Are you or someone you know at risk for developing a problem with alcohol?

Usually no single sign identifies a problem drinker, but a continuation (repeated use in spite of negative consequences) or pattern of problems can indicate that the person is moving from mild abuse to moderate or serious abuse and getting closer to addiction.

Below are some questions that you should ask yourself if you think you drink too much or have a difficult time using alcohol responsibly.

Find Support and Treatment Options

Drinking Habits?

(Adapted from “How to Help a Friend With a Drinking Problem” by The American College Health Association)

In general, a person who is considered a moderate drinker does not drink every day and does not drink more than one drink per hour. A high-risk drinker is a person who drinks five or more alcoholic beverages (four or more if female) in one sitting.

Below is a general listing of drinking habits of social and problem drinkers, and alcoholics. It is not necessary for a person to have every habit to fit into a category, and some students may have some habits that are not listed. However, this list can give you an idea of whether or not a student has a problem and how severe it is.

A social drinker typically:

  • Drinks slowly (no fast gulping) 
  • Never drives after drinking 
  • Respects non-drinkers 
  • Knows and obeys laws related to drinking 
  • Knows when to stop drinking (does not drink to get drunk)
  • Eats before or while drinking

A problem drinker typically:

  • Drinks to get drunk
  • Tries to solve problems by drinking
  • Experiences personality changes, e.g., may become loud, angry, and/or violent, or silent, remote, and/or reclusive 
  • Drinks when he or she should not, e.g., before driving or going to class or work
  • Causes other problems- harms himself or herself, family, friends, and strangers

An alcoholic:

  • Spends lots of time thinking about drinking and planning where and when to get the next drink
  • Keeps bottles hidden for quick pick-me ups
  • Starts drinking without conscious planning and loses awareness of the amount consumed
  • Denies drinking
  • Drinks alone
  • Needs to drink before facing a stressful situation
  • May have “blackouts”--cannot remember what he or she did while drinking although he or she may have appeared “normal” to people at the time
  • Goes from having hangovers to more dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens (“DTs”), which can be fatal
What indicators are present?

(Adapted from “How to Help a Friend With a Drinking Problem” by The American College Health Association)

The following is a list of indicators that will help to alert you to possible substance abuse problems.

There is no magic number or combination of indicators which definitively prove that a person has a substance misuse or abuse problem.

However, the existence of several indictors may indicate a pattern of behavior that may need to be investigated further. In such instances you may wish to consult with an individual who has professional experience in dealing with substance misuse/abuse problems.

Please keep in mind that the college years are a time when students undergo a number of changes in behavior, attitudes, etc., as they adjust to the collegiate environment. Some of these changes may resemble indictors of a problem with alcohol or other drugs.

Physical Indicators

  • Observed abnormalities of skin, eyes, coordination, and speech
  • Pattern of frequent physical illnesses
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Digestive disturbances
  • Evidence of withdrawal
  • Decreased concern about grooming and appearance
  • Passing out

Emotional Indicators

  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs to deal with emotions
  • Guilt about actions during intoxication
  • Reduced emotional control
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Guilt about use of alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drugs
  • Anxious reactions
  • Self-abusive behavior
  • Depression

Cognitive Indicators

  • Decreased attention and concentration spans/Inability to focus on a task
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Blackouts (total memory loss for a period of time)

Social Indicators

  • Family and other relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Friends who are regular users of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
  • Decreased leisure time activities and interests
  • Poor work record/performance
  • Fighting and/or physical aggression
  • Personality change
  • Offensive behavior or interference with the rights of others

Specific Behaviors

  • Ignoring or excusing behavior associated with alcohol or other drug use problems, e.g., traffic accidents, physical injuries
  • Acting irresponsibly, e.g., staying out late, not showing up for work, handing in assignments late
  • Maintaining that there is no problem and highlighting other possible causes for observed indicators of a problem
  • Acknowledging that there might be a problem, but that it is no big deal
  • Lowered academic performance
  • Poor judgment and decisions
What are the warning signs?

Classroom and Out-of-Classroom Warning Signs: Substance Misuse/Abuse Problems

(Adapted from the University of Missouri-Columbia)

  • Cutting classes/dropping a class/coming to class late
  • Frequently arrives late for work
  • Makes up excuses for poor performance and/or missing classes
  • Frequently requests extensions/frequently turns in work late or not at all
  • Dramatic decline in academic performance
  • Coming to class with a hangover or high
  • Changes in personality/shifts in moods or emotions
  • Exhibits an attitude of not caring (extreme boredom or negativism)
  • Brags about their alcohol or other drug use; conversations are frequently about using
  • Loses friends because of drinking or other drug use
  • Cannot seem to have fun without drinking or using other drugs
  • Loss of motivation or energy
  • Experiences frequent health problems (e.g., illness, injury)
  • Spends most of his or her money on drugs or alcohol
  • Frequently passes out or suffers blackouts while drinking
  • Changes in his or her appearance
  • Frequent problems with law enforcement or University authorities