Problematic Drinking: 5 Warning Signs You Need to Know

problem drinking warning signs

5 Ways of knowing Alcohol has become a problem

By: 2SC Staff

Americans like to drink.  A lot.  Earlier in 2015 a study was released that at any given point in time 32 million Americans are actively abusing alcohol.  Of these, less than 10% ever seek treatment.  And an even smaller percentage of these are successful.

Why does such a small percentage seek help?  For starters, it’s not easy to address.  Anyone who has tried facing compulsion or addiction of any kind knows that it’s difficult.

But perhaps the biggest initial barriers are misconceptions about what constitutes a drinking problem.  It’s hard to address an issue if you don’t think you have one – or deny that you do.

This article is to help simplify what may feel like a baffling – and certainly difficult – question.

Do you have an alcohol problem 


Fear is understandable when initially exploring this issue.  The word “alcoholic” – or even “problem drinker” is difficult for many given its connotations – people on skid row, drinking in the morning, multiple DUIs, drinking every day, multiple trips to rehab.

However, while these clearly provide evidence of a problem – they’re also extreme examples.  And if you haven’t experienced these consequences, it’s easy and understandable to say “I’m not that.”

Perhaps you find yourself making some of the following statements? 

  • I don’t drink everyday
  • I only drink beer or wine
  • I don’t drink in the morning
  • I only drink on the weekends
  • I’m not homeless
  • I never drink alone
  • I have never gotten a DUI
  • I don’t drink any more than my friends do
  • I’ve never lost a relationship over it

One need not do any of these and still qualify as having a problem.  Why is this?

Because it’s not a matter of how often you drink or even how much – it’s simply a matter of how you drink and what happens when you doIn other words what is your relationship with alcohol and how does it affect your life?

What follows is a list of 5 concrete signs that alcohol is becoming a problem in your life.

  1. Drinking More Than You Intend

On rare occasions it’s not uncommon to drink more than one intends.  However, it’s problematic if you do this more frequently and it becomes a pattern.  This is even true if you don’t drink frequently, but binge drink when you do.  It’s important to note that binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks (4 for women) in one sitting.  Those with a problem are frequently surprised, if not horrified that “only” 5 drinks qualifies as binge drinking.

Why is this significant?  For starters, the fact that you regularly set – and exceed – your limits implies that you already know you need to cut back.

It also indicates that you can’t “just stop” at 1 or 2.  Perhaps you intend on having just a couple, and before you know it you’ve thrown back 5-6?

Those alcohol ads that end with “drink responsibly” become a nice guideline, but one that’s really difficult to follow.

  1. More Time Drinking

Social drinking tends to be an occasional Friday night or special occasion with close friends, which allows people to focus on other areas or interests in their lives.  Alcohol may be part of their lives, but it’s not a primary focus.

But when you spend increasingly more time drinking – or recovering from drinking – it’s becoming more of a preoccupation or pastime.  You are starting to give up other activities in order to allow more room for alcohol.

What are you doing less of?

  • The gym?
  • Time with friends?
  • Quality time with your partner?
  • Pursing other interests or hobbies?

Your relationship with alcohol is intensifying and it’s making your life smaller.

  1. Increased tolerance 

Remember the first drink you ever took?  Chances are that just the one gave you a “buzz.”  Over time you need more in order to experience the same thing.

This is what’s known as tolerance.

Why is this problematic?

It relates to a phenomenon known as adaptation, where your body is changing in order to accommodate the increased amount of alcohol.

Think about that!  Your body is physically changing so that you can drink more.  This is a serious step towards outright dependence.

  1. Consequences

This is very important for it provides concrete evidence that drinking is worsening your quality of life.    And consequences come in many forms – not just the dramatic ones listed at the beginning of this article.


  • Decreased productivity
  • Write Ups
  • Passed over for promotion
  • Showing up to work drunk or too hung over to function


  • Partner frequently expresses frustration
  • Miss important events / dates
  • Worse fights when drinking
  • Failed relationships
  • Neglecting friendships and family


  • Spending way more than you intend or can afford
  • Spending more on alcohol than food
  • Missing car, rent or credit card payments


  • DUI’S
  • Public intoxication
  • Fights


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks


  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or other injuries
  • Heart palpitations
  • The “shakes”
  • Elevated liver enzymes

Alcohol is starting to not work – or maybe isn’t working at all.   In fact it’s starting to become dangerous!

  1. You keep drinking despite the above reasons

Those without a drinking problem are able to stop or significantly cut back when they experience negative consequences.

  • Doctor tells them they need to stop drinking when taking certain medications
  • Partner tells them they were embarrassed after they got drunk at a family function
  • Anxiety or depression worsens when they drink
  • Boss pulls them aside and comments on their level of intoxication or behavior at a work event.
  • DUI

But for those with a problem such events may curtail drinking for a time – but don’t have a lasting impact.  Instead, you minimize or ignore them.

This is truly scary because it begs the question – how bad does it have to get before you address the problem?  How much do you have to lose in order to address it?

It’s what’s known as hitting bottom.

The good news here is that if you can heed some of the warning signs you can arrest your drinking in the here and now.

Final Thoughts

Congratulations on reading this article!  It’s a great sign!  You’re not ignoring a problem that’s negatively affecting you.

There’s absolutely no shame in having an alcohol problem – as the initial paragraph stated you may be one of over 30 million Americans with the same issue.  There clearly is hope as many have recovered from alcoholism or other forms of addiction.

But it’s difficult if not impossible to do this on your own.  Research has consistently demonstrated the necessity of help from others.

We here at Second Story Counseling can help.  Peruse the rest of our site to learn more about who we are – and our services targeted specifically to alcohol counseling.

Contact us to speak with one of our highly qualified counselors to begin the initial dialogue.  It’s not only a brave step – it’s the right one!