How Do You Identify the Signs of Alcohol Abuse?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 05, 
| 4 Sources

Before discussing how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in yourself and others, it is necessary to distinguish between alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse


These terms are used interchangeably from time to time, but there are discernable differences. It's simple really. Although both alcoholism and alcohol abuse are harmful to an individual's health, alcoholism is a dependence on drink, a physical and a mental addiction.

When an alcoholic, as opposed to someone 'merely abusing alcohol, stops drinking they need to be medically supervised as alcohol withdrawals can be fatal if not monitored. In serious cases, alcohol withdrawal could likewise involve confusion, seizures, hallucinations, fever, and agitation.

Someone who is abusing alcohol, on the other hand, and is not an alcoholic will find the alcohol withdrawal procedure less uncomfortable, however, it is highly advisable that they also seek medial assistance prior to stopping drinking.

Alcoholism is a serious condition, a disease in fact.

Are you concerned about the drinking of a family member?
Would you like to learn how to help your loved one stop drinking?
If so, visit our Living With An Alcoholic guide.

In order to discover if you or someone else might be an alcoholic then take a look at our page on the first signs of alcoholism and the ten warning signs of alcoholism.

Perhaps you want a definitive answer, then complete an alcoholism test as used in treatment centers and by addiction specialists throughout the country.

The above pages will give you a better idea of what alcoholism is. Let's now move on to alcohol abuse information.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse
What is Alcohol Abuse Exactly?

Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous. To abuse alcohol means to use it in a harmful way.

By harmful we mean it damages your.....

...and yet you continue to do it.

But let me again stress to abuse alcohol does not necessarily mean to be alcoholic.

Those who abuse alcohol don't display the four characteristics of alcoholism.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Yourself

It is relatively easy to determine if you are abusing alcohol.

There are drinking guidelines set out by the scientific community.

If you drink within these guidelines then you are not using alcohol in a harmful way. In fact it can be beneficial to your health.

Obviously, if you are drinking more than the guidelines set out below, you are displaying alcohol abuse symptoms.

In the U.K.

You can safely drink per week....

  • 21 units of alcohol if you are a man.
  • 14 units if you are a woman.
Men should drink no more than 4 units in a day and women no more than two.

WHAT IS A UNIT OF ALCOHOL? 1 unit of alcohol is 1/2 a pint of beer, a small glass of wine or a small pub measure of spirits (not a measure poured by your Uncle Harry into a pint glass!).

In the U.S.

the Surgeon General has decreed that it is O.K. ........

  • For men to have no more than two drinks per day.
  • For women to have no more than one drink per day.
WHAT IS MEANT BY A DRINK? One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Alcohol Abuse Information
Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Others

It can be difficult to get information on alcohol abuse from a loved one. Maybe they will be honest with you, but probably not.

If you know they are drinking more than the moderate drinking guidelines then you can be sure they are abusing alcohol.

Otherwise you will have to look for the common physical signs of alcohol abuse such as:

  • Smelling of alcohol.
  • Going out regularly and coming back late.
  • Regularly helping themselves to alcoholic drinks in the house.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Uncoordinated movements.
  • Being more emotional (tears, laughter etc.)
  • Being louder than usual.
  • Complaining of headaches, dry mouth, stomach aches in the mornings
  • Waking up frequently at night to urinate and/or drink water
These are all quite vague alcohol abuse signs and may vary from individual to individual.

However, if you see a pattern emerging of these alcohol abuse signs then it is relatively easy to discover if someone is abusing alcohol.

Follow your instincts.

Invariably they are right.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse
What Can You Do?

Continuing to abuse alcohol will only have one outcome...alcoholism. It is much better (and easier) to deal with the issue before it becomes something much bigger.

If you yourself are abusing alcohol and want to stop then you have a relatively straightforward decision to make.

Cut down or stop drinking entirely , but remember, only if YOU want to. It won't work if you do it to please someone else. Trust me, I've tried.. And, once again, before you attempt to quit alcohol make sure you consult a health professional.

If you suspect someone you care about is abusing alcohol then DON'T force them to cut down- they will only resent you for it. A lot of people with alcohol use disorder are unwilling to undergo treatment because they do not recognize that they have an issue.

All you can do is give them the information on alcohol abuse, about safe drinking levels and the options open to them if they would like help with stopping drinking (see the resources in the box below).

And then let them make up their own minds.

Alcohol Abuse Has to Stop Today!

You don’t have to live with alcohol abuse. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today and take the first step to sobriety!

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Mayo Clinic. Alcohol use disorder.

Healthline. Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: What Are the Differences?. September 29, 2017.

Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Warning Signs of Alcoholism.

Medline Plus. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

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