Slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, and lowered inhibitions: it’s easy to tell when a person has been drinking. However, identifying a deeper addiction problem may not be so black and white.

Alcoholics may be able to hide many of the more obvious symptoms of addiction for a long period of time before a friend, colleague, or family member can put the pieces together to see that their loved one’s strange behavior is a sign of a much bigger problem. Too often the addicted person and the people around them choose to ignore it, or find themselves in a state of denial about the realities of the alcohol addiction.

If you suspect that a friend or loved one is addicted to alcohol, pay attention to the warning signs. Certain behaviors may indicate that a person’s pattern of drinking is the result of alcohol addiction.

Signs of alcoholism include:

  • Being unable to control how much you drink
  • Being unable to control when you drink
  • Feeling compelled or having strong cravings to drink
  • Having a tolerance to alcohol so that you need to consume increasingly larger amounts of alcohol in order to experience the same “feel-good” effects
  • Having to drink in order to feel “normal” or “good”
  • Storing alcohol in unlikely places, such as at work, in your car, or in unusual places in your house
  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Irritability if you can’t drink when you want to
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences in your personal or professional life
  • Preferring to drink over engaging in other activities and hobbies, including spending time with friends and family
  • Experiencing blackouts, or periods of time when you can’t remember what you did, where you were, or who you were with

You may also experience physical symptoms when you are unable to drink. These are signs of a physical addiction—that is, your body feels it is unable to act and function as it should without the alcohol. These symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • hallucinations
  • convulsions
  • vomiting

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a less serious issue when compared with alcoholism, though it has many health complications and can lead to alcoholism if not treated. People who abuse alcohol but are not physically addicted may experience many of the same signs and symptoms as people who have alcoholism. However, people who abuse alcohol often do not have the same cravings or need to drink that a person with alcoholism does. Instead, a person who abuses alcohol is not able to control his or her drinking when they do drink.

How Is Alcoholism Diagnosed?

No laboratory or diagnostic test can confirm an alcohol addiction. Instead, addiction is a diagnosis of exclusion—when all behaviors and health problems are taken into consideration, your doctor may determine that your drinking is in fact an addiction, not just alcohol abuse.

To reach a more informed conclusion, some doctors use questionnaires to evaluate your dependence on alcohol as well as your behavior when you consume it. Your family members, colleagues, and friends may also be asked to answer similar questions. Together, these may be able to help your doctor understand the root of your problem, the behaviors that trigger drinking, and the best course of treatment for your specific situation.