It isn’t easy to detect when a loved one is neck deep in alcoholism until a tragedy strikes. They may not exhibit the overt signs of substance abuse such as staggering, slurring, and a decline in health.
Instead, you may watch out for the following subtle signs that may be a tip off a loved one is fully enmeshed in drinking.
High Tolerance for Alcohol
Chronic alcohol consumption leads to higher tolerance to the effects of alcohol.1 Thus, greater amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve the same effect.1 As tolerance develops, individuals with an alcohol use disorder increase the quantity and frequency of their drinking and they might not show signs of being out of control.
Alcohol tolerance contributes to dependency which leads to addiction.1 If you notice a family member or friend drinking large amounts of alcohol with little or no effect on them, it could be a sign of alcohol addiction.
Hiding Alcohol in Unusual Places
If you stumble upon a bottle of alcohol hidden in unusual places, such as under the bathroom sink, in the garage, or in the laundry room behind a detergent, that could be a sign that a loved one’s drinking is probably getting out of hand.2
Often, an alcoholic denies the problem or believes they are capable of controlling their behavior.3 It is because of this denial and the social stigma associated with alcoholism that the individual hides their extra bottles of wine or alcohol. They’ll try to keep you or other family members from accessing certain dingy places—that should be a red flag and perhaps prompt you to check the out-of-bound areas and see what they might be keeping there.
Financial Irresponsibility and Shady Behavior
Alcoholism can get expensive and the individual may always be short on money as a result.2 If you are living with a person with an alcohol addiction, things may start disappearing from the house. You may notice your valuables mysteriously disappearing. The jewelry, heirlooms, phones, cameras and other things may end up in the pawn shop.
You might also start to notice that checks will be missing from your checkbook. If that happens a lot, put your ear on the ground—someone is becoming addicted or they are already suffering from alcoholism. Some alcoholics will sell anything they come across in order to get money to sustain their drinking habit.
Alcoholics may begin to skip their duties or fail to show up at the workplace or school some days.2 They might fail to show up in the workplace or show up late because they are drunk or they are nursing a hangover.2 This behavior makes it difficult for the individual to keep a job.2 The behavior also creates conflicts in interpersonal relationships and they may resort to keeping alone and shunning all associations.2
Mood Swings and Being Irrational
It is not unheard of for drunk people to get very angry and moody and unnecessarily aggressive, especially when alcohol is not available.2 Alcohol interferes with how the brain communicates and these disruptions can change mood and behavior.4 Managing an alcohol abuse problem isn’t a walk in the park; it can take a toll on one’s emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. When you begin seeing mood swings or an unusual change in behavior, check to ensure a loved one isn’t embroiled in alcoholism.
Prolonged alcohol use increases the potential for violence toward others and self.5 Alcoholics may engage in precarious behavior such as drunk driving and aggressively speeding while at it. Alcohol impairs judgment and makes individuals lose control.6 When you see a loved one engaging in dangerous behavior, it should raise your eyebrows and prompt you to check if alcohol is involved.
Losing Interest in Social Activities and Hobbies
As an individual continues to grapple with alcoholism, they lose interest in activities they used to love. For example, an alcoholic might lose interest in friend(s), social gatherings, family, and their hobbies. If an individual gives up these activities in order to drink, this is a sign of an alcohol use disorder.7
They might come up with made up excuses not to attend family functions because they dread the possibility of being under scrutiny by family members. Furthermore, solitary drinking may be their method for coping which is dangerous, especially if an individual is experiencing thoughts of suicide.8
Another way of coping is to associate with others who share similar behaviors so they feel supported in their habit.9 This is a sign that all is not right and something needs to be done to check their drinking habits.
Overusing Products to Hide their Addiction
Because those suffering from alcoholism seldom want their family or friends knowing they are dealing with addiction, they will try to mask the smell. They may resort to the use of breath mints or gum to mask the smell of alcohol.10 If you notice your loved one overusing such products it may be sign that they are hiding their addiction. Be especially wary if this is coupled with other tell-tale behavior.
How to Help Your Loved One
Having a family member who is an alcoholic is never easy. If you see a friend or family member showing this sort of behavior, it might be time for an intervention. A counselor or local rehab center can give intervention advice on this complicated issue.
An alcohol rehab facility will be able to help your loved one with their addiction. There are various programs that are available and also a number of medications that can help.
1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1995). Alcohol Alert.
2. UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (2016). Alcoholism: Don’t Miss Or Dismiss It.
3. Lima-Rodriguez JS, Guerra-Martin MD, Dominguez-Sanchez I, Lima-Serrano M. Alcoholic patients’ response to their disease: perspective of patients and family. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem 2015; 23(6): 1165-1172.
4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2005). Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons with Co-Occurring Disorders.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Alcohol and Public Health.
7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5.
8. Gonzalez V, Collins R, Bradizza C. Solitary and Social Heavy drinking, Suicidal Ideation, and Drinking Motives in Underage College Drinkers. Addict Behav 2009; 34(12): 993-999.
9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2004). Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.
10. Guincho M. (2010). Supporting Students in Recovery: Alcohol and Other Drugs.