What Are the 6 Ways to Identify an Alcoholic Person?

As opposed to many other addictive and harmful substances, alcohol is legal, and its use is widespread and normalized. Most people can drink moderately and never experience any adverse effects besides occasional hangovers. This is, however, only one of the minor consequences of excessive alcohol use.1

A significant percentage of the US population exceeds the limits of moderation. Some of them defy all stereotypes about how a person suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) looks, acts, and lives their life. Some people can hide their alcohol abuse issues very well and may not even realize they’ve become dependent on this substance until they start experiencing severe consequences.2

If you suspect that someone you care about has crossed the limits of moderation and is at a heightened risk of developing alcohol addiction, there are certain signs to look out for. Discovering and addressing alcohol addiction early on is crucial for recovery, before severe physical and mental health issues can arise.3

The Six Signs

If you need to know how to identify an alcoholic person, the most common signs to look out for are:4, 5, 6

  • Pronounced mood swings, or “good” and “bad” days. Worsened physical or mental health issues can also be noticeable.
  • Absence from professional or personal commitments. Relationship difficulties with friends, family, or partner.
  • Actively avoiding situations in which alcohol drinking is not appropriate or possible.
  • Being vague or secretive about the frequency and amounts of alcohol they drink, or hiding alcohol.
  • High-risk behavior. This can include driving while intoxicated, causing accidents, abusing other substances (illicit or prescription), having unprotected sex, or engaging in criminal activities.
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol. The need to drink larger quantities of alcohol to feel the same effects or prevent experiencing highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

What Are the Warning Signs of an Alcoholic Personality?

It’s commonly accepted and backed by a substantial amount of research that some people are more prone to developing substance abuse disorders than others. One of the most cited risk factors is a family history of alcohol abuse or emotional and mental health issues. However, the matter of identifying personality factors that describe an alcoholic personality and individuals who exhibit elevated risk for alcoholism is quite complex.7

Some studies found strong correlations suggesting that people who adopt alcohol abuse as a maladaptive coping strategy also show specific self-destructive behavior patterns, including suicidal ideation. In addition, a substantial number of patients showed signs of borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.8

These profoundly severe mental health disorders certainly don’t apply to all people with alcohol abuse issues. Still, some of the personality traits can be quite similar and easily recognizable to professionals who are evaluating the mental health status of alcohol-dependent patients. For example, the most commonly present signs and symptoms may include being:8, 9

  • Secretive
  • Defensive
  • Manipulative
  • Irritable or impatient
  • Isolative
  • Overly sensitive
  • Self-destructive
  • Overly concerned about the image they project
  • Having poor self-esteem.

What Should I Do if I Identify an Alcoholic Person?

If someone you know and care about is exhibiting some of the signs mentioned above, or otherwise is behaving in uncharacteristic and concerning ways, taking action to address those issues as soon as possible can tremendously ease their recovery and help them achieve lasting sobriety. You might be tempted to confront them about your suspicions, but any hostile, judgmental or accusatory behavior may cause them to dismiss your attempt, deny having any problems, or isolate you from their life.10

Dealing with addiction is a complex task that involves addressing the affected individual’s emotional and mental health issues, and it’s best not to attempt any kind of intervention yourself. What you can do is talk to them in a calm, compassionate manner and suggest seeking professional help and finding appropriate, evidence-based treatment. Do your best to avoid accusatory language or labels and let them know you’re there to support them. Listen to what they’re saying and try to understand what it feels like for them. Finally, don’t forget that addiction is a chronic disease often accompanied by mental health issues that also need to be addressed.11

If you need accurate information to prepare yourself for the conversation with an alcohol-addicted person, you can reach out to any of the alcohol addiction hotlines for advice and guidance. They can direct you to reliable substance abuse treatment providers near you.

They can also answer any questions you might have about the cost of different types of treatment programs or refer you to renowned rehab facilities that offer medically monitored detoxification procedures to help alleviate unpleasant and or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. This is usually done by using appropriate medications or pharmacotherapy, both during detox and later on, as a part of maintenance therapy, to reduce the urge to drink alcohol and lower the chance of relapse.3

Frequently Asked Questions