It can be difficult to determine whether a drinker is abusing alcohol or addicted to alcohol – two different types of problem drinking. Alcohol abuse results in consequences or problems for the drinker as a result of drinking; someone who abuses alcohol may not yet be physically addicted to alcohol. In alcohol dependence (i.e., alcohol addiction), withdrawal symptoms appear when no alcohol has been ingested. Alcohol abusers are far more likely to become addicted to alcohol than the average temperate drinker.

Alcoholism is generally defined as having signs of physical addiction to alcohol and continuing to drink in the face of mounting problems with physical or mental health and accumulating issues with family, job, or social responsibilities.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

-Problems at work or school because of drinking, such as tardiness, not showing up

-Engaging in risky behavior when drinking (e.g., driving while intoxicated, sexual promiscuity)

-After drinking, you cannot remember what happened while you were drinking (experiencing blackouts)

-Legal problems stemming from drinking (e.g., DUI/DWI, public intoxication, assault)

-Causing harm to yourself or others when drinking

-Drinking despite health problems caused or made worse by alcohol use

-Friends or family members worrying about your drinking

Signs of Alcohol Dependence (Alcohol Addiction)

-You cannot quit drinking and/or have lost control over how much you drink.

-You require more alcohol than before to get the same effect.

-Withdrawal symptoms start occurring when you stop drinking (e.g., feeling sick to your stomach, sweating, shakiness, insomnia, anxiety)

-The majority of your time is spent drinking and recovering from drinking.

-You have given up other activities in favor of drinking.

-You continue to drink despite knowing it is harming your relationships, causing health problems, etc.

Other Alcoholism Warning Signs

-Drinking in the morning, being drunk often for long periods of time, drinking alone

-Changing what you drink (e.g., switching from liquor to beer or wine) in an effort to drink less or prevent drunkenness

-Feeling guilt and remorse after drinking

-Making excuses for drinking or attempting to conceal your drinking, such as buying alcohol at different stores

-Worrying that you won’t get enough alcohol to last through the evening or weekend

-Showing physical signs of alcohol dependence (e.g., weight loss, a sore or upset stomach (gastritis), redness of the nose and cheeks, etc.)

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcoholic hallucinosis (hallucinations)


Anxietypanic attacks, generalized fear

Catatonia, stupor (acute loss of motor skills or, in some cases, constant hyperactive motor activity)

-Confusion, disorientation, decreased attention span

Delirium tremens (a.k.a. the DTs, the shakes)

Depersonalizationderealization (the external world and/or one’s life no longer seems real)

Depression, lethargy

Diaphoresis (sweating profusely for no apparent reason)

-Upset stomach, diarrhea, irregularity


-Headaches, migraines

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Hyperthermia (fever)


-Irritability, restlessness, moodiness, agitation

-Nausea, vomiting, heartburn


REM rebound sleep (alcohol tends to supress REM sleep)

Seizures (can be fatal in extreme cases)

Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), palpitations



How long do alcohol withdrawal symptoms last?

Resources: Alcoholism, Alcohol Addiction, Alcohol Abuse


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