings to drink that cloud other thoughts
- Continuing to drink despite it causing trouble with your relationships, work or school, and responsibilities
- Choosing to drink over other activities that were once important, like sports, or activities with friends and family
- Drinking even though it may be causing anxiety and depression
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping drinking, like shaking, nausea, sweating, difficulty sleeping.
Resources for individuals and loved ones struggling with alcoholism
There are a range of resources for people seeking help with alcoholism or those wanting to help a loved one. Here are some of the AUD quizzes, treatment locator tools, and support for family and friends:
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has helpfully designed lots of resources about healthy drinking limits, different types of problematic drinking, interactive worksheets, and a quiz to determine if you have a problem with alcohol. There is also a useful section containing calculators to determine your drink size, the alcohol content of a drink, your alcohol spending, and a blood alcohol concentration calculator.
Treatment locator tools
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have published an interactive tool that helps you to locate treatment across the United States. You can search by service type (including co-occuring conditions) and state. You can find the tool here. NIAAA also has strategies and tips for cutting down.
The Workit Health Solution
Did you know that there are medications that make it easier to reduce your drinking? This is called medication-assisted treatment. Workit Health delivers both medication-assisted treatment and behavioral health support to individuals in varying stages of alcohol use disorder. We know that behavioral health support is a generally effective addition to MAT, especially if the approaches are tailored and flexible. In addition to an online therapeutic curriculum, Workit’s programs provide connection through a wide range of recovery groups and community.
Support for family and friends
There are a range of support groups for family, friends, and partners of loved ones struggling with addiction, including:
- ALANON: a 12-step-based support group for anyone impacted by addiction
- SMART Friends & Family: an alternative to 12-step programs, SMART provides effective and easy-to-learn tools to help you and your family
- Learn to Cope: a peer support network for friends and family members of those with substance use disorders.
- Therapy. You may want to consider accessing a therapist, either through your primary doctor or by searching for one who specializes in addiction.