In the United States, nearly 15 million adults show signs of an alcohol use disorder — around 4.5% of the population. Alcohol use disorders can manifest at any stage during life, from drinking heavily as a college student to enjoying a bottle of wine every night to mask the stress of the day.
In many cases, the signs of alcohol abuse are well-known. Things like hiding use, making excuses, pulling away from friends or family and performing poorly at work can all indicate a problem with alcohol. However, these aren’t the only indications something is wrong. There are several hidden signs of abuse that are less commonly discussed and far harder to notice. If you suspect someone you love is suffering from an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to look at all the signs of addiction — not just the most obvious ones.
Seeing the Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder
The signs of an alcohol problem come in many different shapes and sizes and can vary from one person to another. The most common signs of a problem include:
- Getting defensive when accused of a drinking problem
- Concealing signs of alcohol use, like hiding empty bottles so a partner doesn’t see them in the trash
- Abandoning commitments, like skipping after-school pickup or missing family events
- Drinking early in the day
- Drinking for no reason, or drinking because alcohol is available
- Being intoxicated regularly
- Withdrawing from previously enjoyed recreational activities
- Having a very high alcohol tolerance
- Being unable to participate in any activities without a drink
- Stealing money to purchase alcohol
Some people with an alcohol use disorder will show all of these symptoms, while some will only show one or two. The signs of an addiction to alcohol can vary from person to person, which is why it’s important to know as many signs as possible.
Hidden Signs of Alcoholism
Most people know the basic signs of alcoholism, whether from academic study or by viewing the side effects in those with an alcohol use disorder. However, there are other, less common signs that aren’t as well-known as the more typical indications of abuse. These include:
- Random and unexplained injuries: Getting drunk and blacking out can come with accidents like tripping, falling, running into walls and passing out in unexplained places. These kind of actions can cause visible injury, like alcohol bruises, sprained ankles or cuts and scrapes.
- Increased aggression when drinking: Alcohol can do strange things to emotions, and that includes inspiring rage. Some people are angry when they drink, and the more they consume, the angrier they get. Increased aggression in people who were never previously aggressive can be a negative sign.
- Always carrying a drink: Some people carry water bottles around at all times due to a desire to stay hydrated. However, some people carry beverages around to consistently consume alcohol without detection. When combined with other signs, this can indicate a mounting problem.
- Unexplained loss of relationships: Relationships that are here one day but gone the next can be a hidden sign of alcohol abuse. Whether friends cut someone with an alcohol use disorder off due to problematic behavior or someone living with addiction channels anger into picking fights with friends, relationship strife can mean excessive drinking.
- Memory problems: Long-term drinking can cause issues with information processing and cognition. While not evident after several months or even years of heavy drinking, decades of binging can result in permanent changes to brain function. If you have a friend showing signs of memory problems, long-term alcohol abuse could be the cause.
Alcoholism is rarely easy to identify, especially in the early stages. When alcohol abusers are truly dedicated to hiding their consumption, these little hidden signs can be the only sure way to know if there’s a problem.
Are These Always Signs of Alcoholism?
Things like bruises, aggression and regular drinking can come together to imply alcoholism — but that’s not the only answer. Some people are naturally clumsy and are likely to fall, sprain wrists or ankles and end up bruised through no extenuating circumstances. Others have natural anger issues, especially when experiencing periods of high stress.
Instead of seeing signs and jumping to conclusions, take a step back. Ask yourself whether this person has always been angry or injury-prone. Someone could be an angry drunk, or they could just be an angry person. Determine whether alcohol abuse is truly playing a role or whether your friend drinks a responsible amount and shows these kind of symptoms for other reasons.
It’s easy to see signs that aren’t there, especially when you’re worried about a friend. However, be sure you’re more than likely correct before pointing fingers. Accusing someone of a drinking problem when one doesn’t exist can damage a friendship for good.
Uncovering Hidden Alcoholism
For some people, hiding alcohol use can mean the start of a problem. For others, it can mean years of systemic abuse. When the signs are truly hidden, determining the extent of an issue is a challenge.
However, when you see signs of abuse, whether one or two convincing symptoms or a whole slew, it may be time to take action. Approaching someone who is showing signs of an alcohol use disorder can be the best way to get the ball rolling on getting help.
If you choose to speak with a friend or loved one showing hidden signs, like alcohol bruises, be open, honest and compassionate. Don’t point fingers or accuse someone of bad behavior; instead, present yourself as a trusted resource. Be gentle in your phrasing, too. Saying something like “I think you’re an alcoholic” is far more likely to put someone on the defensive than saying “I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking more often and have been angrier than usual. Is everything okay?” Stating the signs you’re seeing and questioning overall wellness, not just alcohol abuse, can provide a safer environment in which to open up.
Calling out abuse may lead someone to admit they’re struggling and could use help, but it could also result in angry denial. Regardless, speaking up can be the first step in helping someone to identify their own issues and inspire them to consider reaching out in the future.
If you or someone you love is showing signs of an addiction to alcohol, getting help is critical. At FHE Health, we offer comprehensive programming designed to address every step in the recovery process. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to treatment or begin the intake process.