It can be difficult to recognize when someone is struggling with an addiction. Even if we’re looking for the signs within ourselves, confirming or accepting that you have a problem with alcohol is not easy. This guide is designed to help you recognize an alcohol addiction.


One of the reasons why it can be difficult to recognize that a loved one, or you yourself is struggling with an alcohol problem is because it’s easy to overlook. If you’re at a social gathering it’s natural to have a drink. Complicating matters are serving sizes, which often vary from one location to another.

By looking at standard/recommended serving sizes we can help quantify what is a healthy amount of alcohol to consume. WebMD recognizes a serving of alcohol is:

  • WINE, 5 ounces.
  • BEER, 12 ounces.
  • MALT LIQUOR, 8-9 ounces.
  • FORTIFIED WINE (such as sherry), 3-4 ounces.
  • LIQUEURS (such as Chambord, Irish Cream, or Creme de Cacao), 2-3 ounces.

It’s important to keep in mind though, that an unhealthy use of alcohol is about more than how much you drink. Other things need to be considered including:

  • The effects felt after a drink.
  • How often a person drinks.
  • What happens when you don’t have a drink.


Understanding that everyone is different is an important part of understanding addiction. This includes what we consume, how much we consume, and the potential consequences of consuming too much. Person A, for example, may consume less alcohol than Person B does in a week. However, Person A might be dependent on their consumption, while Person B can easily go without.

With that in mind, we can look at potential warning signs that there is an addiction to alcohol. Common signs include:

  • Drinking more, or longer than you intended.
  • Being unable to stop drinking or cut back.
  • Spending an excessive amount of time drinking or recovering from drinking (being hungover).
  • Being unable to think about anything other than drinking.
  • Problems have popped up with work, school, or family, because you’re under the influence too much, or sick/hungover too much.
  • Cutting back or quitting other activities to have more time to drink.
  • Health problems arising from too much alcohol, such as depression, or blacking out. In more severe cases; liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Needing more alcohol than you used to, for the effect you want.
  • Experiencing injuries while under the influence.
  • Spending money on alcohol rather than food, rent or other essentials.
  • Feeling hopeless, empty, or pessimistic about the present and future.
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms after the buzz wears off such as restlessness, nausea, a racing heart, sweating, trouble sleeping, etc. 

Doctors suggest that experiencing two or three of these warning signs within the past year, could be a mild alcohol use problem. It’s considered moderate when you feel four or five symptoms. Experiencing six or more of these warnings in a year can be considered a severe problem.

THE 4 C’s

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and treatment hospital. They recognize the term “addiction” is vague and offer the four C’s for help:

  • CRAVING alcohol.
  • CONTROL, regarding frequency of use.
  • COMPULSION, feeling the need to consume alcohol.
  • CONSEQUENCES, choosing to drink despite them.


For many, remaining sober can be a life-long struggle. “Putting an addiction behind you” may not be entirely possible. However, it is possible to learn that alcohol isn’t the answer to your problems. It’s also possible to learn to live without constantly thinking of your next drink.

It’s not recommended that you quit cold turkey on your own. Withdrawal symptoms from any substance can be dangerous. Talking with a doctor is a good first step. Your doctor will be able to:

  • Confirm if you need assistance.
  • Do blood work or other tests to ensure your body is healthy and find any potential problems that excessive alcohol consumption can cause.
  • Refer you to a support group or counseling.
  • Work with you to create a treatment plan, possibly including medication.


Having an open conversation about a possible addiction is one of the most difficult parts of recovering. Both parties will struggle with communicating. It helps to approach the discussion with a sense of curiosity, rather than accusations or fear. This way your loved one is more likely to feel you’re learning about this together.

It’s also helpful to expect the conversation to be brief. There’s a chance that your loved one will be willing to sit and have a calm and fruitful discussion about their alcohol use for an hour. However, it’s more likely that they'll feel overwhelmed, become sensitive or agitated. Starting the conversation with a goal in mind (something you feel is important to discuss) and ending the conversation when you’ve discussed it will make them more apt to speaking to you again in the near future. Even better, it may inspire them to come to you next time with their concerns.

Some other tips for a productive conversation include:

  • Start by informing your loved one that you’d like to talk and ask them when and where is ideal for them.
  • Learn facts about alcohol dependence and recovery before your conversation. Sometimes being factual makes it less personal and therefore easier to discuss.
  • While learning facts is beneficial, you don’t want to share any fact sheets or literature about addiction with them yet. This can cause defensiveness and prevent them from wanting to talk to you about it again.
  • It can be helpful to discuss your concerns with them but try asking them first. Ask what they feel is “too much” alcohol. Ask how they know when to draw the line. This is similar to approaching the conversation with curiosity, rather than accusations. Asking questions can also prompt your loved one to look within for the answers and help them discover on their own that they may be struggling.