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Signs of Hidden Alcohol Abuse

May 30, 2023

Alcohol abuse is the excessive and repeated consumption of alcoholic beverages despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the clinical diagnosis for those who abuse or are addicted to alcohol.

Many people who abuse alcohol may not realize that their drinking has become a problem or may try to hide their behavior from others, making it difficult for loved ones to intervene and help. By recognizing the signs of hidden alcohol abuse, individuals and their loved ones can take steps to address the problem early on, seek appropriate treatment, and reduce the risk of irreparable consequences.

Signs that May Indicate an Alcohol Use Problem

Alcohol abuse can be challenging to detect, especially if the person tries to hide their drinking behavior. However, some signs listed below may suggest an alcohol problem.

Physical signs of hidden alcohol abuse may include:

  • changes in appetite or weight
  • headache
  • shaking
  • nausea
  • unusual sweating
  • unsteady gait
  • bloodshot or glazed eyes

A change in appearance can indicate that someone is struggling with an alcohol problem. Poor hygiene, lack of grooming, or dirty or unprofessional clothing are red flags.

Does the person you’re worried about have frequent accidents resulting in bruises or other signs of injury? Do they have blackouts or other memory problems? Any of these physical changes are cause for concern.

If you notice some of the physical symptoms noted above, like nausea, sweating, or shaking, after a period you know the person hasn’t had access to alcohol, they may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which is a significant indicator of alcohol dependency.

Behavioral signs of hidden alcohol abuse may include:

  • mood swings
  • increased irritability
  • aggression
  • lying
  • secretive behavior
  • a decline in personal or professional relationships
  • a lack of interest in hobbies or activities previously enjoyed.

When confronted with questions about alcohol use, the person may adamantly deny they have a problem and blame others for perceived issues.

Has the person been neglecting personal and professional responsibilities? Are they forgetting important dates or failing to show up for work, school, or an event they promised to attend? Is there a decline in work or school productivity?

Have you observed any of the following behavior if you are with the person when they are drinking?

  • They have a hard time limiting the number of drinks.
  • Their tolerance for drinking seems to have increased.
  • They say they will stop but fail to do so.
  • They insist on driving or participating in other risky behavior when under the influence of alcohol.

Psychological signs of hidden alcohol abuse often include:

  • new or worsening depression
  • anxiety
  • unexplained mood changes
  • lack of motivation
  • memory lapses or blackouts
  • sleep disturbances

Alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly those related to mood and behavior, such as dopamine and serotonin. Regular, excessive alcohol can disrupt the balance of these neurotransmitters, triggering anger, aggression, sudden outbursts, and impulsivity and contributing to poor judgment and decision-making.

Social signs of hidden alcohol abuse can include:

  • difficulty maintaining friendships or social connections
  • financial or legal troubles
  • problems with coworkers
  • withdrawal from social activities

Drinking excessive alcohol at social, professional, or sporting events may indicate a serious alcohol problem. Is the person more hot-headed or argumentative when they drink? Do they fight more with loved ones? Are they quick to get a refill so they constantly have a drink in their hand?

Recognizing and Responding to the Signs in Others

Alcohol abuse can be a sensitive and stigmatized topic, and many individuals who struggle with it feel isolated, ashamed, guilty, and defensive. First, educate yourself on the disease of alcoholism so you understand why it is challenging for a person to stop without professional help. When you are ready to begin the conversation, find a safe and private place to discuss alcohol use. Be compassionate and avoid accusations.

  • Approach with care, concern, and compassion - Let them know you are there to support them. Avoid being judgmental or critical and focus on your desire to help.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help - Have information about support groups, detox centers, and rehabilitation programs you have investigated.
  • Support their recovery journey - Recovery is a process that takes time and effort. Listen, communicate, and don't pressure them to move faster than their comfort level. Participate in a support group and counseling for families to receive guidance and encouragement from others in a similar situation.

Let Us Help

By recognizing the signs of hidden alcohol abuse, you may save your loved one and your family from potential tragedy. Noticing and questioning changes like those summarized below may help you guide your loved one into seeking professional help before the problem escalates.

  • Physical changes, such as tremors or changes in weight.
  • Psychological changes like mood swings or depression.
  • Behavioral changes, such as secretive or risky behavior.
  • Social changes, including legal problems or difficulties in relationships.

New England Medical Group offers a comprehensive outpatient treatment program for those struggling with alcohol abuse. Contact us to learn about our excellent patient outcomes and how we can help your situation.

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