It’s incredibly difficult to watch someone you care about struggle with alcohol dependence. And while it’s not always possible to convince that individual to go seek help, understanding what alcohol dependence is, as well as its signs, could make all the difference in your ability to offer productive support

Alcohol dependence, or alcohol use disorder, is a mental illness characterized by heavy use of alcoholic substances and an inability to stop drinking without experiencing symptoms of physical withdrawal. It’s estimated that as many as 29.5 million individuals in the U.S. suffer from alcohol use disorder, including nearly 900,000 adolescents. 

If you’re wondering whether your loved one has a dependence on alcohol, then chances are you may have already noticed some concerning behavior. But what are some of the direct signs that someone is dealing with alcohol dependence? Below, we’re exploring the overt and subtle signs of alcoholism that you can look for, including the oft-missed signs of functional alcoholism in those we care about. 

How to Tell If Someone is Hiding an Alcohol Problem

Substance use is a tricky disorder, and many people will go to extensive lengths to hide their issues from others. Here are some signs that a loved one may be suffering from alcohol dependence and in need of assistance. 

Subtle Signs of Alcoholism

Alcohol dependence doesn’t always look like it does in the movies. These signs of functional alcoholism may go unnoticed in individuals that seem to have everything under control and can be challenging to identify unless observed carefully. 

  • Increasing tolerance – Needing to drink more and more to feel the same effects as before. 
  • Hiding alcohol – Ensuring alcohol is on hand by hiding it in unusual places, such as their car or desk. 
  • Social isolation – Avoiding previously-enjoyed social situations because they want to drink instead. 
  • Denial – Downplaying the extent of their alcohol use and/or its impact on their life. 
  • Mood swings – Displaying unpredictable moods, including sudden irritability or defensiveness when asked about drinking habits. 

Apparent Signs of Alcohol Dependence

Of course, alcohol dependence has its more obvious signs, too. 

  • Physical withdrawal – Frequent hangovers and/or physical withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, nausea, or excessive sweating. 
  • Drinking in risky situations – Drinking while driving or in other situations where they are putting themselves and/or others at risk. 
  • Neglecting responsibilities – Foregoing work, school, or family responsibilities due to alcohol use. 
  • Blackouts – Regular gaps in memory due to drinking. 
  • Relationship problems – Conflicts with friends, family, or partners due to their drinking and related behaviors. 

Addressing Your Concerns

If you notice any of the above signs of alcohol dependence in a loved one, it may be time to express your concern directly. That can be easier said than done, though, especially if the individual is highly defensive, lying about their alcohol use, or in denial about the issue. 

The best thing you can do is to approach the situation with compassion and empathy. Start by expressing your concerns and asking if they are open to discussing the issue. If they are receptive, you can offer support, such as helping them find professional care like a therapist or treatment program. If they are not receptive, you can take steps on your own to prevent enabling behaviors and continue offering positive encouragement.

As the loved one of an individual with alcohol dependence, you can play a crucial role in guiding them toward healing. It may be iimportant to recognize and eliminate any ways you may be enabling their disorder, as well as to offer judgment-free support if and when they’re ready to receive it. 

Still not sure where to start? Retreat Family is dedicated to meeting the needs of all those affected by alcohol dependence, with free services such as family workshops and peer support programs that can provide necessary assistance in these and other complicated situations. Please contact us to learn more.