How Do You Know If You Have an Alcohol Problem?

Alcohol Problem

Alcohol problems creep up slowly. A phenomenon called denial—the refusal to admit the truth or reality of something—allows people to ignore the signs of growing dependence. For example, you may tell yourself you don’t have a problem because you don’t typically get falling-down drunk or because your friends drink a lot more than you do. Or maybe you tell yourself that you don’t have a problem because you only drink beer or wine. Meanwhile, as you continue drinking regularly, your brain is essentially rewiring itself, driving you to drink more, regardless of the shame, guilt, or repercussions.

You may tell yourself you don’t have a problem because you don’t typically get falling-down drunk or because your friends drink a lot more than you do. Click To Tweet

The truth is that an alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. Most people with a problem will show signs in several or all of these areas: physical health, mental health, social (work, family, and friendships) connections, or spiritual well-being. There are many clinical tools—such as the CAGE Assessment—to gauge whether a person has an addiction, but below are typical scenarios that may indicate you have or on your way to having a problem with alcohol.


1. You have more drinks than planned.

You are headed out to meet some colleagues for drinks, but you intend to have only one drink and plan to return home at a reasonable hour as you need to be fresh in the morning for work. You meet them at a Mexican restaurant where there are endless pitchers of margaritas served. You have one and decide an extra one can’t hurt. Then someone buys a round of tequila shots, and you end up partaking. It becomes a heavy night of drinking. You get home late. You feel horrible the next morning and fail to do your best work.

2. Alcohol occupies a featured role in your life, and you spend a lot of time thinking about drinking, obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from drinking (hangover).

You are the social planner amongst your hard-drinking friends. You come up with exciting new social activities always involving alcohol. You spend time and money procuring fine wine or a particular brand of hard liquor for poker night, a chili cook-off, a boating trip, or game day. Your Sundays are often a wash as you can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a hangover.

3. The day after drinking you feel bad and experience brain fog, irritability, tiredness, or low motivation.

You meet your friends for a couple of beers on a Friday night, and you wake up feeling horrible on Saturday. You cancel plans, stay home, get nothing done on your to-do list, and isolate.

4. It’s causing conflict in your relationships.

You fight with your spouse every time you go out and have wine with dinner. Or perhaps you come home every Thursday evening from an evening out with boys, perhaps too late and having had one too many. Your partner won’t talk to you the next day because they are disgusted by your lack of responsibility and failure to care about your own well-being.

5. You’re getting into trouble at work, at school, with your money, or with the law.

You don’t answer the phone because the credit card company is calling you asking for payment for the bill that’s two months late. You missed another day of work due to a hangover and you are afraid of being fired. You’re in danger of being kicked out of college because you failed to maintain a passing average last semester because you blew off too many papers and exams due to your partying lifestyle. You can’t drive because you had a second DUI citation.

6. You’re getting sick physically or psychologically.

Your doctor tells you your blood pressure is too high, or you drink to cope with uncomfortable emotions like anxiousness, emptiness, or hopelessness. But when you stop drinking you feel even more anxious and depressed and do not want to face work on Monday.

7. You withdraw from life and from hobbies you normally enjoy.

You’ve stopped showing up to play tennis on the weekend with your friends. You do not socialize outside of work and instead choose to stay home alone, sometimes drinking.

8. You take dangerous risks while drinking that could harm yourself or others such as driving, skiing, or swimming.

It’s Saturday morning, you can’t quite remember how you got home the night before. Then you remember you drove your friends home after a night of drinking, knowing you put yourself and others at risk.

9. When you drink, your behavior is out of character, and you say or do things that make you feel ashamed, guilty, and remorseful.

You went out with your girlfriends to a party. You abandoned them during the party to cozy up to a guy. You leave the party to spend the night at this man’s house and awake the next day, embarrassed and ashamed that you abandoned your friends and had sex with a stranger.

10. You’ve developed a tolerance and need more alcohol to get the same effect.

You used to get a happy buzz from drinking one glass of wine, but now you need to finish an entire bottle to achieve that same feeling.

11. You’ve tried unsuccessfully to reduce your drinking.

You decide you are only going to drink a beer or glass of wine on special occasions, but somehow you end up drinking every day. When you try to quit completely, you get the shakes or feel nauseous.

12. You keep drinking despite negative consequences.

Even though your drinking is causing real problems, you keep doing it. Alcohol has become more important to you than other aspects of your life.


