There may have come a time where you were concerned whether it is for yourself, a friend, or a loved one where you question, is that too many drinks? Is it normal to feel the way I do? Should I cut back on drinking? Is it social drinking or is it more than that? This can then lead to an internet search for “what is alcoholism?”. Depending on what you read it can be very overwhelming for any person to sit through all the websites trying to understand what exactly does it mean to be an “alcoholic”. 


According to the Mayo Clinic, The clinical definition is that alcoholism is the inability to control drinking due to both a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. An alcohol abuse disorder refers to a long-term addiction to alcohol. Meaning that a person with this condition does not know when or how to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol, and they cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, and financially. It’s important to understand that an alcoholic does not always drink on a daily basis. Alcoholism is characterized by the inability to control the intake therefore you can have someone who does not drink for a week at a time, however, binges for 3 days until they are completely intoxicated and unable to function. You can also have someone who drinks on a daily basis and is unable to function without the use of alcohol. Both examples are possible. 


What does Alcoholism look like?

Alcoholism is a disease. Like drug addiction, alcoholism does not discriminate. It can touch any person from any gender, race, religious background, economic background, socioeconomic status, etc. There are multiple theories in regards to how alcoholism can affect a single person; society’s role, the biological contribution, and the disease concept are the three main theories that are discussed today. Regardless of the theory that you may agree with or how alcoholism started for you or your loved one, there are warning signs to be aware of; 


  1. The individual begins to neglect responsibilities in order to drink. It is important to understand that it is possible to be a functioning alcoholic. There are many individuals that can maintain their employment, pay their bills, and carry on with normal activities which can cause a concern for their loved ones when  it is revealed that the individual is struggling with an alcohol use disorder due to having everything in order. Over time this does not typically last. 
  2. Being arrested for DUIs or public drunkenness. Driving intoxicated is not something that most individuals plan on doing however when you have engaged in the use of alcohol so often it becomes to feel like your reality and normal to you. You begin to make excuses for behaviors including driving. This can become very dangerous as not only are you putting yourself at risk but those around you as well. 
  3. Self Medicating. The Use of alcohol as a relaxation or stress aid is very common for most individuals who are diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. When you are having a stressful day, a fight with a loved one, feeling anxious or depressed, and you resort to the consumption of alcohol to help treat or handle these situations that can be a warning sign. 
  4. Avoiding family or friends in order to drink. Have you begun to make excuses to not attend activities because you have either felt too sick to attend due to drinking the day/night before or because you would prefer to stay home and have a few drinks? This can also be a warning sign as it represents isolating behaviors as well as the fear of allowing others to witness the increased consumption of the alcohol beverages. There is also another aspect of this warning sign where you may only be surrounding yourself with those that do engage in drinking alcohol. 
  5. Unwillingness to stop drinking, even for a short period of time. Whether it is because of your personal choice to not remain sober for a few days or a longer period of time or it is because of the physical symptoms you are experiencing due to the withdrawal of alcohol, the inability and unwillingness to stop drinking is a primary warning sign. 
  6. Uncharacteristic changes in behavior. Have you noticed a shift in your behaviors. Are you more irritable, increased fatigue, increased anxiety, or more depressed? These can be contributors to the increased alcohol consumption which in return can cause a shift in your behaviors even more. 
  7. Withdrawal symptoms. Have you experienced physical illness when you have refrained from the use of alcohol? Have you had difficulty with feeling anxious, shaky, headaches, stomach pain, etc. physical symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol can differ from person to person however when you have remained alcohol free for a period of time after consuming large amounts of alcohol for a longer period of time, it is highly likely to experience physical withdrawal. 


 Where do you go for help when you are struggling with an alcohol use disorder? Here are a few helpful tips: 

First understand reaching out for help can cause a lot of anxiety. You are not alone. When you abruptly stop drinking, your body is deprived of the effects of alcohol and requires time to adjust to functioning without it. This adjustment period causes the painful side effects of alcohol withdrawal, such as shakes, insomnia, nausea, and anxiety. It is strongly recommended you engage in assistance from a medical provider as alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. This can be different for each person that is experiencing withdrawal however it is better to be safe. Most alcohol detox programs utilize medications to help allow you to be comfortable through the process. Treatment centers can also provide personalized care for you while you are working on being sober. Everyone is different and every situation is different therefore treatment needs to be individualized. Hospitals, clinics, and local drug and alcohol centers are your best option to help gain more information on where you can obtain help, what to expect, and what treatment would consist for you. Detox services, inpatient treatment programs, outpatient counseling services, and 12 step programs are very beneficial for individuals who are working on living a sober life. 


Accepting that you may have an alcohol use disorder can be overwhelming and cause a lot of anxiety. Remember that you are not alone and there are multiple options for you to utilize. Review the warning signs, reach out to a medical provider, and remember there is help available. 



Mayo Clinic, (