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If you’re concerned that a friend of family member is abusing alcohol, you may be wondering how to confirm your suspicions. Because alcohol abuse can manifest differently in each individual, it’s important to know the varying signs to look for that may indicate your loved one has a problem with alcohol. Keep reading to learn the common signs of alcohol abuse for both teens and adults.

What is Considered Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse can be tricky to diagnose. This is due to the fact that light to moderate alcohol consumption is both considered socially acceptable and, for many people, will not put them at high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder or AUD. So how do you know if your loved one has moved from low-risk alcohol use to abusing alcohol?

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Although a physician should always be contacted to make a formal AUD diagnosis, there are signs to look for that may indicate your loved one is abusing and/or may be addicted to alcohol.

Ask yourself, in the past year, has your loved one:

  • Experienced times where they ended up drinking more alcohol than intended?
  • Tried to cut down or stop drinking but did not succeed?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or being sick due to the after-effects of drinking?
  • Experienced cravings for alcohol or a strong urge to drink?
  • Needed alcohol to feel ‘normal’?
  • Had problems at work, school, or with family life due to drinking?
  • Missed school or work due to drinking or the aftereffects of drinking?
  • Given up hobbies, activities they once enjoyed, or time with family in order to drink?
  • Put themselves in a dangerous situation while drinking such as driving under the influence or having unsafe sex?
  • Continued to drink despite the development of health problems due to alcohol consumption?
  • Continued to drink even if alcohol has contributed to money troubles, legal issues, or family conflict?
  • Needed to drink more alcohol to get the same desired effects?
  • Suffered from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, nausea, vomiting, or sweating when he stops drinking?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, your loved one may be abusing alcohol and may require formal alcohol addiction treatment.

Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

Keep in mind, some individuals who abuse alcohol do not meet the “classic” criteria for signs of alcohol abuse listed above. Often times, we get worried when a loved one starts experiencing problems with school, work, family, money, or their health due to drinking, and those consequences are usually what tip us off that they may be struggling with alcohol abuse. However, some individuals can be regularly abusing alcohol and still be a high performer at work or school, spend quality time with family, pay their bills on time, and never experience legal consequences due to drinking. These individuals are known as functioning alcoholics.

Just because functioning alcoholics may not currently be experiencing some of the darker consequences that come with alcohol abuse does not mean there is no cause for concern. Eventually, most functioning alcoholics will experience negative outcomes due to drinking, especially when it comes to their health. If you think your loved one could be a functioning alcoholic, keep an eye out for these signs of alcohol abuse:

  • Regularly “blacking out” or forgetting what they did while drinking
  • Acting completely differently when drunk versus when they’re sober
  • Justifying their drinking with excuses such as stress
  • Needing alcohol to relax, be social, or feel confident
  • Joking around about having a problem with alcohol
  • Regularly drinking in the morning or during the day
  • Always drinking more than they say they’re going to
  • Getting defensive when confronted about their drinking
  • Hiding empty bottles or are dishonest about how much they drink

Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens

Teen and college drinking can be linked to serious consequences. Therefore, it’s important to be aware if your underage loved one is using and abusing alcohol. Although your teen may be displaying any of the signs of alcohol abuse listed above, there are some specific signs of alcohol abuse to look out for in teenangers, including:

  • Sharp decline in school performance
  • Trouble paying attention in class
  • Sudden change in friend groups
  • Stealing money from parents or siblings
  • Raiding liquor cabinet and replacing consumed alcohol with water
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Abrupt behavioral changes
  • Dropping out of after-school activities they once enjoyed

In addition to the signs of alcohol abuse listed above, teens may use street names for alcohol and/or drinking activities to disguise their drinking. Adults who learn and are able to recognize common slang for alcohol, drinking, drinking games, and being drunk may be able to help prevent alcohol addiction, abuse, serious accidents, and possible fatalities.

