How do you know when drinking becomes a problem?
People drink alcohol for a variety of reasons — when socializing with friends, enjoying a celebration, or just relaxing after a long day at work. So how do you know when a healthy relationship with alcohol turns into a drinking problem? Recognizing the warning signs of alcohol addiction can help address a potential problem before it reaches a crisis point.
The first step to understanding alcohol addiction is defining safe and risky levels of consumption. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use may indicate an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a chronic, relapsing brain disease. AUD symptoms include compulsive alcohol use, a loss of control over how much you drink, and a negative emotional state when you are not drinking. An AUD can range from mild to moderate to severe.
Problems with drinking can take many forms, and people may keep misusing alcohol without hitting “rock bottom.” Even if you aren’t sure if a loved one’s or your own drinking habits indicate an alcohol use disorder, understanding and being on the lookout for signs of alcohol misuse can help you get support before drinking reaches a crisis point.
It’s also important to know the risk factors for alcohol addiction: Some people are more likely than others to develop an alcohol problem. Knowing the risk factors also allows us to take steps to reduce the chance of developing an addiction.
When someone who is physically dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking or significantly reduces their alcohol consumption, a set of symptoms known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur. This sudden reduction of drinking disrupts brain activity, which leads to numerous withdrawal symptoms — physical reactions that can appear the same day that drinking stops. Learn more about the symptoms and timeline of alcohol withdrawal.
Recovery is a personal and often emotional journey, with progress, setbacks, and experiences that can sometimes seem scary. Professional treatment can improve the chances of success in overcoming addiction. No matter how severe your alcohol problem is, remember that resources are available and recovery is possible.