When it comes to alcohol, you may wonder where the line is and if you’re crossing that line at all. How many drinks is considered alcohol abuse? Do you have a problem with alcohol? How do you know if you have an alcohol addiction? Here are 5 signs you have a problem with alcohol and how to address them.
At Lake Worth Counseling Center, we care deeply about each person and take pride in helping our clients through the challenges they face. As we walk through various obstacles with the people we see, it’s important we take time to highlight some of the challenges they may face in their lives. As a part of Alcoholism Awareness Month, we are bringing attention to alcohol and how to spot if you or someone you may know has a problem with their drinking.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that “139.7 million Americans aged 12 or older were past month alcohol users, 65.8 million people were binge drinkers in the past month, and 16 million were heavy drinkers in the past month.”  Alcohol is affecting more people than we realize. Here are some of the signs to look for if you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol. (Hint: It doesn’t look like what we’ve seen in the movies.)
1. You’re Drinking a Lot of Alcohol and Craving It.
This one may not come as a surprise to you, but people who struggle with alcohol abuse or alcoholism drink a lot. This isn’t your once in a while glass of wine, but the consistent over-use and consumption of alcohol.
The NIAA defines heavy drinking for men as “consuming 4 or more drinks on any day or 14 drinks per week.” For women, heavy drinking looks like “consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.” 
People who have a problem with alcohol crave it intensely. These cravings can occur in response to a trigger and are a symptom of both withdrawal and addiction.  When you consistently over-drink, you condition your brain to desire alcohol. This means your cravings for alcohol aren’t something you’re trying to make happen, but the result of over-consumption and heavy drinking. These cravings are one of the reasons why resisting alcohol is so hard. The more you drink, the harder it will be to stop.
2. You Can’t Seem to Cut Down on Your Drinking No Matter How Much You Want to or How Hard You Try.
If you know there needs to be a change in your drinking, you’re likely already experiencing the negative effects of alcohol. But each time you try to make a change, the temptations come flooding in. Maybe your friends want to take you out for the night. Or your day was so intense and you know a few drinks will help ease the stress. And even when you say you’ll only have one or two drinks, that limit slowly fades as the night progresses.
This isn’t normal behavior around alcohol. People who don’t struggle with drinking can exhibit a level of self-control in these situations. They can say no when a night of drinking is presented to them or when they’ve set a limit on the drinks they want to have that night.
If you find yourself struggling to control your drinking you might have a problem with alcohol that needs to be addressed.
3. When You Try to Stop or Limit Your Drinking, You Start Getting Withdrawal Side Effects.
Withdrawal is a tell-tale sign that you have a problem with alcohol. When you experience symptoms of withdrawal, the brain needs more alcohol to reach the new normal you’ve conditioned it to through consistent heavy drinking.  This means your brain has gotten so used to your drinking, it’s learned to function with the level of alcohol you’re regularly consuming. When you remove alcohol from the picture, your body reacts negatively with symptoms like these :
- Hand tremors
- Mood Swings
- Click here for more information on withdrawal symptoms. 
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms when you change your drinking habits, you have a problem with alcohol and need to address it as soon as possible.
4. You Have Developed a Tolerance to Alcohol, so It Takes You More and More Drinks to Get the Feeling You Want.
The amount of alcohol that usually gets you “buzzed” or “tipsy” feeling no longer works. It’s now taking you more and more drinks to get the feeling you enjoy from alcohol, which can lead you down a slippery slope.
The NIAA defines different levels of tolerance, but they all develop through the regular consumption of alcohol.  The more you drink, the less you’ll feel the effects of alcohol at the same level. The normal drinker will develop a tolerance to alcohol over time, too, so it’s important we distinguish what this looks like.
You’re likely developing a dangerous tolerance to alcohol when more is needed to experience “mind-altering effects” and “achieve a feeling of escape from reality.” This type of tolerance is one of the first signs of alcohol dependency and needs immediate attention. If no treatment is sought, you will be at risk for medical complications from drinking like alcohol overdose or other dangerous conditions. 
5. You Continue to Drink Despite the Problems It’s Causing In Your Life.
If you’re starting to see the effects of your drinking in other aspects of your life, you likely have a problem with alcohol. These effects can develop physically, socially, and emotionally. They can show up at work, at home, with your friends, and your health.
Maybe you’re not showing up to work or missing commitments due to a hangover. Maybe you’re seeing a decline in your work performance or grades. Or your family is starting to make comments about your drinking.
Whatever the effect, it’s clear your drinking is no longer affecting just you, but the immediate people and situations around you.
Pay close attention when this happens and take note of what the people around you are saying about your drinking. Even if you don’t think you have a problem with alcohol, it’s still worth listening to the concerns of the people in your circle.
How to Get Help If You Have a Problem With Alcohol
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), if you meet two or more of the above points (and others) in the last 12 months, you might have Alcohol Use Disorder.  Even just one symptom from the list above is a cause for concern and enough to seriously consider how your alcohol consumption might be affecting your life.
Talk to your doctor or a medical professional to determine what next steps are needed to overcome your problems with alcohol. There are a wealth of addiction counselors and medical professionals who can help you through any of the issues you’re facing.
Here at Lake Worth Counseling, we have a wide range of counselors who can walk you through an initial assessment to help you figure out your best course of treatment. Call (817) 238-0106 or visit www.lwc.care to schedule this appointment. We care deeply about each person and want to help you through this challenge.
If you know someone who meets the criteria above, please call the 24-hour alcohol information hotline at 1-866-454-4160 or visit the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator for more information on what to do.
 McCance-Katz, MD Ph.D., E. F.. (2019). Find Help: ATOD. SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/atod
 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined. NIH. Retrieved August 4, 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
 Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. (2020, August 26). The Facts about Alcohol Cravings and How to Beat Them. https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/what-is-craving
 Monico, N. (2020, July 24). Am I an Alcoholic? Do I Have a Drinking Problem? Alcohol.Org. https://www.alcohol.org/faq/am-i-an-alcoholic/
 NHS. (2019, January 18). Risks. Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/risks/
 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1995, April). Alcohol and Tolerance – Alcohol Alert No. 28–1995. NIH. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa28.htm
 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020, March). Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose. NIAA. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose
 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.-a). Alcohol Use Disorder. NIH. Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder