Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

What Are the Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse?

Most of us assume we know the warning signs of alcohol abuse when we see them. While there are certain signs that are obvious and noticeable, a good many of them often go undetected by close friends and family members. Perhaps we might take this opportunity to discuss some of the warning signs, and the most common signs that friends and family often miss.

It turns out there are a lot of misconceptions out there on this topic. The truth is that many alcoholics are ‘functioning alcoholics’ and you’d never even believe they had a drinking problem as there are no obvious signs. These are individuals who are good at their job, sometimes even top performers, yet they are also fully dependent on alcohol to function normally. They cannot relax or sleep until they’ve had a drink (cite: 1). 

Yes, there are those who abuse alcohol, who have one drink and can’t stop drinking until they are totally drunk and have fallen down in a drunken stupor. And, yes, we all know of people who exhibit very bad behavior after about their second or third drink. We’ve seen abusive spousal behavior, bar room conflict, and drunk driving crashes to name a few. These are the obvious signs of alcohol abuse, and the behavior we generally associate with alcohol abuse (cite: 2).

What Are the Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic?

What Are the Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse? A functioning alcoholic rarely gives any clues to their drinking problem and they may not even realize they have a problem. In fact, they don’t associate ‘problems’ with drinking but rather drinking as a viable way to alleviate problems and stress. At the end of a long day, they might have two or three hard alcohol drinks and then go to bed.

Since their body is dependent on alcohol, they are fine in the morning, without a hangover as there is still alcohol in their system. If they are out drinking with friends, they’ll be the one who is roaring and ready to go in the morning while their friends all have hangovers and want to sleep in, still feeling lethargic.

For the functioning alcoholic, a quick swig of alcohol or a drink at lunch and they are good to go for the rest of their day. Unfortunately, if they don’t get their drink by mid-afternoon, they can become a tad bit gruff, irritated, and hard to deal with. Once they get that drink, they are perfectly fine again until the evening.

Some of the warning signs of a functioning alcoholic are that they have stashed alcohol at their desks at work or in their car. They always have it close at hand. At home, it’s readily available, and often the hard stuff is their first choice, although they might start with some wine or beer.

Common Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse 

Perhaps the most common sign of alcohol abuse is that one drinks every day, and never really goes without a drink of some type. Morning drinks are also a common sign of alcohol abuse and dependency. Some alcoholics can’t really start out the day without a drink. Another sign might be that once they drink one can of beer, they find the need to finish off an entire six-pack, or one glass of wine and they drink the entire bottle. When someone gets a DUI, or more than once, it’s becoming apparent they have a drinking problem that is getting in the way of their decision-making and normal functioning (cite: 3).

When someone drinks and then gets belligerent even with close friends and family, this can be a sign of a drinking problem and a sign other internal stress-related problems for which alcohol is being used.

When someone’s social events all seem to be centered around alcohol, it’s a good indication they might have a drinking problem, or an alcohol dependency issue.

There is a Difference Between Abusing Alcohol and Dependency

Abusing alcohol can include teenage binge drinking, which is very hard on the body, and an activity for which they will pay dearly the next morning with a hangover. Still, if a teenager did this every 4-months let’s say at a “rager party” but didn’t care to drink in between, they are not dependent on alcohol or an alcoholic, but they are definitely abusing alcohol. Of course, if this becomes a common occurrence and they start drinking daily, they are well on their way to a serious dependency problem.

Likewise, an adult who rarely drinks, but gets drunk and drives a car, or starts a fight, we’d all consider this an abuse of alcohol. However, since they don’t drink often, they probably aren’t alcoholics, unless they’ve had a problem with dependency in the past.

We often associate alcoholics with unacceptable social behavior, but in reality, you can have people who drink who exhibit unacceptable behavior and who are not dependent on alcohol. Just as you can have a functioning alcoholic who never steps out of line socially, has a hangover, or becomes unruly while drinking (cite: 4).

Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse – Conclusion

Alcoholism is a disease, it’s called; Alcohol Use Disorder. It’s serious, it destroys your health, rewires your brain, and eventually can ruin your life. It’s serious. If you think you might have a drinking problem, look for the signs, then take action. If you try to stop, but can’t, then it is time to get help.

If you know of a friend or loved one who has a serious problem with alcohol and is an alcoholic, maybe it’s time to help them confront their problem and get the help they need.

We are here to help with whatever you need. Don’t hesitate to call us and discuss a plan to prevent alcohol from ruining your life, or the life of a loved one.


1.)    “Psychological Correlates and Treatment Outcomes for High and Low Social Functioning Alcoholics,” by Robert C. MacMahon, Robert S. Davidson, and Patrick M. Flynn, published in the International Journal of Addictions. Pages 819-835 | Published online: 03 Jul 2009. https://doi.org/10.3109/10826088609027395.

2.)    “Early identification of alcohol abuse:  Critical issues and psychosocial indicators for a composite index,” by Harvey Skinner, Stephen Holt, and Yedy Israel published in the CMA Journal on May 1, 1981, volume 124.

3.)    “Substance Abuse vs. Substance Dependence: Implications for the Management of the DUI Offender,” by William L. White published in Abuse Dependency Distinction, 2007. www.WilliamWhitePapers.com.

4.)    Book: “Psychological Theories of Drinking and Alcoholism,” edited by Kenneth E. Leonard, Howard T. Blane, The Guilford Press, New York, NY, 1999, 461 pages, ISBN: 1-57230-410-3.