Alcohol Abuse: Know The Signs And Symptoms

If you’re currently concerned about your own or someone else’s drinking, you may be wondering what alcohol abuse is. In the UK, alcoholism is a severe problem that affects many people. It can harm a person’s health, affect work and school performance, and damage relationships. This article will explore the signs of alcohol abuse, how it’s treated, and how to find help.

Person suffering from alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse

Understanding Alcohol Abuse and Its Treatment

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism is a complex medical condition that occurs when a person’s alcohol consumption is causing them harm or distress. When someone has an alcohol use disorder, they cannot stop drinking or control their use despite negative consequences. Drug and alcohol use disorders range from mild to severe and often look different for each person. Regardless of severity, anyone struggling with alcohol use can benefit from treatment

The Cycle of Alcoholism

Alcoholism or compulsive alcohol drinking has a powerful effect on the human brain. When a person drinks alcohol, the brain blunts negative feelings while producing feelings of pleasure. During alcohol consumption, dopamine is released, and the brain reward system becomes activated. Dopamine is sometimes called a happy or feel-good hormone. Over time, the brain creates a reward pathway and associates alcohol with happiness and less stress. This reward pathway encourages a person to continue drinking, leading to a continuous unhealthy cycle of alcohol use (2). 

The Stages of The Addiction Cycle

Alcoholism is a repeating cycle that generally includes three stages, binge or intoxication, withdrawal, and preoccupation or anticipation. During the first stage (binge or intoxication), a person can feel euphoria and an anxiety reduction, especially in social situations. Once an individual stops drinking, withdrawal symptoms set in, including irritability, anxiety, emotional pain, and sleep disturbances. While withdrawing, drinking is commonly used to escape low feelings. During the last stage, a person spends a significant amount of time thinking about how to get alcohol and when they will be able to drink again. With this knowledge in mind, it’s critical to remember that alcoholism is a disease and professional treatment is effective (1). 

The Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

If you’re concerned about a loved one’s drinking, familiarising yourself with the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder is critical. Individuals battling alcoholism often try to downplay their struggle while hiding their symptoms (4). The following sections will help you recognise the most common physical, behavioural, and psychological warning signs of alcohol abuse. 

Behavioural Symptoms

  • Relationship difficulties
  • Participating in risky activities, such as fighting or driving while drinking
  • Drinking more than intended or needing more alcohol over time
  • Continued drinking despite negative consequences
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Drinking to curb withdrawal symptoms

Physical Symptoms

  • Noticeable changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Impaired coordination, slurred speech, and tremors or shakes
  • Unusual odours on breath or body

Psychological Symptoms

  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings, angry outbursts, or increased irritability
  • Unexplained or unusual changes in personality

Spotting The Signs and Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse In Yourself or A Loved One

In the UK and worldwide, alcohol abuse has hindered the lives of men and women of all ages and backgrounds. For example, in England, there are approximately 600,000 dependent drinkers (3). You may wonder how to spot the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse in a friend or loved one. Whether you’re looking into the symptoms of alcoholism for yourself or someone else, the following questions can help anyone explore whether drinking has become a problematic behaviour in their life.

  • Do you sometimes worry about the amount I drink?
  • Do you drink more than others without being noticeably drunk?
  • Do you do things when you’re drinking that make you cringe the next day?
  • Are your friends, family, or work colleagues concerned about your drinking?
  • Do you drink to make yourself feel better?
  • Do you drink to unwind?
  • Do you drink to be more ‘sociable’?

Suppose the answer is yes to one or more of these questions. In that case, it’s essential to consider receiving a professional assessment to determine whether an alcohol use disorder is present. Since this is often easier said than done, keep reading to learn more about finding treatment and what to do if someone you know is struggling with alcoholism but hesitant to reach out for help. 

How To Find Help With Alcohol Abuse

If you’re worried about your drinking or someone else’s, seek professional help immediately. The first step is often the hardest, but there are many ways to get started on the road to recovery.

Professional Treatment Options to Consider

A variety of professional alcohol abuse treatment options are available to those struggling with alcoholism. The most effective way to choose a treatment plan is by meeting with a professional who can assess the severity of an alcohol disorder and recommend the best approach. That being said, here are some effective treatment options for alcohol abuse. 


Rehabilitation, also known as ‘rehab’, is an inpatient treatment option that typically lasts two, four, or six weeks. This can provide a safe space where you’re completely removed from your drinking environment and routines. You’ll also have professional support on hand throughout your stay.

12-Step Fellowship

Twelve-step meetings or mutual support programs are an excellent resource for individuals interested in recovery. Programs like alcoholics anonymous, or AA for short, are no-cost group meetings focused on working the program to achieve sobriety and connection.

Private Treatment

To start, contact a professional alcohol clinic to schedule a confidential evaluation. During the assessment, work with the clinician to create an individualised treatment plan. While creating a treatment plan, the individual and provider can investigate whether medications for alcohol could be helpful (1). 


Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is an effective treatment for alcohol abuse. It can be conducted one-on-one, in a group setting, or even online. Talk therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) provide a space for individuals to explore their relationship with alcohol, identify triggers and harmful coping mechanisms, and develop healthy coping skills.

Choosing The Right Help & Support for Alcohol Abuse

When receiving professional help, respect, understanding, and trust are crucial elements in any healthcare setting. We recommend asking the following questions when considering a specific program or alcohol treatment provider (1). 

  • How does the program tailor its treatment to each individual?
  • What kind of treatments does this program or provider use?
  • What are the expectations for a participant in this program?
  • How will treatment success and readiness for completion be measured?
  • How is relapse addressed and handled in this program?

Find Help for Alcohol Addiction Today

If you or someone you know is ready to live a life free from drugs and alcohol, contact Home Counties Therapy today for a free and confidential twenty-minute drug and alcohol treatment consultation. Our knowledgeable therapeutic team is prepared to come alongside individuals while helping them navigate the best way forward for their recovery. 



About The Author

Picture of Lorna Wykes

Lorna Wykes

With over 18 years of experience, Lorna, our clinical director holds a Diploma in Psychology, BSc Criminology & Psychology and MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling and is registered with The British Psychological Society, The Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners and The American Psychological Association.

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