Common Street Names for Alcohol

  • Booze
  • Juice
  • Giggle juice
  • Joy juice
  • Sauce
  • Hard stuff
  • Moonshine
  • Hooch
  • Firewater
  • Cold one
  • Vino
  • Brew
  • Draft
  • Suds
  • Liquid bread
  • Oats soda
  • Nectar of the Gods
  • Kool Aid

Slang for Drinking/Drinking Activities

  • Pre Game: Drinking alcohol before a party or event.
  • Chugging: Consuming alcohol at a rapid rate (commonly occurs during drinking games).
  • Beer Bong: A device made out of a tube or hose and a funnel; designed to consume large quantities very quickly.
  • Black out: When a person who has been drinking has a memory loss (commonly occurs with binge drinking).
  • Crunked: Drinking alcohol and using marijuana at the same time.
  • Jello Shots: Making Jello with alcohol and serving it in shot glasses, small cups, ice cube trays, or in small squares.
  • Trashed, Smashed, Sloshed, or Tanked: Drunk.

When to Seek Professional Help


At this point in time, you may feel that if your friend or family member either loved you enough or wanted to stop drinking enough, they could stop using alcohol on their own. However, if your loved one is regularly abusing alcohol, they may have developed an addiction. Addiction to alcohol is actually a chronic, recurring brain disease whose symptoms can be managed with proper treatment. Consequently, if your loved one is engaging in alcohol abuse, seeking professional help is the most caring and responsible thing you can do for them. There are many treatment options available, including:

  • Long-term residential treatment
  • Short-term residential treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Individualized addiction counseling
  • Group counseling and support groups

As each individual is unique and is coming to treatment under different circumstances, it’s important to enlist the help of professionals to advise you as to which type of treatment would best serve your loved one. The appropriate treatment options will vary depending on the amount of alcohol your loved one regularly consumes, the length of time they have been abusing alcohol, any underlying mental health disorders, and individual personality traits.

Some people and institutions you can reach out to as you’re researching treatment options include:

A trusted medical professional

A physician, especially one who specializes in addiction medicine, may be able to recommend steps you can take to get your loved one started on the road to recovery. There are many ways to approach recovery from alcoholism or alcohol abuse, and the best methods will vary based on your friend or family member’s individual circumstances and their level of addiction.

A physician may also be able to provide guidance as to whether or not your loved one can detox from alcohol at home or would be safer in a facility where they can undergo the process under medical supervision. Under certain circumstances, withdrawing from alcohol can be life-threatening, so it’s always best to talk with a doctor before your loved one stops drinking “cold turkey.”

An alcohol treatment center

For many individuals struggling with alcohol abuse, enrolling in an alcohol treatment program may be necessary to encourage long-term sobriety. In an alcohol treatment program, your loved one will work with therapists and addiction specialists to recover physically and mentally from their alcohol abuse while learning new ways to interact with the world without alcohol.

Depending on the severity of your loved one’s alcohol abuse, they may be best served in an inpatient treatment program where they’ll both live and receive treatment on-site. For individuals who cannot be away from family, work, or school for an extended period of time, outpatient treatment programs are another option where your loved one can participate in treatment during the day but continue to live at home. Most treatment facilities have recovery advisors who can help determine whether or not their specific program would be a good fit for your friend or family member.

A professional interventionist

If your loved one refuses to acknowledges that they have a problem with alcohol and do not want to enter treatment, a professional interventionist may be able to help. These specialists take full charge of planning and staging an intervention, which is a pre-planned, formal meeting between you (and any other appropriated loved ones) and your friend or family member struggling with alcohol abuse. The goal of an intervention is to help your loved one see how their alcohol abuse is negatively affecting their life as well as the lives of those around them and convince them to enter treatment.

Don’t Wait

If you’re concerned that your loved one is abusing alcohol, don’t wait for their behavior to get worse before you seek help. The sooner your friend or family member enters treatment for their substance abuse, the easier the recovery process will be.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.