First, recognize that an alcohol problem is not a moral failing, but a brain disorder that needs treatment. The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that brain dysfunction is the primary reason why people drink too much. Finding the root causes—such as past emotional trauma, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression, or head injuries—that are driving your need to drink is an important step in the process. Treating any such underlying issues is key to overcoming an alcohol use disorder.

Problems with alcohol, drug addictions, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I think being sexually abused by a family member for a number of years, from 5 until 11, set me up for drinking. Threats of being killed I told some one, guilt and shame from being Catholic, made my life alost unbearable. And even later, I could never have trusting or good relationships with other guys. My sexuality was all messed up. Was I gay? Did I bring this on? Its been 60 years but still sorting that out. Got sober over 40 years ago. Figured drinking was going to change my past. Bad shit happens to a lot of people. I wasn’t going to let my past control the present or future. I feel sorry for the perpetrator. He must be really sick.

    Comment by Fred — May 13, 2022 @ 3:37 AM

  2. Please write an article about how to identify the “very high functioning” alcoholic: the one who does NOT get in trouble with the authorities, the law, and who DOES pay his bills but who is drunk daily by 3 or 4 pm, and who has a VERY different personality when drunk than when sober, i.e. he fits the definition of “raging alcoholic” because he rages (is verbally &/or physically abusive) and so in public he looks like a normal or great guy but in private he is a mean son-of-a-gun. People in public think they know him but they don’t know what he is like in private out of the public eye. The only people this alcoholic allows into his private sphere are his “friends” who are exclusively other alcoholics &/or addicts of some kind. They “keep his secret” because they don’t see he has a problem because they don’t see that they have a problem. Please write an article about this TYPE of alcoholic. Thank you.

    Comment by Rose — May 13, 2022 @ 4:32 AM

  3. I’m a recovering alcoholic. Been sober now for 28 year and my life is great. I sobered up with the help of AA and a sponsor… There was no mention of AA in your article. Was wondering why. It’s another tool that’s helped many people….

    Comment by Mark Currier — May 13, 2022 @ 4:35 AM

  4. Excellent
    Spot on

    Comment by Cecily — May 13, 2022 @ 4:49 AM

  5. So True! Denial, Lies, planning, shame, hiding… and the beat goes on. I never want to have a day #1 again — I released the chains that bound me, clean and sober since August 4, 2014.

    Comment by Kelly — May 13, 2022 @ 5:35 AM

  6. Thanks for this article, I have a drinking problem!
    During COVID I started drinking everyday, beer not hard liquor, and I’m finding it difficult to stop.
    Of the 12 things listed, I can relate to four or five of them.
    Do you have suggestions on how I can cut back or do you recommend a SPECT?

    Comment by Michael — May 13, 2022 @ 8:23 AM

  7. My wife and I stopped drinking alcohol about a year and a half ago due to a youtube video with Dr. Amen. We decided to get our brains scanned in July, 2021. What an eye opener! It’s now so easy to go to parties and other social gathering where alcohol is flowing freely and we easily tell ourselves “No!”. We have more fun than ever in our mid 60’s. Get scanned and take advantage of Dr. Amens’ amazing system!!!

    Comment by Guy Floyd — May 13, 2022 @ 9:23 AM

  8. Dear: Dr. Amen I totally agree with you. I had see a lot member of my family going through it and it is very sad. Now is my older brother I am praying very hard for him to quit drinking before it is too late.
    Thanks so much for all you help. May God bless you more.
    Emma C. Solis

    Comment by EMMA Cecilia SOLIS — May 13, 2022 @ 10:52 AM

  9. “Write” on! Very well presented!

    Comment by Laura — May 13, 2022 @ 1:34 PM

  10. Interested in your programs

    Comment by Nancy — May 13, 2022 @ 7:39 PM

  11. How do you gently address a friend about a probable drinking problem?

    Comment by Paul — May 14, 2022 @ 10:19 AM

  12. Hello Nancy, we’d be happy to help. Please contact us here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:35 PM

  13. Hi Guy! Thank you for sharing! #brainhealthmatters

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:38 PM

  14. Hello Michael, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to speak with you to determine the next steps. You can reach our Care Coordinators here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:38 PM

  15. Wish you had clinics in Canada

    Comment by Susan — December 4, 2023 @ 3:28 AM

  16. This really answered my problem, thank you!

    Comment by gralion torile — December 7, 2023 @ 1:29 AM

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