Early Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease characterized by loss of control over drinking. According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 17.6 million American adults abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Alcohol abuse affects every aspect of a person’s life, causing isolation, physical and mental illness, and even death. Several early signs of alcoholism may alert an individual to seek help before the disease progresses.


Several early signs of alcoholism are personal, in that the individual who is affected will be the most aware of them. An article on the website of the Mayo Clinic notes that significant early signs of alcoholism include tolerance, or drinking larger amounts of alcohol to get the same feeling; and dependence, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping. Other signs that can be recognized earliest by the drinker himself include drinking more than he intended to drink, blackouts, a preoccupation with drinking, loss of interest in other activities, and questioning his own drinking habits. Since denial plays a major role in the progression of the disease process, these signs alone may not be sufficient for a drinker to seek help.


Some early signs of alcoholism are noticed primarily in the context of relationships with others. These include: lying about the frequency or amount of drinking, sneaking drinks, drinking before an event where there will be drinking, other people suggesting there may be a drinking problem, and avoiding others in order to drink alone. A 1998 article in the “New England Journal of Medicine” notes that an individual with these signs is more likely to seek professional help due to the disruption of close relationships.


In addition to other signs, the Betty Ford Center’s website lists early signs that are situational in nature, including the increased frequency of family, academic, career and legal problems, and continuing to drink despite these problems. According to the website, these signs range from losing a job to losing a spouse; and from drunk-driving arrests to drinking-related hospitalizations. These signs are associated with drinking to an extent that professional help is imperative if the individual is to recover.

About this Author

Dr. Mark Kaushal is the founder of MedEdPathways, a Chicago-based educational consultancy, and sits on the board of two nonprofit organizations. A summa cum laude graduate, he obtained his M.D. in 1999, and is also a certified Reiki master. He has been writing health-related articles for more than 10 years. His educational work has been highlighted in the Chicago Tribune and USA Today.