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Am I an Alcoholic? Take the Quiz

When we think of the word ‘alcoholic’ we might imagine a dramatic scene from a movie, like someone stumbling around, shouting, or causing an accident. Except, you can be an alcoholic and not follow any of the stereotypes.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which in the past was called alcoholism, is much more complex than it seems. You can have a relatively normal life but deeply struggle with your alcohol usage. Read on to learn the signs of AUD and take the quiz to see the next steps you can take.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

AUD, or alcoholism, is a brain disorder that can appear as mild, moderate, or severe. Depending on the severity of AUD, brain function begins to change. For example, neurotransmitters that affect your mood and behavior can become dysregulated, even when you’re not drinking. Those “feel good” chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, start working differently and can lead to mood disorders.

While initially, alcohol can increase these chemicals that affect your mood, reward, and motivation systems, they become blunted with continued overuse. The effect decreases, meaning you need more alcohol to get the same results.

Eventually, if your brain starts needing alcohol for a mood boost, or simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms, a cycle of dependence can begin. A chronic dysregulation of dopamine and serotonin can develop, making it difficult to even find satisfaction or joy in other activities.

Take the quiz: Am I an alcoholic?

If you’re not sure where you stand, go through these questions to get a better idea of your relationship with alcohol:

  1. Do you keep drinking even if it makes you feel depressed or anxious, or negatively affects your physical health?
  2. Are you spending a lot of time drinking, trying to get alcohol, or recovering from drinking?
  3. Have you stopped or cut back on doing the things you love, like hobbies or social activities/
  4. Do you get strong urges or cravings to drink?
  5. Have you often drunk more, or for longer, than you meant to?
  6. Does drinking get in the way of your work or home life responsibilities?
  7. Have you gotten into dangerous situations during or after drinking?
  8. Do you notice withdrawal symptoms when alcohol starts wearing off, like having a hard time sleeping, getting restless, shaky, or nauseous?
  9. Have you noticed that you need to drink more than you used to?
  10. Have you tried cutting back or quitting but couldn’t?

If you’ve responded yes to a few or more of these questions, it might be time to consider taking some steps to observe and improve your habits with alcohol. That could mean tracking your usage, diving into mindful drinking, or seeing a professional for specialized tips that fit your lifestyle.

Keep in mind that this quiz doesn’t equal a diagnosis. It follows the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, for AUD, which helps health professionals diagnose AUD as mild, moderate, or severe.

It’s best to speak with a professional to get a better idea of where you’re at and the steps you can take to move forward healthily.

What are the signs of an alcoholic?

While everyone can show different signs, these are some of the most common:

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol. One of the more obvious signs that the body is becoming accustomed to more alcohol is needing more to get the same desired effect.
  • Work, home life, or mental and physical health struggles. Alcohol usage might be getting in the way of carrying on with daily tasks, relationships, and worsen mental or physical health.
  • Continued use despite negative consequences. There might be problems developing due to alcohol use, such as missed work or sleeping difficulties — but slowing down or stopping doesn’t feel possible.
  • Increased cravings. Strong desires or urges to drink might take over, making everything else seem unimportant.
  • Involvement in dangerous situations. Alcohol usage might lead to unsafe behaviors, like drunk driving, unsafe sex, or spending time in unsafe areas.
  • Loss of control. It’s common to lose your sense of control when drinking and feel unable to stop or cut back.

What exactly is heavy, moderate, and binge drinking?

Binge drinking is having four or more drinks on one occasion for women, or five for men. It’s quite common, with more than 20% of Americans saying they binge drank last month. While four or five drinks might sound like a lot, it’s not too hard to imagine if you’re at a party or night out.

Ultimately, the health risks of binge and heavy drinking can be intense, especially for the liver. Just one night of binge drinking can lead to fat build-up in the liver, just as in fatty liver disease. A weekend bender can even end up in acute alcoholic hepatitis, where the liver swells up.

Even moderate drinking, which is one drink a day or less for women and two or less for men, has health risks. Currently, some countries are even changing their definition of moderate drinking. Canada, for example, now suggests two drinks or less per week. Science now shows that any amount of alcohol can have negative health effects.

