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Identifying an Alcoholic: Understanding the Physical Signs



Identifying someone who is drinking or inebriated is not so difficult. You might recognize slurred speech, the smell of liquor, and an overall lack of coordination. Drunk people are pretty easy to point out, but not everyone who drinks has an addiction. Often, the people with addiction to alcohol are the ones that can hide their usage the best.


There are certain signs that a person may give off, but everyone experiences addiction differently. If you are trying to figure out to what extent a person is struggling, it’s not always black and white. It’s also not so easy to ask a person what their relationship to alcohol is like, so you might have to watch their behaviors for a few weeks to better support them.


To learn more about understanding alcoholism and the physical signs someone might be struggling, keep reading.


What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Everyone will have their own unique experience with alcohol use disorder. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition where an individual cannot stop or control their alcohol use, regardless of the negative impacts it can have on a person’s finances, social life, relationships, health, and career.


People can have mild, moderate, or severe alcohol addiction. The way that alcohol impacts a person’s life is going to be dependent on multiple factors, such as genetics, mental health, environment, and trauma. You can develop alcohol use disorder at any stage in your life, and it impacts all kinds of people.


When Does Alcohol Use Become a Problem?

Alcohol use becomes a problem when you can no longer control your behaviors around it. You might begin to crave alcohol, have intrusive thoughts about it, neglect responsibilities due to it, and feel an insatiable desire for it. If alcohol becomes a negative part of your day, you might not recognize it until it’s too late.


A clinician usually diagnoses a person with Alcohol Use Disorder. However, you can give yourself a self-assessment by reading the 11 factors that go into AUD and seeing if you can relate.


The 11 factors that are to be looked out for when diagnosing Alcohol Use Disorder are:

  • If you have experienced times where you ended up drinking more than you wanted to or intended

  • If you have had feelings of wanting to cut back or stop drinking but have been unable to

  • If you have spent much of your time drinking and/or being sick from drinking

  • If you have had persistent thoughts about wanting a drink

  • If you have had issues arise around your family, home care, job, or school, as a result of drinking

  • If you continued to drink regardless of relationship troubles

  • If you have stopped doing activities that you loved or were important to drink

  • If you have put yourself in more risky situations while or after drinking

  • If you drank even though it was negatively impacting your mental health

  • If you have to increase the amount that you drink to get the effect you want

  • If you have had withdrawals symptoms that happen as the alcohol begins to wear off

If two of these factors are present, you can be diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder. Having between two and three symptoms would have you diagnosed with mild AUD, while four to five is considered moderate, and having six or more symptoms present is a severe addiction.


It might be difficult to see for yourself that you are struggling, but to others, it can be much more apparent.


What Are the Signs of Alcoholism?

The symptoms of alcoholism can vary from person to person; therefore, what you are looking for might display differently in other people. If you are trying to identify if someone you love is struggling with alcohol, you need to consider who they are and what behaviors have changed.


Learning the signs of alcoholism can help to intervene before more serious addiction can develop. There is always time to reverse the damage that excessive use of alcohol can have on a person’s health and life.


It can be difficult to step in and talk to your loved one about their struggles. There can be a lot of shame and guilt associated with substance use disorders, so being patient and understanding is the best thing you can be!


Warning Signs

Certain behaviors might become present when a person suffers from AUD. When you know someone, you can tell when their behaviors are starting to change. Trust your gut if you think that something might be up.


You can never be too careful when it comes to addiction. It’s quite hard to navigate, especially when you only want the best for your loved one but aren’t an addiction professional.


When trying to look for warning signs in your loved one, consider some of the following behaviors:

  • Drinking during/in inappropriate events and settings

  • Drinking more than everyone else while out

  • Planning out the next time they will be able to have a drink

  • Finding alcohol in odd places around their house

  • Catching them drinking alone or in private

  • Becoming more irritable when they are unable to get ahold of a drink

  • Experiencing more frequent blackouts

  • Not showing up to family occasions or get-togethers with friends

  • Hanging out with a new group of people that have similar issues

Physical Symptoms

While the behavior of your loved one is likely to change, there are other things you will notice about them changing due to their alcoholism. Alcohol can do a lot of damage to a person’s body. You may see their appearance change as they get deeper into their alcohol use.


For many that use alcohol, they don’t even realize what it is doing to their appearance until a month into sobriety. Some physical signs that someone might be dealing with alcohol use disorder are:

  • Disheveled appearance: Someone struggling with alcohol use disorder might not be taking the best care of themselves. They might lack hygiene with unbrushed hair or teeth, drier skin, and dark circles under their eyes.

  • Lack of balance: People using alcohol daily will end up lacking coordination. If a person seems a bit wobbly on their feet, it is likely due to their cerebellum deteriorating from alcohol consumption

  • Skin issues: A person might appear very red in the face due to alcohol use. They might develop issues related to excessive sweating, both at night and throughout the day, even with very little physical activity. There is also a greater risk of developing a skin infection due to the dehydration that alcohol causes.

  • Bruises and injury: You might notice more random bruises and injuries on a person with AUD. They might not be able to fully explain how some of their injuries happened, likely as a result of blacking out and falling.

Mental Health Symptoms

Lastly, a person who is dealing with alcoholism is going to have a decline in their mental health and cognitive functioning. Someone who is abusing alcohol might become highly irritated and aggravated toward people who are trying to help. Don’t be surprised if a person becomes distressed and lashes out at you due to their alcohol use.


Some mental health symptoms to look out for are:

  • Increased irritation with day-to-day life

  • More depressive episodes

  • Giving bigger reactions than necessary

  • Lashing out at people

Getting Help for Alcoholism

Getting someone you love into an addiction recovery program isn’t necessarily easy. Providing them with different solutions and treatments might be helpful to them so they can try out a variety of options.


Some people truly seek a community that understands what they are going through. With Sober Sidekick, a person can chat with other sober-seeking individuals, have access to 24/7 AA meetings, and message professionals when they need more advanced guidance.


Getting help can look different for everyone. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to connect with others because you aren’t sure it’s right for you. Download Sober Sidekick on Android or iPhone to see how being among other people who want to recover from their substance use problems can motivate you!


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