Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Alcohol Addiction

What is Alcohol Addiction

Learn More About Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is characterized by an individual having problems controlling his or her drinking, being constantly preoccupied with alcohol, and continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems. Alcohol addiction causes dysfunction in a person’s ability to perform tasks appropriately on a daily basis and has serious adverse effects on someone’s life. As alcohol abuse develops into an addiction, individuals will need to drink more to get the same effect and will experience symptoms of withdrawal when drinking is stopped or rapidly decreased.


Statistics of Alcohol Addiction

It is estimated that 8.5% of adults over the age of 18 abuse alcohol in the United States. It is said to peak between the ages of 18 and 29. Men are known to abuse alcohol more often than women do, with the comparable statistics being 12.4% among adult men and 4.9% among adult women.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction

The reasons that a person may develop an addiction to alcohol is influenced by genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors working together. Some examples of these factors can include:

Genetic: Alcohol addiction is known to run in families. Studies show that 40%-60% of the risk of developing alcoholism is related to genetic influences. People are three to four times more likely to begin using and develop a dependence on alcohol if they have biological family members who struggle with it as well.

Physical: Over time, as drinking continues, it can causes a change in the normal balance of the chemicals and nerve tracks in the brain that are associated with experiencing pleasure, judgment, and an ability to control behavior. This can result in an individual experiencing alcohol cravings and the need to drink in order to restore good feelings or to get rid of bad feelings.

Environmental: The environment in which a person lives or works can also play a role in the development of a dependence on alcohol. For example, people who are under a lot of stress at work may be more likely to drink alcohol after work in an attempt to relax. Similarly, people who have home lives that are stressful or abusive may turn to alcohol consumption in an attempt to numb themselves from the emotions that result from the environment around them.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Being male
  • Steady drinking over time
  • Age
  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • Stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Having close friends or a partner who drinks regularly
  • Relationship struggles
  • Family discord
  • Unemployment
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Being prone to acting impulsively

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

The signs and symptoms that may exist as a result of alcohol dependence can vary from person to person depending on how long the person has been drinking, the extent to which that person is drinking, and the age of the person. Examples of various symptoms include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Keeping alcohol in various places throughout home, at work, or in the car
  • Unable to limit the amount you drink
  • Making excuses or finding reasons to justify drinking
  • Lying
  • Drinking alone
  • Always bringing alcohol into the home
  • Hiding your drinking
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Alienating loved ones
  • Missing work or school
  • Acting hostile or defensive when asked about drinking behaviors
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Continuing to drink despite the presence of adverse health effects

Physical symptoms:

  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Distorted vision
  • Headaches
  • Stomach cramping

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lapses in memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Impaired judgment
  • “Blacking out” after drinking heavily

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feeling a strong compulsion to drink
  • Hostility
  • Various emotional disturbances
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety (especially when not able to drink)


Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Abusing alcohol can lead to many negative effects on a person’s life, as well as on the lives of those around him or her. Excessive drinking in adolescents and adults can reduce judgment skills and lower inhibitions, leading to poor choices and engaging in dangerous situations. Additionally, excessive drinking is extremely harmful to a person’s health. Some examples of these effects can include:

  • Health concerns, including liver disease, brain damage, heart problems, and weakening of the immune system
  • Increased risk of developing certain types of cancer
  • Participating in high risk behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated or risky sexual behavior
  • Domestic problems
  • Poor school or work performance
  • Increased likelihood for committing violent crimes
  • Suicide
  • Divorce
  • Death

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Withdrawal from alcohol addiction will range in severity from person to person. On average, withdrawal symptoms begin to occur approximately 8 hours after a person has had their last drink. However, for some people, the effects may not occur until days later. Typically, the symptoms will be most intense within 24-72 hours after the last drink but can continue to exist for days or weeks, depending upon the person. Some effects can include, but are not limited to:

  • Shakiness
  • Jumpiness
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid emotional changes
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Increased irritability
  • Change in skin color
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Fever
  • Convulsions

Effects of alcohol overdose (also known as alcohol poisoning): Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous and usually occurs without people even realizing that they have crossed the threshold of much they can tolerate. Usually one of the first signs of alcohol poisoning is nausea, followed by vomiting. Additional critical signs that a person is experiencing alcohol poisoning can include:

  • Seizures
  • Inability to maintain conversation
  • Slurred speech
  • A drop in body temperature
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • Poor or absent reflexes
  • Confusion
  • Change in skin color (sometimes turning blue or becoming extremely pale)
  • Unresponsiveness

If you believe that someone is suffering from an alcohol overdose, seek medical attention immediately. It is important to do so the individual can get the help that they need that will hopefully save their life.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Alcohol Addiction

There are a number of different mental disorders that can occur with alcohol addiction. In fact, it is not uncommon for people who are suffering from the symptoms of various other mental illnesses to begin drinking alcohol as a means of self-medicating symptoms they may be struggling with. Some examples of disorders that can co-occur with alcohol addiction can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorder
  • ADHD
  • Borderline personality disorder
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