Alcohol addiction isn’t always obvious. A lot of people suffering from alcohol-use disorder may be in denial or think they don’t even have a problem because they’re ‘high-functioning’. They might go to work, keep their finances and social responsibilities in check – while maintaining their drinking habit – so will think nothing of it.
The truth is, alcohol addiction is a disease – a disease that doesn’t always look like what’s shown in the movies. You can still function and go about your day-to-day and still have an alcohol-use disorder.
In this blog post, we’ll be taking a closer look at the hidden signs of alcohol addiction and what you can do to encourage someone to get the treatment they need, whether it is residential rehab, an alcohol detox in your own home.
Alcohol addiction is a disease characterised by regular and intense bouts of drinking, varying in levels of seriousness from mild and moderate to severe. As a disease, alcohol addiction can significantly impact the way the brain functions and your neurochemistry, causing you to do or say things you wouldn’t normally.
While most people think of alcohol addiction in severe terms (i.e., not being able to get out of bed or drinking every day), an alcohol-use disorder can also mean binge-drinking or only heavily drinking on weekends.
If you’re finding it difficult to quit drinking or experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop, it’s highly likely you’re suffering from an alcohol use disorder.
Though no two cases of alcohol addiction are the same, there are a few common symptoms to look out for. These include physical symptoms such as:
- Redness in the face
- Poor personal hygiene
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Stomach aches
- Headaches and migraines
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Delayed motor responses (loss of coordination and balance)
- Liver problems (i.e., liver cirrhosis, liver disease, or scarring of the liver)
- Yellow-ish skin tone (indicative of jaundice – this is a signal that the liver is being overworked by excessive alcohol consumption)
- Infections, sores, and abscesses
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking
There are also some physiological symptoms to look out for, including:
- Irritability and agitation
- Mood swings
- Suicide and self-harm
Though there’s no set cause for alcohol addiction, there are a variety of risk factors and triggers that can contribute to its development.
Children born to parents with alcohol addiction are more likely to develop the disease, just as children who grow up in a household surrounded by alcohol are also more likely to develop the disease.
Those who live in countries where alcohol is cheap and ‘celebrated’ – particularly in the West – are more likely to develop an alcohol-use disorder.
Those with underlying mental health conditions – such as anxiety and depression – are more likely to develop an alcohol addiction. In these cases, people often turn to alcohol to numb their feelings and their pain, though alcohol actually ends up having the opposite effect, intensifying symptoms of mental health conditions.
It’s very easy to conceal an alcohol addiction, but there are a few hidden signs that can signal someone has a problem. If you believe someone is suffering from an alcohol-use disorder, take a look at these warning signs. The sooner you can help them get to treatment, the quicker their recovery journey can begin.
Social isolation is very common in cases of alcohol addiction, especially if your loved one is suffering from a co-occurring disorder such as depression or anxiety. Analyse their behaviour – are they usually this withdrawn? Are they being more secretive than usual?
On the flip side, some people with alcohol-use disorder may actually be drawn to social situations – particularly if alcohol is involved. On the same token, if your loved one is always out partying or at bars and social functions, it might be a good idea to have a conversation with them.
People suffering from alcohol-use disorder will often display mood swings, especially if they haven’t had a drink in a while or have quit cold turkey.
This is probably caused by withdrawal, which can produce unpleasant side effects in response to the body coming off alcohol. Fatigue, stomach cramps, and body pain can all plague someone in withdrawal, which in turn can have a knock-on effect on their mood and emotions.
Those with an alcohol addiction will often have a high tolerance for alcohol, meaning they might be able to drink a lot without getting drunk as fast as some of their counterparts.
Factors like weight, gender, and age can all impact a person’s tolerance to alcohol, so if you find your loved one’s tolerance to be a lot higher than those around them, it might be worth having a conversation with them.
Often, alcohol-use disorder and mental health problems go hand-in-hand. If your loved one is suffering from a mental disorder – such as anxiety or depression – they may be turning to alcohol to numb their feelings and emotions.
As well as self-medicating with alcohol, some people may even go on to develop mental health conditions as a result of heavy drinking. If you see that your loved one’s drinking coincides with moments of stress or anxiety, they may be using booze as a form of self-medication.
If someone is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol, they will use any excuse to drink. These excuses might be in the form of a celebration, parties, weddings, or social work and functions. On the flip side, if they’re feeling sad or anxious, they may also use that as an excuse to start drinking.
It isn’t easy watching a loved one suffer from alcohol addiction. You want them to get the help they need, but you’re afraid of pushing them away. The key thing is to make them feel like you care about them. Let them know that you love them unconditionally and that you’re here to support them.
When initiating a conversation around treatment, be as open and transparent as possible and leave all judgement at the door. At the end of the day, they need to want help – you can’t force this, but you can continue to be supportive and encouraging.