As for heavy or excessive drinking, it’s defined as eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 for men. However, falling into this category doesn’t necessarily mean you have AUD or are alcohol-dependent.

Is drinking more dangerous for women vs men?

Women respond quite differently to alcohol when compared to men. Their bodies are often smaller in size, meaning the alcohol concentration can be much higher. Female bodies also have less water and more fat compared to men. Fat tends to retain alcohol, while water can dilute it. Finally, women also have less of the enzyme, dehydrogenase, that breaks down alcohol.

All these factors put together, plus societal and environmental impacts put women at a higher risk of developing alcohol-related organ damage, trauma, and interpersonal difficulties. For example, women may develop addictions and suffer their consequences more quickly than men. This includes depression, anxiety, reproductive issues, breast cancer, liver, and heart disease.

Risks associated with drinking

What happens to your body when you stop binge drinking?

If you’re used to heavy or binge drinking, stopping should be done with medical care. Speak to your healthcare provider about your plans for stopping, follow their suggestions, and keep them updated.

Your body will likely go through a few significant changes, including:

  • Withdrawal. Within the first 48 hours of stopping, you might experience anxiety, shaking, sweating, nausea, or insomnia. The symptoms tend to be more intense for heavy drinkers and tend to decrease after a few days.

If you’re a heavy drinker, speak to your doctor before cutting back on your drinking — you may need medical assistance during the process.

After withdrawal passes, you might notice these benefits:

  • Better sleep. Alcohol disrupts REM sleep, the most restorative phase. It may take a week or two for sleep to regulate, but afterward, you’ll sleep through the night better and wake up more refreshed.
  • Weight loss. Less drinking means fewer calories and clearer thinking for healthier food choices.
  • Improved skin. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it can lead to dehydration and harm your skin. With more water and less alcohol, your skin may clear up and become more plump and healthy.
  • Increased energy. With better sleep and absorption of nutrients, you’re likely going to feel much less fatigue and exhaustion.
  • Mental health benefits. Neurochemicals can begin to restabilize, helping to improve your overall mood and cognitive function.
  • Improved digestion. Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and disrupt your gut flora. After stopping, your digestive system may heal and you can notice less bloating, gas, or discomfort.

How to help your friend or loved one binge drinking

If you’re worried about someone close to you, you might be wondering how to best broach the subject and get them help. First, it’s important to always keep compassion and empathy top of mind. People with AUD are often struggling with a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.

Depressive disorders are particularly high — people suffering from AUD are 2.3 times more likely to also have had a major depressive disorder in the previous year.

If you’d like to speak with your loved one, try to prepare yourself first. Think about what you’d like to say but also remember to listen actively, without judgment. They may be going through a hard time and need your support.

Think of open-ended questions you can ask them to understand their situation better. Offer a listening ear and a comforting and safe space, letting them speak without interrupting or reacting negatively. This way, they may be less likely to feel ashamed, and perhaps, more likely to feel as though you’re open to truly hearing them out.

In the end, the most important thing you can do is offer judgment-free support. You can try offering gentle ideas for what you think might be helpful for them, such as a mindful drinking app or a professional, but what they’re ready for is up to them.

You can also consider setting boundaries and practicing self-care. Caring for someone going through a hard time is stressful, and you might even benefit from a support group for those caring for loved ones with AUD.

In the end, compassion for yourself, and others, is always essential for good mental health.

Resources

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-018-0309-1
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-020-00938-8
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  6. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/binge-drinking
  7.  https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/alcohol-liver
  8. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcoholic-hepatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351388?DSECTION=all
  9. https://www.ccsa.ca/canadas-guidance-alcohol-and-health
  10. https://www.who.int/europe/news/item/04-01-2023
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378512217311027
  12. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/0-306-47138-8_9
  13. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa46.htm
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2759762/
  15. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm
  16. https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/files.alcoholchange.org.uk/documents/De-Visser-2016.pdf?mtime=20181114110441
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5821259/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513683/
  19. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
  20. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/health-professionals-communities/core-resource-on-alcohol/mental-health-issues-alcohol-use-disorder-and-common-co-occurring-conditions
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6799954/
  22. https://iaap-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aphw.12127
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