How to Tell if Someone Has Been Drinking Too Much

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11 Signs Someone Has Been Drinking Too Much

What’s considered heavy drinking depends on the amount of alcohol consumed weekly.

Determining how much alcohol is too much is challenging because it affects people differently.

Generally, for men, 15 or more drinks is considered heavy drinking. However, the number is lower for women (8 or more drinks).

Other factors such as age, genetics, the type of drink, and health status play a role in determining if someone drinks too much alcohol or not.

If your loved one is drinking too much, there are noticeable signs to watch out for. They include the following:

1. Alcohol Intoxication

Intoxication is the most obvious sign that someone has been drinking too much.

Alcohol intoxication means that someone has a high blood alcohol concentration or BAC.1

The higher the BAC, the more likely you'll notice signs of impairment. These include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Memory problems
  • Poor coordination
  • Personality changes
  • Sense of confusion
  • Glassy or bloodshot eyes

If your loved one becomes sick often as a result of drinking, there might be more to it. They may constantly be drinking and have high blood alcohol levels. They may also pass out, vomit, or appear confused. These are all signs of alcohol intoxication.

2. Morning Hangovers 

Someone who drinks in moderation (1 to 2 drinks a day) is less likely to experience hangovers. 

If you notice your loved one nursing a hangover in the morning, they have been drinking too much.

Although the signs vary from person to person, common symptoms of alcohol hangovers include:2

  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach pain
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vertigo (feeling off-balance)
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Headache due to dehydration
  • High blood pressure

3. They Have Alcohol Tolerance

Alcohol misuse leads to tolerance. If your loved one is drinking more than their usual amount, they may have developed tolerance.

In this case, you'll notice that your loved one drinks more alcohol than they intend to. They may also drink faster than they did before.

Although drinking more than usual may not directly signify alcoholism, it always starts with drinking too much alcohol too fast.

4. Severe Withdrawals When Not Drinking

It's normal to have mild withdrawal symptoms such as a slight headache, nausea, or thirst.

If your loved one is experiencing prolonged or severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it means they've been drinking too much.

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Tremors or body shakes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid abnormal breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

5. Temporary Memory Loss

Those who drink too much regularly often experience temporary blackouts or memory loss.3 Even worse, permanent memory loss or dementia may occur.

If your loved one drinks too much, you may notice they have trouble remembering things.

For example, they may find it hard to recall new people they met, what they ate, or what time they went to bed the previous night.

6. They Have a Personal Stash Hidden Away

If your loved one has alcohol stashed away somewhere, it means they are misusing it.

Most drug users hide their drug of choice away so that they can use it secretly throughout the day.

7. They're in Denial About their Drinking Habit

Someone who drinks too much alcohol may tend to defend their drinking behavior.

If you confront a loved one about their new drinking habits, and they don't acknowledge the problem, it means they are addicted.

In this case, they need professional help and guidance to overcome the addiction.

8. They Overlook the Negative Consequences

Drinking alcohol is associated with serious health consequences such as liver, brain, and kidney damage.

If your loved one is diagnosed with an alcohol-related health condition, it means they have been drinking too much.

Continued drinking after organ damage can be fatal.

9. They're Neglecting Important Responsibilities

Your loved one may be taking too much alcohol if they start missing work regularly to drink. 

In most cases, they'll call in to stay at home drinking or attend an event where alcohol is present.

They may also prioritize drinking above family obligations, relationships, and other chores.

10. They Have Financial Problems

Alcohol has been associated with poor decision-making and poor spending habits.4 

Someone with a drinking problem is likely to spend most of their money on alcohol and related pleasures.

This behavior can drain finances and is usually noticeable.

11. They're Drinking alone

Drinking alone may indicate a problem. Your loved one may have depression, and they're drinking as a coping strategy.

Although drinking alone does not translate to excessive drinking, it’s a recipe for one.

What are the Signs of Alcoholism?

Drinking too much alcohol over time may alter the normal function of brain parts associated with pleasure, judgment, and self-control.5

This can lead to a desire for alcohol in order to restore positive feelings or alleviate bad ones. Sadly, the end result of this is an alcohol use disorder (AUD), also called alcoholism.

The following are signs of alcohol use disorder:

  • Strong cravings for alcohol
  • Indulging in risky behavior such as drunk driving and unsafe sex
  • Poor hygiene/changed physical appearance
  • High tolerance to alcohol
  • Severe withdrawals when the effects of alcohol wear off
  • Inability to quit even when one intends to
  • Continued consumption regardless of alcohol's harmful effects
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6 Risk factors of Alcoholism

A few risk factors for alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) include:

  1. Regular alcohol consumption: Long-term excessive drinking or binge drinking may lead to alcohol use disorder.
  2. Starting age: Those who start drinking at an early age are more likely to develop alcoholism.
  3. Family history: Genetic factors, as well as having a parent or relative with alcoholism, increase the risk of AUD.
  4. Mental health disorders: People who are anxious or depressed tend to drink more alcohol. This increases their risk of developing AUD.
  5. Social-cultural factors: Peer pressure and the normalization of alcohol through the media are risk factors for alcoholism.
  6. History of trauma: People who have experienced physical or mental trauma are at a higher risk for alcoholism.

How Much Alcohol Can Lead to an Overdose?

An overdose occurs when your blood is flooded with alcohol.

However, the amount of alcohol that can lead to an overdose differs from person to person. This is due to secondary factors such as sex, age, type of alcohol, and health status.

Generally, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 and 0.40 percent is considered dangerous.6

If your BAC is within this range, you're likely to experience severe intoxication and possibly an overdose.

Signs of alcohol overdose include:7

  • Severe confusing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Bluish or pale skin
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Seizures
  • Passing out
  • Heart attack
  • Coma (in severe cases)
  • Death (in severe cases)

It's important to know the warning signs of alcohol intoxication. If you believe someone is experiencing a severe alcohol overdose, seek emergency treatment right away.

Helping Your Loved One: Treatment for Alcoholism 

The first step to helping out a friend with AUD is by getting them to accept the problem.

Once they have accepted, you can introduce them to the idea of addiction treatment.

There are many inpatient and outpatient recovery centers across the country with qualified therapists. They also have a set of state-of-the-art programs to support recovery.

Below are some treatment options for alcoholism:

  • Detoxification: Also known as medical detox, this is the first step towards recovery. It's best to withdraw under medical supervision since alcohol detox can induce life-threatening symptoms.
  • Behavioral treatments: This involves counseling to help your loved ones change their drinking behavior.
  • Medications: Medications such as Acamprosate, Disulfiram, and Fluoxetine are useful in managing withdrawal symptoms.8
  • Mutual-support groups: There are several 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that offer peer support to your loved one.

Note: Treatment for alcoholism is a continuous process. Don't think your job is done after your friend or family member has gone to treatment. Providing support, be it financial, social, or moral, can go a long way.

Updated on November 12, 2021
8 sources cited
  1. Blood Alcohol Level,” U.S. National Library of Medicine
  2. Hangovers,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), March 2021
  3. What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  4. Impaired decision-making under risk in individuals with alcohol dependence,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 19 June 2014
  5. Alcohol’s  damaging effect on the brain,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), October 2004
  6. Blood Alcohol Level,” U.S. National Library of Medicine
  7. Alcohol poisoning,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 19 January 2018
  8. Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder,” American Academy of Family Physicians, 15 March 2016

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