Alcoholism is not always easy to identify in people, but for someone close to an alcoholic, changes in behavior are often a red flag.
While alcoholism does not have a type, and anyone can be affected by the disease of alcoholism, there are a few key behaviors that are recognizable when a person is struggling with an alcohol use disorder.
Alcoholic behavior is sometimes referred to as alcoholic personality. This does not mean that a person has a personality that sets them up to become an alcoholic.
In fact, saying that someone has an alcoholic personality is just another way of saying that a person is acting in a way that people struggling with alcoholism typically behave.
Alcoholism, which is currently referred to as a severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), is characterized by a chronic compulsion to consume alcohol that takes over most elements of a person’s life. They are unable to stop drinking without cravings and withdrawal symptoms emerging.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used in the United States to diagnose mental health disorders and addictions, like alcoholism.
To be officially diagnosed with an AUD a person needs to meet two or three of the behaviors or warning signs within a twelve-month period of time:
- giving up previously enjoyed activities due to alcohol
- avoiding friends or family members
- not being able to cut down on alcohol use
- driving under the influence or operating machinery under the influence
- continuing to use alcohol despite alcohol causing health or home issues
- not being able to perform at work, school, or home because of alcohol
- drinking more alcohol than intended or for longer periods of time
- experiencing withdrawal without alcohol
An AUD can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe, based on how many of the above criteria are met. A mild AUD must meet two to three criteria, moderate AUD is four or five, and a severe AUD will have six or more. Individuals who meet the criteria for an AUD will benefit from an addiction treatment program.
In addition, people who drink more than the recommended amount are placing themselves at risk for an AUD. If a female consumes more than seven drinks in a week, or a male drinks more than 14 alcoholic drinks in a week, their drinking habits are placing them at risk for developing an alcohol addiction.
Signs Of Alcoholic Behavior
These criteria are intended to be used by a mental health or health care provider. However, there are behaviors that are common among alcoholics. Understanding these behaviors may help a loved one who is concerned about the drinking habits of someone they care about.
Abrupt Anger or Unprovoked Aggression
Alcohol changes the brain, and once a person is dependent or addicted, the person will experience withdrawal symptoms without alcohol. This is due to a chemical imbalance due to the lack of alcohol. As a result, they may experience cravings that can trigger an aggressive response.
People may also become very aggressive when they are intoxicated. Alcohol may affect how people react to their environment creating an aggressive response when triggered.
Something as minor as a bad day, a misspoken word, or if a person is harboring pent-up frustrations could result in an argument.
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Sometimes people are generally angry, and when they drink excessively it comes out in more intense ways. It is not always easy to figure out what the effects of alcohol will be on a person who abuses alcohol.
A study conducted in 2018 found MRI scans of the participants’ alcohol-related changes in the prefrontal cortex may possibly increase aggression in men.
When a person experiences a blackout, they cannot recall what happened while they were drinking. This is due to excessive alcohol consumption, like binge drinking. The brain is so intoxicated that it is unable to store memories, so memories of events that occur during a blackout are completely lost to the person drinking.
During these blackouts, a person may lose inhibitions, conduct illegal activity, get into arguments or even physical violence, cause bodily harm to themselves, or even drive drunk.
The person is also at risk of being sexually assaulted, ending up somewhere with no knowledge of how they got there, or some other kind of danger.
Even if a person is lucky enough to not have a negative event happen during a blackout, it is still a concerning occurrence. Blacking out literally makes a person’s brain malfunctions to the point where it is not capable of one of its most common functions.
People suffering from alcoholism are much more vulnerable to blackouts and may have them on a regular basis. You may notice it’s hard for them to recall things that happened the night before while they were drinking. They may also frequently pass out after a night of drinking.
Inability To Stop Drinking
Individuals that do not have a drinking problem do not struggle to identify the line of when they need to stop drinking. People with AUD are unable to distinguish that line.
People suffering from alcoholism physically and mentally feel they need to drink. These alcohol cravings can be incredibly strong even while they are drinking. Some might even describe these feelings as having become mentally obsessed with drinking.
Because of these physical and mental desires, an alcoholic is often unable to stop, whether it be for the day, the week, the month, or for the year. Some simply may not want to stop drinking.
Planning Daily Life Around Drinking
People suffering from alcohol addiction tend to focus on when they can have their first drink. For some, it might be the cold beer or glass of wine after work, or Friday after a week of work, and they binge drink all weekend. For others, it could be a drink in the morning to help subside the feelings of a hangover or alcohol withdrawals.
No matter the differences between individuals’ drinking habits, the focus of a person with severe AUD is when they can drink. This could be because alcoholics feel more like themselves when they can consume alcohol.
Individuals with an alcohol use disorder will usually plan their week and weekends around drinking. Additionally, they will hang out with people that have similar drinking habits because it makes them feel more comfortable about their drinking.
Additional Alcoholic Behaviors
Speaking generally, many individuals with an alcohol use disorder display behaviors that are insensitive, misleading, and sly.
While these behaviors are not considered positive, they do not mean that an alcoholic is a bad person. What this actually indicates is that they have a disease that compels them to behave in certain ways to fulfill their cravings for alcohol.
Some additional traits that are seen in a person with an alcohol use disorder include:
- very concerned about image
- poor self-image
- low-self esteem
Because these behaviors are due to a need-driven compulsion to drink, the new behaviors may push out the personality of the person they were before. It can lead to significant problems in a person’s personal and professional life.
Helping Someone With Alcoholic Behaviors
If you suspect someone is abusing alcohol and is in need of an alcohol abuse treatment program, consider contacting someone who can help. Reaching out to a professional with experience in substance abuse is helpful to determine what steps to take.
It is difficult for anyone to try to manage substance use disorders on their own. There are several different treatment options for those who struggle with a drinking problem, such as detox, outpatient treatment centers, inpatient treatment facilities, and support groups.
Reach out to a substance abuse treatment specialist today. Our offices are available to help discuss treatment options and recovery programs with you or your loved one.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- American Psychiatric Association—Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
- American Psychological Association—Personality processes related to the development and resolution of alcohol use disorders
- Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy—Self-destructive alcoholic personality
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism—Alcohol Use Disorder