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I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have a Drinking Problem

Doctors reveal when it's time to put down the bottle and how to help someone with alcohol disorder use. 

Having cocktails with friends or celebrating a special occasion with a glass of bubbly or having wine with dinner is a normal part of socializing or relaxing, but when is it too much? It's not always easy to recognize if you're consuming too much alcohol, but according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 14.5 million people in the U.S. had Alcohol Use Disorder in 2019–which is described as "a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences," by the NIAAA. There's several signs indicating whether you have a problem with alcohol and Eat This, Not That! Health talked to doctors who explained what to look out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Continuing to Drink Even Though You've Experienced Negative Consequences


Dr. John Mendelson, an alcohol addiction specialist and a board-certified doctor says, "Not everyone's life is like Denzel Washington's character in the movie Flight, where after a miraculous crash landing the pilot decides to get sober and struggles to stay sober when his drinking problem becomes the center of the crash investigation. For many people, negative consequences can be getting on a hangover treadmill, frequently over drinking knowing that a hangover negatively impacts productivity, energy, and agency. For some, it could be to continue heavy drinking after your check-up showed you had elevated liver enzymes and your doctor suggested that you cut back on alcohol."


Personality Changes

Angry young woman arguing talking on phone at home

According to Dr. Mendelson, "COVID has increased anxiety and stress for so many people and that could be a volatile mix when you add alcohol. Anxiety spikes combined with heavy drinking can alter someone's core personality to the point of damaging relationships. Alcohol-induced personality changes such as being angry, sad, happy, sleepy drunk can negatively impact relationships with family, friends, and can result in destructive experiences such as divorce."

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Physical Changes

Senior woman applying anti-wrinkles cream

Dr. Mendelson explains, "There are physical signs that can be present to suggest that someone is experiencing alcohol misuse. Puffy swollen skin, bloodshot eyes, flushing, spider veins on the face or nose, and significant weight fluctuations are all signs."


Social Withdrawal

Senior man in eyeglasses looking in distance out of window

"Some people who are struggling may withdraw from friends and family and isolate themselves while they are experiencing heavy drinking episodes," Dr. Mendelson states. "This may be harder to observe but if you have socially active friends who go dark, it may be helpful to reach out and check on their health and well-being."

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Other Signs You May Have an Alcohol Problem

Woman wine

Dr. Abe Malkin with Elite Home Detox asks, "Have you ever wondered if you were considered an alcoholic? Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease and is diagnosed when one person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol for physical and/or emotional support. A conclusive diagnosis of alcoholism is determined by a medical doctor but there could be shown signs of the disease. 

The following signs include:

  • Thoughts of compulsive drinking
  • Goal is to get drunk from drinking
  • Uncontrollable drinking
  • Urge to drink around the clock
  • Failed attempts of trying to stop
  • Drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms"

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What's Considered Too Much Alcohol?

Men cheers with glasses of a whiskey soda alcohol cocktail drink

Dr. Malkin says, "It's not about how often you drink, it's about how much. Depending on your gender determines "what's considered too much". Women who intake eight plus alcoholic drinks and men who intake fifteen plus alcoholic drinks a week could be diagnosed with alcoholism."

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How Does Alcohol Affect Your Body?

cardiac disease risk

Dr. Mendelson explains, "Drinking a lot over a long time can cause health problems including:

  • Heart problems such as cardiomyopathy (the stretching and drooping of heart muscle), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), stroke, or high blood pressure.
  • A toll on the liver can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
  • Increased risk for certain types of cancer. Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and cancer.
    • Breast cancer: Studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer in women with increasing alcohol intake. Women who consume about 1 drink per day have a 5 to 9 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all.
    • Heavy alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer."

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What is the Best Way to Help Someone?

Worried mother talking to daughter on sofa

Dr. Mendelson says, "When a friend or family member develops alcohol use disorder, it's important to know that you're not alone. It may help to seek support from others, including friends, family, community, and support groups. You may be trying to help a family member who doesn't have access to care or doesn't want help. Remember that your loved one is ultimately responsible for managing his or her change in behavior. Whether you're providing a lot of assistance or very little, research evidence-based options outlined by the NIH. Provide information of options that include reducing consumption to stopping, residential or virtual, medications, group or individual therapy. Empower your friend or family member to choose what type of help will fit them. Ria Health is a virtual program that is physician-led and a viable option for people who may want to reduce or stop drinking completely using FDA-approved medications that reduce craving and the support of trained coaches that provide a key accountability component." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather