Alcohol Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of alcohol addiction can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of alcohol addiction.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction and substance abuse

Abusing or over-consuming alcohol can bring about a number of harmful and devastating consequences to a person’s life. The reasons why some people abuse alcohol can be vast in amount. However, what is true for all abusers of alcohol is that prolonged usage can be fatal if appropriate and effective care for a problem of this kind if not sought and implemented.

Those who battle an alcohol abuse problem are likely to experience a number of health concerns, including permanent damage to vital organs, and mental health issues. In many instances, people with an alcohol addiction are, in fact, grappling with some form of mental illness and drink alcohol to mask unpleasant symptoms. Whatever the reason or reasons for an individual’s usage of alcohol, it is imperative that treatment is received when a person no longer has control over his or her drinking habits. Failing to do so could elicit a fatal outcome; an outcome that can be prevented if a person takes that first brave step towards healing, recovery, and sobriety.

Statistics

Alcohol addiction statistics

Sadly, alcohol abuse is quite a common problem. Studies have produced estimates that nearly 17 million people in the United States meet diagnostic criteria for an alcohol abuse problem, a number that includes individuals of all ages. Furthermore, other studies have concluded that approximately 85,000 people lose their lives due to alcohol-related causes. Because of this finding, it is believed that alcohol-related incidences that result in death make it the third leading cause of death in America.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

Experts in the field of mental health agree that there are various contributing factors that can cause an individual to abuse alcohol. The following genetic, physical, and environmental influences, in addition to other risk factors, are believed to significantly impact whether or not a person will succumb to problematic drinking habits:

Genetic: Geneticists and experts on addiction agree that individuals can have a genetic predisposition to substance abuse. Certain genes have been discovered that are believed to contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing a problem with substances, including alcohol.

Physical: The areas of the brain that are responsible for impulse control, decision-making, and motor functioning are known to be impaired when an individual consumes alcohol. Furthermore, when a person continually uses alcohol, it is common for mood-regulating neurotransmitters to be adversely affected as well. The longer alcohol abuse occurs, the more damage can be done to these areas and functions of the brain.

Environmental: Many mental health professionals believe that a person’s environment can cause a person to abuse alcohol. Especially if an individual has a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse, it is likely that certain environmental or situational influences can lead a person to drink. Exposure to chronic stress, violence, and trauma are examples of such influences. Lastly, if an individual lacks necessary coping skills and self-esteem, peer pressure to drink can also lead to the onset of an alcohol abuse problem.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse or other substance abuse problem
  • Early exposure to alcohol
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of or undiagnosed mental illness
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Easy access to alcohol
  • Poor impulse control
  • Experiencing peer pressure to consume alcohol
  • Experiencing discord among friends and loved ones
  • Low self-esteem

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

The signs and symptoms that suggest a person has a problem with alcohol can vary in their severity. Depending on the length of time alcohol has been abused, in addition to the amount of alcohol that is consumed, the listed behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms of alcohol abuse may or may not be present. If you notice these signs in yourself or a friend or loved one, it may be time to consider treatment to cease this type of problem:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Concealing drinking habits
  • Lying or omitting information
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Declined academic success
  • Continued drinking despite negative consequences
  • Increased aggression or anger
  • Hindered occupational functioning
  • Social isolation
  • Drinking alone
  • Hiding alcohol

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Slurred speech

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Personality changes
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Cravings to drink
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Hostility

Effects

Effects of alcohol addiction

Because alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions and ability to make good choices, it is common for abusers of alcohol to experience a number of adverse effects as a result of their use. With the capability of affecting several areas of an individual’s life, the following are potential effects that can occur if an individual develops a problem with alcohol:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Poor work performance
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Poor school performance
  • Academic failure
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Divorce
  • Decrease in quantity and quality of relationships
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors

The abuse of alcohol, especially when it occurs for a long period of time, can elicit a number of detriments to a person’s physical health. The following health risks are those that can happen when a person abuses alcohol:

  • Brain damage
  • Heart problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Physical injury due to engaging in risky behaviors
  • Liver disease
  • Increased risk of cancer development

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

When a person battles an addition to alcohol, it is not uncommon for that person to also suffer from a mental health condition or additional substance abuse problem. Some individuals who abuse alcohol do so as a way to escape from the debilitating symptoms of a mental health condition. Additionally, some people can begin to experience mental health concerns after developing a problem with alcohol. The following mental health disorders are those that are commonly diagnosed in those who struggle with an addiction to alcohol; disorders that often require care when an individual seeks treatment for an alcohol problem:

  • Personality disorders
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Another substance abuse disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Learn about alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal: Long-term alcohol abuse can eventually lead to dependence. When this is the case and a person abruptly discontinues his or her use of alcohol, withdrawal is likely to occur. The listed symptoms are those that can be observable by others when a person is experiencing withdrawal from alcohol:

  • Fever
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Increased heart rate
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Anxiousness
  • Mood swings
  • Depressed mood
  • Jitteriness
  • Irritability

Effects of Alcohol Overdose: When an individual consumes alcohol to a degree that his or her body cannot metabolize, that person is experiencing an overdose. Also known as alcohol poisoning, overdose is something that frequently requires emergency medical attention so as to prevent serious damage and even death. The following are telltale signs that a person is overdosing following the consumption of too much alcohol:

  • Decrease in reflexive response to stimuli
  • Slurred speech
  • Incoherence
  • Vomiting
  • Labored breathing
  • Nausea

What Past Clients Say

I came here during the worst time of my life. I had so much anxiety coming in but the girls in the admissions area were so pleasant and answered all my questions. The hospital was clean and staff were friendly and helpful on the unit. The medicine they gave me helped so much, and I finally feel like myself again. If you’re willing to participate and go to all the groups, you will get something out of the program. I went right from inpatient to their day program for a week afterwards, and that helped me stay focused too.

– Alumni
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