7 Signs that Your Loved One May Have an Alcohol Use Disorder

older man sitting on the couch looking at at bottle of whiskey
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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that involves heavy or frequent drinking despite negative consequences. It can be mild, moderate or severe and develop quickly or after a long period of time. About 14.5 million Americans have alcohol use disorder, and the majority do not seek help. However, it is possible to recover from AUD with a combination of medications, behavioral therapy and support.

If you are concerned about a loved one, here are seven signs of an alcohol use disorder. We know that it can be difficult to determine when someone’s drinking has crossed the line, but these signs will help you know what to look for.

1. Drinking for Stress Relief

People with AUD often drink to relieve stress. The minute they feel frustrated with something, they’ll want to reach for a drink. That’s because alcohol is a depressant that can provide a temporary escape from stress. However, this is not a long-term solution to dealing with stress. Not only can regular drinking cause problems of its own, but also it can lead to alcohol dependence. It’s important that your loved one has healthy outlets to manage their stress, such as reading, photography or exercise.

2. High Tolerance

Tolerance happens when higher amounts of alcohol are needed to produce the same effects. People with AUD often have a high tolerance to alcohol, meaning they can drink a lot before they feel intoxicated. Tolerance also grows over time. Even though the person may not feel drunk, they are still consuming large amounts of alcohol, which can lead to alcohol dependence, organ damage and alcoholism.

3. Defensiveness

If you’ve noticed some of these signs in your loved one and shared your concerns, how did they react? People with AUD tend to get defensive about their drinking habits. They may make excuses about why they drink (e.g., work is stressful) or place blame on others (e.g., he drives me to drink). This defensiveness is a classic sign of an alcohol problem.

People with substance use disorders deny the extent of their problem for different reasons, such as shame or refusing to take responsibility. But more often than not, they don’t want anyone to question their drinking because they don’t want to stop. They’re using alcohol to feel better and they don’t want to cope without it. However, without help, an alcohol dependence can progress into alcoholism.

4. Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the reasons why people with an alcohol dependence continue to drink, even with negative consequences, is because of the withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as six hours from the last drink and include shaking, irritability, sweating and anxiety. When these symptoms creep up, they become increasingly uncomfortable, prompting the person to drink again.

If you notice any of these signs in your loved one when they haven’t drank in a while, it’s a sign that they are experiencing withdrawal:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shaky hands
  • Headaches
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

5. Trouble Stopping

Another sign to look for is the inability to stop drinking once they start. People with AUD often have a hard time cutting themselves off. They might say that they’re only going to have two drinks and then head home, but they end up having seven drinks or more. This is a sign that the disease of addiction is taking hold.

While a person does make the choice to have that first drink, continuing to drink is a compulsive behavior. Over time, you may even notice that your loved one is drinking throughout the day instead of only at night or on weekends. This happens because people with AUD need alcohol to feel normal.

6. Center of Social Life

Alcohol winds up at many celebrations and events. People enjoy going out for drinks after work or meeting up with friends at a brewery. But a person with AUD will make alcohol the center of every social function. If an event doesn’t include alcohol, they’re often uninterested in going. You should be able to spend fun, quality time with your loved one without alcohol.

7. Negative Consequences

When a person drinks heavily and frequently, they usually experience some negative effects. If your loved one has some run-ins with the law or trouble at work but is making excuses (e.g., my boss is impossible to please, the cop was out to get me), pay attention. They aren’t holding themselves accountable, and it’s likely that the alcohol use disorder is causing problems.

Get Help for an Alcohol Use Disorder

Pura Vida is here for you and your loved one. We are a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Santa Rosa, CA that provides highly personalized treatment for our clients. We also provide family support, transportation services, sober housing and even a treatment track specifically for transitional youth. Contact our admissions department to learn more about our services.