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11 Early Signs of Alcoholism

By Meagan Drillinger
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Carol Anderson, LMSW, ACSW on January 20, 2021
If you think you or a loved one may be living with alcoholism, here are some symptoms to look out for.

Over 14 million U.S. adults have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which can range from problem drinking to full blown alcoholism. It’s a treatable medical condition with many possible symptoms. 

"One who is experiencing symptoms of alcohol use disorder may have excessive drinking or [trouble] controlling their drinking," Scott Krakower, DO, Unit Chief of Psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

If that sounds like you or someone you love, reach out for help as soon as possible. Only a medical professional like your doctor can tell you if you have an alcohol use disorder and, if so, how severe it is.

Symptoms of AUD

Let the doctor know if you’ve had any of these 11 symptoms in the last year:

  • You drank more, or longer, than you meant to
  • Craved alcohol badly
  • Tried or wanted to drink less, but couldn’t
  • Gave up or cut back on activities you used to enjoy, so you could drink instead
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or recovering from a hangover
  • Repeatedly placed yourself in risky situations during or after drinking
  • Had problems at home, work, or school because of drinking or hangovers
  • Continued to drink even when it negatively affected your personal and professional relationships
  • Kept drinking even though it made you feel anxious or sad
  • Had to drink more to feel the desired effect, or felt much less of an effect from your usual number of beverages
  • Experienced shaking, restlessness, anxiousness, nausea, or other withdrawal signs when the effects of your drinks wore off

Having any two of these symptoms within the same year could lead a doctor to diagnose alcohol use disorder. The more symptoms you have, the more severe the AUD.

Treatment

If you’re diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, you can get your life back on track with medical help. About one-third of people who get treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms a year later, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says. 

There are a variety of treatments available, and your doctor can help you figure out the right ones for you. Treatments include:
 

Behavioral options: Common methods include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy (MET). 

CBT helps you spot things that trigger excessive drinking. It also teaches you ways to cope with your triggers. MET is done over a short period of time to build and strengthen motivation to change your habits.

Medication: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications for alcohol dependence: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. 

Mutual-support groups: Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous connect you with people who understand what you’re going through. These support sessions are combined with treatment and are led by health professionals.

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