In the United States, alcohol is nearly inescapable. It can be found in eating establishments, entertainment facilities, and in virtually all media. It’s no wonder that many of us feel pressured to drink or feel like an event is incomplete without alcohol. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 50.7 percent of people surveyed said they had consumed some type of alcoholic beverage in the 30 days prior, while 80.2 percent of participants said they had consumed alcohol at some point during their lives.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a healthy relationship with alcohol. A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that one in eight Americans currently meets the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder--meaning that at least 12.7 percent of the entire US population struggles with alcoholism. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 88,000 individuals die due to alcohol-related causes each year, which means that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the nation.

It’s not always easy to know whether a friend or family member could be at risk for alcohol abuse, particularly because society normalizes drinking, and sadly in some cases, over drinking. Interestingly, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent,” which makes it even more challenging to know whether someone you care about needs help. What’s more, the very nature of addiction involves secrecy and shame, meaning that those who are actively struggling will often do whatever they can to hide the truth. However, you may be able to spot the subtle warning signs of alcoholism in an effort to facilitate healthy discussion and express your concerns to your loved one.

Here are some signs to be aware of.

They’re unable to set and keep limits

Setting a drink limit for yourself can help you stay accountable--in theory. But if you’re unwilling to have a cutting-off point or you simply breeze on by the one you established, it’s understandable that friends might be concerned. A wild night out every once in a while may not be problematic, but if your loved one is consistently unable to stick to a drink limit, that could indicate that something is wrong. One of the main markers of alcoholism is that an individual is physically and emotionally unable to stop drinking once they start doing so. When it seems like less of a conscious choice and more like a compulsion, it’s possible that this person could have a drinking problem.

All of their plans revolve around alcohol

It’s natural that a lot of your social engagements might include an alcoholic beverage or two. Drinking is so highly normalized, it’s bound to show up often in social situations. However, if a friend or family member specifically makes plans that involve drinking every time you meet up, you might have reason to raise your eyebrows. When drinking becomes the center of your personal life and you feel uncomfortable in situations that don’t involve alcohol, there should be cause for concern. Take note of how your friend behaves when alcohol isn’t around or when plans are being made. If your loved one backs out of sober activities or always seems to make drinking part of the event, you’ll want to pay close attention and watch for some other signs.

They’re using alcohol as an excuse

Whether they’re doing damage control after a night of heavy partying or they’re calling into work sick following a crazy weekend, many people have used alcohol as an excuse. But if this behavior is the rule, rather than the exception, it’s time to look a little closer. Someone who is struggling with alcoholism may exhibit poor professional performance or a greater number of absences, as well as missed family responsibilities and constant apology tours due to their drunken behavior. Many people will use their stress, anxiety, or need for a confidence boost as a reason to stop at the liquor store each night, citing that alcohol can provide a welcome escape from reality. If someone you love is turning to alcohol as a reason to not engage in everyday life or blames the consistently poor decisions they make on their inebriation, it may become clear to you that this person does not have a healthy relationship with drinking.

You’re concerned for their well-being

Regardless of whether you personally abstain from alcohol or enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, your gut will probably clue you in when something just isn’t right with your loved one’s alcohol consumption. Friends and family members tend to become worried about these behaviors well before the person who is actually struggling. Not only are you in a better position to observe the changes in this person’s behavior, but you may also be negatively affected by their actions. Even if this person is not actually dependent on alcohol, these signs may indicate that he or she may need to re-evaluate their drinking habits in order to lead a healthier life. If it’s crossed your mind that you should discuss this issue with your loved one (or converse with others about how they feel about this subject), it’s probably a valid concern that’s worth exploring further.

Addiction is an incredibly complicated and often devastating disease, but there is hope for recovery. Although you cannot force anyone else to change or to admit help is needed, you can still make a difference. By ensuring you don’t enable your loved one in their drinking and by broaching this conversation with love and compassion, you may be able to encourage your loved one to embark on a journey to health and happiness.

Author's Bio: 

A freelance writer with a BA in English from Sarah Lawrence College.