Alcohol Use Red Flags


While alcohol use is an enjoyable part of a healthy social life for some, for others alcohol use can become problematic and unmanageable. According to the CDC, as many as 6% of all Americans meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder also known as alcoholism or “being an alcoholic”. While there are clinical criteria to determine who has alcohol use disorder and therefore problematic drinking, that is something best discussed with a professional. In this article, we will list alcohol use red flags. If one or more of these red flags applies to you or your loved one, it may be time to seek out a professional to discuss your drinking.


Alcohol Use Red Flags:


Not Wanting to or Feeling Unable to Stop Drinking Once You Have Started


One of the most common reasons we hear individuals give in defense of their drinking is: “I only drink on weekends.” At first glance, this seems innocuous. But further questions are necessary to determine if this is problematic drinking. Many drinkers who meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder or alcoholism do not drink everyday. When they do drink though, they struggle to or are unable to stop drinking when they plan to. For example: If individual heads out to have a drink with a friend and only intends to stay for 1 hour and have one drink but that individual ends up staying 3 hours and has multiple drinks, this would be considered an alcohol use red flag. If this same scenario plays out multiple times or frequently, this increases the likelihood of alcohol use disorder.


Drinking in Response to Difficult Emotions and or Stress


While it is fairly common to hear someone who is stressed state “I need a drink”, this does not mean it is normal or healthy behavior. In fact, research indicates those who drink in response to the difficulty in their lives are much more likely to have alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. When alcohol is used for self-medication purposes, the brain may become dependent on it far quicker than it otherwise would have. For many, it is true that alcohol can provide immediate relief from sadness, anger, and worry. What some individuals don’t realize though, is that alcohol is actually a central nervous system depressant and over time can actually increase feelings of sadness, increase the likelihood of angry outbursts, and have a “rebound effect” that increases anxiety after the alcohol has left the bloodstream


Often Thinking About Alcohol or Drinking


For individuals who do not drink every day, one of the more inconspicuous warning signs of problematic drinking is a mental preoccupation with alcohol or drinking. This is a red flag that is not outwardly obvious to loved ones but is a red flag nonetheless. Individuals with alcohol use disorder or alcoholism often report thinking about drinking alcohol, having cravings for alcohol, or planning their next drinking episode often when they are not drinking. While some might say this behavior does not hurt anyone, it can cause the individual to become preoccupied and distracted or lead to increased drinking in the future.


Some additional indications that one may have alcohol use disorder, alcoholism, or is simply engaged in problematic drinking include:


  • Having an impulse to drink when needing to relax
  • Prioritizing drinking over other commitments
  • Feeling uncomfortable when others aren’t drinking
  • Constantly looking for reasons or excuses to drink
  • Having to justify your drinking to yourself or others
  • Feeling unable to socialize without drinking
  • Having relationships that revolve around alcohol
  • Failing to moderate or reduce your drinking
  • Lying about the amount or frequency of your drinking

Here at Harbor Wellness and Recovery Center, we offer various levels of care to treat alcoholism, alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, addiction, and other co-occurring conditions. For more information about our services please call us directly at 732-847-4555. We are available 24/7 to help. All calls are no obligation and are strictly confidential.