When someone close to us is struggling with problem drinking or alcoholism, it may be easy to spot, attempt an intervention or extend a hand to help. However, others struggling with the same issues may exhibit warning signs that aren't as obvious.

"When someone is dealing with a drinking problem, they typically try to hide it - they don't want to admit they have a problem or they don't want anyone intervening," said Dominic Vangarelli, MA, CADC, director of counseling at Geisinger's Marworth Treatment Center. "They are usually consumed by embarrassment and shame."

Although they may try to hide what they're dealing with, there are still warning signs you can look for.

Irrational moodiness and emotional ups and downs

"Someone struggling with alcohol use can be stressful emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually," Vangarelli said. Plus, a drinking problem causes physical harm, creating stress to the body and brain.

Absence from work or school

An alcoholic may often be absent from work or sleep on the job. Other signs may include poor decision making, problems with co-workers and overall relationship struggles. Commitments and responsibilities take a back seat and alcohol turns into the driver of all motivation.

When a person begins isolating from their normal activities, separating from supportive relationships or showing up to work and school less and less, it's almost always a warning sign that they may need help.

These changes are also due to shame - an alcoholic may be too scared or ashamed to show colleagues or loved ones how the addiction has progressed, resorting to isolation instead.

"Don't be afraid to reach out with care and concern; it may be immensely difficult for them to ask for help. Sometimes all it takes is a moment of personal contact that can change the destructive course of this disease," Vangarelli said.

They avoid situations that don't include alcohol

"When an alcoholic goes too long without a drink, they'll begin to experience intense, and sometimes dangerous, withdrawal symptoms," Vangarelli said. "They'll feel nauseous, have anxiety, sweat and show signs of tremors."

These withdrawal symptoms can be so intense they can't tolerate them, so they may begin to avoid going to work, social functions or other events where alcohol won't be served or where it won't be acceptable to drink.

An unusually high tolerance for alcohol

"Alcoholics slowly build up their tolerance for alcohol - this physiological tolerance enables them to consume larger and larger quantities while feeling less of the effects," Vangarelli said. "They may progressively increase their intake of alcohol trying to get drunk or just to function normally - this process can quickly turn into a downward spiral."

They hide alcohol


When someone has a drinking problem, you may catch them drinking or bringing alcohol into places it's prohibited. They may hide alcohol in their home to make it appear that they aren't drinking.

"Anytime someone feels the urge to hide something from their loved ones, it usually means they know they have a problem, are ashamed and don't have control over it," Vangarelli said.