Alcohol use disorder is rampant. It affects tens of millions of adults in the United States each year. Yet the signs of alcoholism can be difficult to detect. Many people who struggle with an alcohol use disorder will go to great lengths to conceal their symptoms, hide their alcohol use, and deny that they struggle with controlling their alcohol intake. 

Experiencing cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and negative social or physical consequences of alcohol use are signs of an alcoholic that should not be ignored. Understanding the symptoms of alcoholism can help people identify an alcohol problem and know when to get professional addiction treatment.

What Is Alcoholism? 

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, refers to a condition in which people are unable to control their drinking. People with alcohol use disorder continue to drink despite harmful consequences and may not be able to stop on their own. It carries several significant side effects and symptoms that put alcoholics at particular risk of harm. Alcohol use disorder can have devastating consequences for people around tthem as well.

Alcohol use disorder is a serious illness. It is not simply a matter of willpower and should not be taken lightly. Most people with alcohol use disorder need professional treatment services in order to recover. Fortunately, alcohol use disorder is highly treatable. Quality addiction treatment can help people stop drinking for good.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Alcoholism is, in part, a genetic disorder. The high rates of alcohol use disorder present in children of alcoholics hint at the connection, but researchers have investigated the genetic components of alcoholism even further. By looking at identical twins, fraternal twins, and siblings who were adopted into different families, researchers have concluded that alcohol use disorder is approximately 50% heritable.

This means that genetics can explain about 50% of the difference between people with alcoholism and people without alcoholism. Genetics is by no means a guarantee. Many other factors play into the development of an alcohol use disorder. However, having a parent with alcohol use disorder is a risk factor that may make a person more likely to develop alcoholism. 

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Major medical organizations, such as the American Hospital Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American College of Physicians, and the American Hospital Association, consider alcoholism to be a disease. In addition, the largest support group for alcohol problems, Alcoholics Anonymous, frequently refers to alcoholism as a disease in their literature.

The disease model of alcoholism states that alcohol use disorder is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. Support for this model comes from the fact that prolonged alcohol use results in structural changes in the brain. These brain changes occur primarily in the brain’s reward network, which is associated with repeated behaviors, learning, and a sense of pleasure. After these changes have occurred, it becomes much harder for people to stop drinking on their own.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

There are a few telltale warning signs of alcoholism that can help people decide whether they need additional support to be able to stop. These include:

  • Drinking more than intended or for longer than intended
  • Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking
  • Alcohol use gets in the way of other hobbies or activities
  • Alcohol use continues despite harmful physical or social consequences
  • An inordinate amount of time is spent drinking, looking for alcohol, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Experiencing alcohol cravings or an intense desire to drink
  • Withdrawal symptoms if alcohol use is suddenly stopped

While this list is not comprehensive, all of these signs are listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as the defining criteria of an alcohol use disorder. Experiencing more than one symptom indicates that a person has an alcohol use disorder and needs specialized treatment to recover.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol 

The short-term effects of alcohol fall into two main categories: the signs of a buzz and the signs of a hangover. While intoxicated, people may experience effects like:

  • Relaxed inhibitions
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired motor function

These effects are typically why people drink alcohol, but they come with several adverse consequences. The signs of a hangover can begin just a few hours after a person has stopped drinking. They include:

  • Headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Flushed skin
  • Fatigue

These symptoms can last for several hours, leaving individuals in an impaired state even after they’ve stopped drinking.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

The risks of alcohol use extend far beyond short-term effects alone. Alcohol is associated with a host of serious medical conditions, including:

The best way to prevent these long-term effects on the body from happening is to safely stop drinking.

Am I an Alcoholic?

If you’ve read the warning signs above and started to wonder, “Am I an alcoholic?”, there are a few resources available that can help to determine whether your drinking has exceeded moderate levels. These psychological tools have been empirically validated through countless studies and are available for free on this website. They include:

The Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) is a 25-item yes/no questionnaire designed to identify alcohol use disorders.

The CAGE Questionnaire asks just four questions and is a quick screening tool. While simple, these four questions can assess symptoms effectively.

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is the world’s most frequently used alcohol screening tool. It is only ten questions long. Each question has several responses that are tallied together to show whether the presence of alcohol use disorder is likely or not.

These tools are helpful assessments, but by the time you’re asking yourself whether you’re an alcoholic, it’s likely that you need help to stop.

Signs of an Alcohol Poisoning 

Alcohol poisoning, also known as an alcohol overdose, occurs when people drink too much alcohol too quickly. Alcohol poisoning can be deadly. The signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blue or pale skin

If you or somebody you know is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency, and emergency medical providers may be able to save the person’s life or prevent further damage. Be prepared to provide any information that the emergency medical services may need, and don’t leave the person’s side.

Alcohol Rehab in Orlando, FL

When you’ve decided you need help, the next step is to find the professionals with the skills and knowledge required to aid you in your path to recovery. The best treatment for alcohol use disorder occurs across several treatment levels, including detox, residential treatment and outpatient services.

At Orlando Recovery Center, we provide treatment across the entire continuum of care. Our team is here to support you in your recovery and ensure you have all of the tools needed to maintain your sobriety. Contact the team at Orlando Recovery Center to learn more about our extensive treatment options and start your journey towards recovery today.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Sara G. Graff, LCSW
Sara Graff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Florida. She earned both her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Sara has over twenty five years as a social worker and has worked in many areas of mental health. Read more

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your […]lth. Learn the Facts.” April 18, 2022. Accessed July 27, 2022.

Koob, George F., and Nora D. Volkow. “Neurocircuitry of Addiction.” Neuropsychopharmacology, January 2010. Accessed July 27, 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). “Alcohol Alert.” April 2005. Accessed August 6, 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Hangovers.” Accessed July 27 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Overview of Alcohol Consumption.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). “Screening Tests.” Accessed August, 6, 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed August 6, 2022.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Section 5 PE Tables – Results from the[…]lth: Detailed Tables.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).” Accessed August 6, 2022.

Verhulst, B., et al. “The Heritability of Alcohol Use Disorder[…]nd Adoption Studies.” Psychological Medicine, April 2015. Accessed July  27, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.