An estimated 14.4 million adults in the United States struggle with alcoholism, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Alcoholism, which is an alcohol use disorder, is characterized by an inability to control your drinking despite how it negatively affects your health, work, or relationships.
“Moderate drinking is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—drinking more than that is not suggested,” says Brittany E. Bryant, D.S.W., and Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina in an email. This is because excessive alcohol use—more than three drinks per day for women or more than four for men—can put you at risk of developing alcohol dependency over time.
Alcohol use disorders can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe, according to Bryant and Squeglia. Here are some of the physical signs of alcoholism:
- The inability to cut down or stop drinking
- Continuing to drink despite negative health impacts and problems at home, school, or work
- Alcohol cravings or strong, uncontrollable urges to drink
- Increased tolerance, or needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects
- Experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when you stop drinking, including irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping, depression, nausea, sweating, and tremors
- Spending time feeling sick or recovering from the effects of drinking alcohol
- Blackouts, or memory loss due to drinking
- About 10 percent of people who use alcohol excessively also meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, according to the CDC. This can lead to severe short- and long-term effects. It has been linked to liver disease, certain types of cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
- Short-term physical effects can include alcohol poisoning and physically risky behavior like unsafe sex or drunk driving.
In addition to the physical signs of alcoholism, it's also important to be aware of behavioral symptoms. These might include hiding drinking from others, drinking alone, neglecting responsibilities, losing relationships, needing to drink before social activities, personality changes, and alcohol-related arrests.