What Are the Signs of a Drinking Problem?

How do you know if you need to quit drinking? What are the warning signs of a drinking problem? What makes someone an alcoholic? These are typical questions people search for when they start to question their own drinking or a loved one's drinking.  

Here's the thing: drinking problems are not black and white. Contrary to widespread belief played up in movies and books, a drinking problem looks different on everyone.

Not everyone hits rock bottom. Some people do not show typical signs of a drinking problem. You do not have to call yourself an alcoholic.

We can think of drinking problems as being on a spectrum from mild to severe.

Here are some important questions to consider. Count the number of times you answer ‘yes’ to the following.

In the last year have you...

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?   
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?   
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick as a result of drinking?   
  • Experienced cravings for alcohol, or the strong need for a drink?   
  • Noticed that drinking, or being sick from drinking, caused problems at home, work, or school?   
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?   
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?   
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unprotected sex)?   
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?   
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?   
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?  

Source: https://www.psychiatry.org/

Add up your number of yes answers to figure out where you fall on the spectrum:  

  • Mild Drinking Problem: The presence of two to three yes answers  
  • Moderate Drinking Problem: The presence of four to five yes answers  
  • Severe Drinking Problem: The presence of six or more yes answers  

This questionnaire is just one of many tools used to assess problem drinking.

The simpler questions are: Is alcohol causing problems in your life? Would removing alcohol from your life improve it?  

Myths About Drinking Problems

There are many myths about drinking problems perpetuated by the media. The truth is that absolutely anyone can develop a drinking problem.

It doesn’t matter what you drink, how much you drink, or if you only drink on weekends. No one is immune to becoming dependent on alcohol. 

The prevalence of drinking problems is high and the consequences even higher.

These are just some of the startling alcohol use statistics from around the world:

  • According to the World Health Organization, three million deaths every year are the result of harmful alcohol use, this represents 5.3 % of all deaths.
  • Alcohol is a factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions including liver disease, road injuries, violence, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, suicides, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20–39 years approximately 13.5 % of the total deaths are alcohol-attributable.

How Can You Change Your Drinking Habits?

  • You’ve already started. Just by becoming more aware of drinking problems, you’re taking a step in the right direction.
  • Find support and community. There are many online and in person communities to support your decision to change your drinking. Reddit, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, SMART Recovery and Recovery Dharma are all places to find support.
  • Use tools from organisations such as Drinkaware and Rethinking Drinking.
  • Consider therapy, counseling, or coaching. Finding a professional who specializes in drinking problems can be a valuable choice.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about medication options. There are medications available to help you manage your drinking cravings.
  • Take a 10 or 30-day break. Taking a break from alcohol has shown to not only improve your physical health but improve your mental and social wellbeing as well.
  • Drinkline is the UK national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, you can call this free helpline in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).
  • Use this website to find a treatment facility in the US.
  • Always check with your medical provider to quit in the safest way.

Remember: you don’t have to have a drinking problem to have a problem with drinking.

Instead of asking yourself if you have an alcohol problem, ask yourself if your life would be better without alcohol.

Many people are choosing to give up drinking to improve their mental and physical health - you are not alone. The numerous benefits of not drinking alcohol include:

  • Better sleep
  • Less anxiety
  • More energy
  • Improved relationships
  • Increased focus

Would removing alcohol from your life improve it? If the answer is yes or if you don’t know, why not see what it’s like to take a break? Practice not drinking and see how different your life can be. 

Build Your Mental Wellbeing Toolkit

Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.

If you’re interested in a self-guided program that includes tools from CBT, ACT and more, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit. It's "like 10 therapy sessions in one."

The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit


About Deb

Deb Masner is the founder of the Alcohol Tipping Point - a place to find free resources, tools, and tips to help you change your drinking. Deb runs 30 Day Dry Months where she helps people practice not drinking.

She's a registered nurse, certified Health and Wellness Coach, SMART recovery facilitator and alcohol-free badass.

Check out her website, Instagram and podcast. Contact her at deb@alcoholtippingpoint.com.