Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for 20% of deaths among people ages 20 to 49 each year.1

In this article, you will learn how to identify a potential drinking problem, some of the risks and symptoms of problematic alcohol use, and how to seek alcohol addiction treatment in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Drinking Problem?

The term “drinking problem” sometimes refers to what is more formally diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Often referred to as alcohol addiction (or the outdated term alcoholism), an alcohol use disorder involves continued alcohol use despite a clinically significant, adverse impact on one’s life.2 While it is never too late to get treatment for AUD, early diagnosis and treatment are associated with improved outcomes.3

AUD is a condition that should be diagnosed by a medical professional; however, completing the self-assessment below may be helpful in recognizing a drinking problem that would benefit from treatment.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Mental health professionals use The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) (DSM-5) to diagnose and treat various mental health issues, including various substance use disorders.  Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is characterized by continued problematic patterns of drinking despite experiencing distress as a result of such drinking behavior.2 The 11 symptomatic criteria for diagnosing AUD include the following:2

  1. Drinking more alcohol or drinking over a longer period than intended
  2. Persistent desire and/or unsuccessful attempts made to reduce or quit drinking
  3. Spending lots of time obtaining alcohol, drinking, or recovering from alcohol use
  4. Craving alcohol or having strong urges to drink
  5. Alcohol use interferes with important obligations at home, school, or work
  6. Drinking continues despite social or interpersonal problems related to alcohol use
  7. Giving up previously important social, occupational, or recreational activities as a result of continued drinking
  8. Recurrent drinking in physically hazardous situations (e.g., driving)
  9. Continued drinking despite knowing it has negatively impacted one’s physical or mental health
  10. Developing a tolerance to alcohol’s desired intoxicating effects
  11. Experiencing withdrawal when abstaining or drinking less, or drinking to avoid withdrawal

According to the DSM-5, meeting 2 or more of the above criteria within 12 months could indicate the presence of an alcohol use disorder. The number of criteria met corresponds to the severity of one’s AUD. 2-3 criteria met indicates mild AUD, 4-5 criteria met indicates moderate AUD, and 6 or more criteria met indicates severe AUD.2

What is Excessive Alcohol Use?

Not all instances of excessive drinking indicate that someone has an alcohol addiction; however, repeated patterns of excessive alcohol use can increase someone’s risk of AUD development.4

Forms of excessive alcohol use may include:1

  • Binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women and drinking 5 drinks or more on an occasion for men.2 Binge drinking is very common in the United States, with 1 in 6 adults reporting binge drinking behaviors.5
  • Heavy drinking. Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking at least one day during the week or consuming 8 drinks or more a week for women and 15 drinks or more a week for men.
  • Heavy alcohol use. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking 5 or more days in a month.4

Risks & Effects of Alcohol Use

People who drink excessively—such as those with AUD—may also be at increased risk of certain physical and mental health issues.1

Alcohol use may cause or increase the risk of:1

  • Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and stroke.
  • Various liver problems like fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, and breast.
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, dependence, and addiction.
  • Injuries from falling, motor vehicle accidents, or burns.
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, and physical or sexual assault.
  • Unprotected sex leading to sexually transmitted infections, diseases, and unwanted pregnancies.
  • Alcohol-related overdoses, including those that involve other substances such as opioids.

Signs of Alcohol Overdose

When a person consumes too much alcohol in a short period, it can lead to alcohol overdose toxicity (also known as alcohol poisoning), a life-threatening condition.6

Someone experiencing an alcohol overdose may exhibit:6

  • Profound confusion.
  • Inability to remain conscious.
  • Dulled responses to external stimuli.
  • Diminished gag reflex.
  • Vomiting.
  • Slow or irregular breathing.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Clammy skin.
  • Pale skin.
  • Bluish skin, lips, or nails.
  • Seizures.

Alcohol poisoning can result in permanent and severe brain damage or death. Cold showers, food, and coffee do not reverse alcohol poisoning or overdose and could introduce additional hazards such as falls/injury and choking. If you notice a person with signs of a potential alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately. Keep the patient partially upright to prevent them from choking on their vomit and do not leave them unattended until emergency medical personnel arrive.6

Alcohol Addiction Help in Las Vegas, Nevada

While the consequences of excessive alcohol use and alcohol addiction are potentially severe, AUD is treatable.7 There are several levels of addiction treatment for the treatment of alcohol addiction including:8,9

  • Medical detox: A medically supervised detox is often the first step in the process of recovery. Close patient monitoring and medications may be administered to keep people safe and comfortable and to decrease the risk of withdrawal complications.
  • Inpatient or residential treatment: This occurs in a structured therapeutic setting where patients are monitored 24 hours a day. Approaches include behavioral therapy, medications if needed, peer support, and treatment for co-occurring disorders.
  • Outpatient treatment: There are several levels of outpatient treatment that vary in intensity, such as partial hospital programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and standard outpatient treatment. Many of the same approaches that are used in residential treatment are employed during outpatient treatment; however, patients are able to return home or to other sober living arrangements after each treatment session.
  • Transitional housing (i.e., sober living or recovery housing): Some people who are in the process of recovery will require extra support once treatment is complete. Transitional housing includes sober living and halfway houses that allow people to live and work in a home that supports sobriety.

Desert Hope Treatment is a Las Vegas, Nevada rehab center that provides all the above as well as ongoing alumni support. If you or a loved one are ready to discuss treatment for alcohol addiction, contact one of our admissions navigators at who can answer any questions you may have about using insurance to pay for rehab or other ways of paying for treatment.

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Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.