Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse or misuse—excessive or inappropriate use of a substance—can be difficult to define, and people’s opinions, values, and beliefs vary significantly on the topic. For some, any use of an illegal drug or any use of alcohol with the primary purpose of intoxication constitutes abuse. For others, abuse is indicated by recurring, negative consequences, such as:

  • Failure to meet social, work, and academic obligations.
  • Physical injury or illness.
  • Alcohol- or drug-related legal problems, such as arrest for driving while intoxicated.
  • Relationship problems with intimate partners, friends, and family.
  • Impulsivity, such as spending money excessively.
  • Diminished interest in other activities.
  • Short-term memory loss or blackouts.


Signs that Abuse Has Become Addiction

Substance abuse can lead to substance dependence or addiction when both the amount of substance used and the rate of use increase.  Alcoholism, for example, occurs when people become chemically dependent on alcohol, and those who are addicted may become ill if they suddenly stop drinking. People may also feel psychologically dependent on a substance and continue to use it, particularly under stressful circumstances or to alleviate other psychological problems. Some people deny or are unaware that they have a problem with addiction, and sometimes a person’s substance dependency and abuse remain hidden from loved ones.

Signs of chemical dependence include:

  • Increasing tolerance, or the need to consume more of the substance to reach the desired altered state.
  • Requiring the substance throughout the day.
  • Seeking the company of other users and cutting off social ties with non-users.
  • Dismissing or resenting expressions of concern from loved ones.
  • Avoiding other activities and failing to meet obligations.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the substance.
  • Hiding use from family and friends.
  • Binging—using heavily—for many hours or several days.
  • Feeling unable to quit.


At the Anxiety & Stress Center,  our therapists specialize in addiction recovery and can help people who are addicted to set achievable and empowering short-term goals as they work to overcome their addiction. Once sobriety is achieved, adaptive skills can be developed as the person works to regain physical and emotional health, and the therapist can begin to explore the source or cause of the addiction with the person in treatment as the person begins to employ the new coping strategies.

With therapy, a person who has become dependent on drugs or alcohol is often more likely to overcome an addiction, and several types of therapy are helpful in this process. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing therapy—a person-centered therapy that relies on the person’s inspiration to change—have demonstrated effectiveness in this arena. Sometimes therapy provides a supplemental form of support for someone who is attending a self-help group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.