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Consider your drinking habits: does alcohol show control, impacts and escalation?

We have an idea that our drinking will only be problematic once we’ve hit rock bottom. It’s drunkenly falling into the gutter again. Or it’s trading your clothes for another bottle. But what if the signs were harder to detect?

They’re often subtle signs, as it turns out. Of course, some people do have their own rock-bottom stories. But alcoholism often looks differently, and we have to know what to look for.

What is Alcoholism?

It’s a common term for an addiction (the chronic disorder characterized by compulsive, dependent substance use, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse) to drinking alcohol. But because scientists have mounting evidence that addiction better resembles a chronic illness, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism instead calls severe drinking “alcohol use disorder” (AUD).

A doctor would only diagnose you with AUD based on the NIAA’s 11 symptoms. The more symptoms you show, the more severe your disorder is. If your drinking habits worry you, make sure to bring it to a doctor. But you might be on the fence about whether your drinking actually harms you. How bad could it be, if you haven’t hit rock bottom?

We have a few things for you to watch for. Looking in the mirror can feel uncomfortable. But spotting an addiction sooner rather than later is crucial.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse:

We should note up front that if you become defensive about the ways you drink, or if you tell yourself there’s no problem in the first place, that’s a telling signal right off the bat.

The first group of signs come from alcohol’s control over your body:

Drinking more than you had planned.
Drinking more often than you had planned.
Trying to drink less but failing to meet that goal.
Feeling consistent, powerful cravings for alcohol.

The second group of signs has to do with alcohol’s impacts on your day-to-day life:

Spending lots of time drinking (or hungover).
Suffering consequences of drinking at home, at work or at school.
  • These impacts can include arguments with your family, failure in your commitments, erratic behavior, reprimands from a boss or teacher, suspensions, or alcohol-related legal troubles. In short: you can’t manage your responsibilities.
Continuing to drink despite all those consequences.
Giving up important activities or relationships because your drinking strains them.
Drinking even when it’s not safe.
  • Think of swimming, driving, sexual activity, or other times where you need to be fully alert. Are you making them riskier with consistent drinking?

The third and most severe group of signs show alcohol’s escalation:

Fearing about the effects of your drinking, but continuing to drink anyway.
  • Maybe you’ve felt anxiety over how much you drink, or maybe your health feels worse for your drinking. Whatever worry alcohol gives you, you still drink.
Needing to drink more to achieve the same buzz you once got easily.
Feeling any withdrawal symptoms when you’ve gone a little while without drinking.
  • According to American Addiction Centers, physical withdrawal symptoms include: tremors, shaking, racing pulse, nausea, vomiting, and/or sleeplessness.
  • The psychological symptoms include: confusion, anxiety, disordered thinking, and/or thinking which is fixed on getting alcohol to drink.

You Don’t Have to Deny an Addiction.

It’ll probably make you uncomfortable to examine your drinking. What if you find that you need recovery help? Won’t that make you a problem, to your family, friends and community?

No, it won’t. Unfortunately, alcoholism happens more in our society than you’d think. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a few statistics that give better context:

  • In 2018, 26.45% of Americans reported binge-drinking in the last month
  • Approximately 14.4 million American adults fit the profile AUD (5.8% of Americans older than 18).
  • Close to 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes every year.

If you’ve looked in the mirror and seen that you need help, you’re not alone. Alcohol use disorder remains widespread in our society. Its harms remain widespread too.

What You Can Do

But there’s recovery help available. You can start here at In The Rooms, with its online peer recovery meetings and educational content, both for starting your addiction recovery and for continuing it one day at a time. Join for free today, and stick around so that our community can best serve you!


The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Stages of Alcoholism: Early, Chronic and End State.” American Addiction Centers.

Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

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