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Alcoholism Signs, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Last Updated: February 28, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

When left untreated, alcohol use can lead to social, emotional and physical problems. But help and professional treatment are available.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a medical condition in which someone is unable to control alcohol use despite its negative impact on their social, occupational or physical health. It’s a serious form of problem drinking that can lead to a strong, often uncontrollable, desire to drink. Of Americans aged 12 or older, 29.5 million met the diagnostic criteria for an AUD in 2021, but only a small fraction received treatment.

Alcoholism can have a profound impact on individuals and society. It can lead to health problems, damage relationships and contribute to poor performance at work or school. It’s a widespread issue, with millions of people in the U.S. experiencing an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives.

Common Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Behavioral and Social Signs of Alcoholism

People with alcoholism often exhibit certain behavioral and social signs. These may include:

  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Neglecting personal care
  • Having recurring absences from work or school
  • Experiencing temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences for health or life
  • Showing signs of extreme mood swings and irritability
  • Giving precedence to drinking over other daily activities and responsibilities
  • Making excuses for drinking, such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Physical signs of alcoholism can vary widely based on the individual’s blood alcohol level and level of developed tolerance. Some common physical signs include:

  • An unsteady gait
  • Impaired attention or memory
  • Memory blackouts
  • Lack of coordination
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

Screening for Alcoholism

Screening for alcoholism often involves a series of questions designed to identify problematic drinking behaviors. One common tool is the CAGE questionnaire, which asks about attempts to cut down on drinking, annoyance by criticism, guilt about drinking and the use of alcohol as an eye-opener. Another tool is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which includes questions about continued drinking despite problems, inability to control or reduce drinking, and the presence of withdrawal symptoms.

Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can lead to various health problems, including stomach ulcers, liver disease, an increased risk of cancer and heart problems. It can also lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Beyond health problems, alcohol abuse can have serious personal and professional consequences. It can strain relationships, contribute to poor work performance and lead to legal troubles.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Treatment for alcohol addiction often involves a combination of detox, rehab, medications, behavioral therapies and support groups. Detox helps individuals safely withdraw from alcohol, while rehab provides a structured environment for recovery. Medications can help people manage cravings, and behavioral therapies can change their thoughts and behaviors around alcohol. Support groups provide a community of those who understand the challenges of recovery and can offer encouragement and advice.

Find Help for Alcohol Use Disorder in Georgia

Recognizing the signs of alcohol addiction is the first step toward recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, know that help is available. The Recovery Village Atlanta offers a range of treatment options tailored to individual needs. Don’t let alcohol control your life. Reach out today and take the first step toward a healthier, happier future.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.”  April 2023. Accessed August 7, 2023.