What Are Signs of Alcohol Use & Abuse?

How can you tell if a friend, relative, or colleague has an alcohol problem? The signs may not be as easy to spot as one would think. Unhealthy use, or even abuse, of alcohol can actually range from mild to severe. 


According to the Mayo Clinic, “Unhealthy alcohol use includes any alcohol use that puts your health or safety at risk or causes other alcohol-related problems. It also includes binge drinking which is a pattern of drinking where a male consumes five or more drinks within two hours or a female downs at least four drinks within two hours.” 

Warning Signs: 

The signs may be right out there in the open or extremely subtle. As a friend, family member, or colleague, it may take some attention to details to really discern if there is a problem and whether you can broach the topic with the person affected. 


An Increase in Drinking

One of the first signs that family and friends may notice in someone who is struggling with an alcohol problem is an increase in alcohol use. This may mean that more activities become alcohol-centric or that in order to have a good time, alcohol must be involved. If could just mean a steady and prolonged use of alcohol to reduce stress. 


These drinking episodes could be masked as social events or could be a blatant dangerous event such as drinking and driving. In addition, some drinkers need to increase the amount of alcohol in order to get the same effect. This in turn could then cause withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not being used, such as nausea, sweating and shaking. 


Withdrawal From Family & Friends 

This symptom may be difficult to determine if the person you are concerned about is a long haul trucker who is gone for days and weeks at a time. However, if, while at home, a trucker does not want to take part in their usual activities, which could include seeing friends or family, then you may be witnessing a red flag and a concerning behavior. 

Mood Swings and Erratic Behavior 

According to the American Addiction Center, “Alcohol use can affect a person’s mood and thinking, with sudden outbursts, intense rage and sadness all being common side effects.” 


If you have witnessed any changes in behavior that includes outbursts, mood shifts, anger, frustration, and even mania, you may be looking at a red flag for alcohol use or abuse. These mood swings alone are not a definitive sign of alcohol use but in combination with other symptoms could indicate a problem. 

Memory Loss & Blackouts 

Consuming large quantities of alcohol can produce a blackout or gaps in memory during a drinking episode. Having said this, not everyone who has an alcohol problem will have this symptom, but it could be an indicator that there is too much alcohol in a person’s system and their brain is being negatively impacted by the abuse. 

Do you see these signs in someone you love or in yourself? Getting help is the best course of action. For help, see our classes on Clearinghouse Navigator and at the National Institutes of Health for you local helplines and treatment centers.