Alcohol Addiction Signs and Symptoms

About Alcohol Addiction

Learn More About Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that is produced by fermenting yeast, starches, and sugars. Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the United States, and its misuse is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes, including damage to users’ physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing.

Alcohol abuse can be dangerous both as a one-time occurrence and as a long-term habit. Because alcohol abuse will lead to impaired judgment and diminished coordination, immediate dangers include slips, falls, and other accidents, as well as alcohol poisoning. For those who engage in habitual alcohol abuse, the risks are magnified due to the potential for developing an alcohol use disorder. According to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, an alcohol use disorder, may be present if a person meets two or more of the following criteria within a 12-month period:

  • Consuming alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than the person intended
  • Having a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to reduce or exert greater control over one’s alcohol use
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Having a strong desire or craving to use alcohol
  • Failing to fulfill one’s obligations at work, in school, or at home because of one’s alcohol use
  • Continuing to use alcohol even after having experiencing negative social or interpersonal problems as a result of one’s alcohol use
  • Abandoning or reducing participation in social, occupational, or recreational activities because of one’s alcohol use
  • Using alcohol in situations where it is physically hazardous to do so
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite having experienced physical or psychological problems as a result of alcohol use
  • Developing tolerance, which means that a person needs to consume markedly larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing one’s alcohol use

The good news is that alcohol use disorder is a treatable condition. With effective professional intervention, people who have struggled with an alcohol problem can overcome their dependence on this dangerous drug and can make the changes that will allow them to live healthier and more productive lives. Lastly, by engaging in treatment, additional concerns, such a mental illness symptoms, can be care for as well and allow a person to be able to resume a fully productive future.

Statistics

Alcohol Addiction Statistics

Surveys conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have revealed that more than 86 percent of adults ages 18 and above in the United States have used alcohol at least once in their lives. Thirty percent of survey respondents told NIAAA researchers that they had engaged in either binge drinking or heavy drinking in the past 30 days.

Experts estimate that more than 10 million men and nearly six million women in the U.S. meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, yet fewer than one in 10 of these people have received treatment for their disorder.

With specific regards to young people, studies show that 35 percent of people under the age of 21 have consumed alcohol at some point in life and over 20 percent of all persons who are not of legal age to drink have engaged in binge-drinking behaviors at some point as well.

In the U.S., alcohol-related death is the third leading preventable cause of death. On a global level, alcohol is involved in more than 3 million deaths each year, and has been associated with more than 200 diseases and injury-related health problems.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder are often not attributed to a single cause. Considerable research suggests that both genetics and environment can be contributing factors to the development of these problems. The following are among the common influences that may lead a person to abuse and become dependent upon alcohol:

Genetic: A strong correlation exists between having a family history of alcohol abuse and being at increased risk for engaging in similar behavior. When close family members, such as parents or siblings, have had problems with alcohol, that risk is magnified. Recent advancements in the study of genetics has led to the identification of several genes and gene clusters that scientists believe play key roles in determining whether or not a person is likely to become addicted to alcohol or another drug.

Environmental: The presence of an alcohol abuse problem in one’s family can also be an environmental influence. Individuals who grew up among family members who regularly abused alcohol are much more likely to also engage in this behavior than are people who were raised in alcohol-free households. Having been abused, neglected, assaulted, or otherwise traumatized can also raise a person’s risk for abusing alcohol. Other environmental factors that can serve as precursors to alcohol abuse include living in poverty, living in communities or neighborhoods where alcohol is readily available and commonly abused, and working at a job that involves significant stresses and pressures.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and/or mental illness
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Personal history of abuse, neglect, assault, or other trauma
  • Gender (men are at increased risk for alcohol abuse)
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Poor self-esteem or self-image
  • Poor stress management capabilities
  • Associating with peers who engage in alcohol abuse

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Just as alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder can have several causes, they may also reveal themselves via a variety of signs and symptoms. Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s problems with alcohol, these signs may or may not be readily apparent to an observer. The following are among the more common signs and symptoms that may indicate a person has been abusing or has become dependent upon alcohol:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Declined participation in activities that were previously important or enjoyable
  • Frequent unexplained absences from work or school
  • Decline in performance at work or in school
  • Deception or secretiveness regarding one’s drinking habits
  • Drinking early in the day or throughout the day
  • Increased interpersonal conflicts and unprovoked aggressiveness

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Gastritis
  • Vision problems
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reddening of the nose and cheeks
  • Jaundice
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Psychosis
  • Short-term amnesia
  • Poor judgment
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Impaired problem-solving skills
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Nervousness, irritability, and/or agitation
  • Mood swings

Effects

Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Left untreated, chronic alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder can lead to devastating effects, some of which may be irreversible. The following are among the more common negative outcomes that are associated with the long-term abuse of alcohol:

  • Heart disease
  • Anemia
  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) in the event a woman becomes extremely malnourished due to her alcohol use
  • Nephritis (kidney inflammation)
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy
  • Respiratory distress
  • Recurring chest infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Strained or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Family dysfunction, separation, and divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Academic failure or expulsion

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who engage in alcohol abuse are often also struggling with co-occurring mental health disorders. In some cases, the mental health issues precipitated the alcohol abuse, while in other cases the problem drinking triggers the onset of a mental illness. The following are among the disorders that are commonly experienced by individuals who are also dealing with alcohol use disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal:  Withdrawal occurs when a person who has become dependent upon a substance either drastically reduces or completely stops using that substance. If individuals who have engaged in chronic alcohol abuse suddenly stop drinking, they are likely to experience several unpleasant symptoms, some of which have the potential to be life-threatening. People who experience withdrawal symptoms, such as the following, should seek professional help to ensure that they are able to stop using alcohol in a safe manner:

  • Tremors, twitches, and other signs of shakiness
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Fever
  • Visual, auditory, and/or tactile hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and/or a sense of disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Mild to severe anxiety
  • Irregular heartbeat

Effects of alcohol overdose: Drinking more alcohol than a person’s body can safely metabolize can result in alcohol overdose. This can occur the first time a person drinks or after years of chronic alcohol abuse. Alcohol overdose can cause permanent damage, including death. If a person who has been drinking demonstrates the following symptoms of overdose, medical attention should be sought immediately:

  • Slow and/or irregular breathing
  • Hypothermia (severely low body temperature)
  • Extremely pale or bluish skin
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Mental confusion
  • Seizure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

I was a functioning alcoholic, but the effects my addiciton had on my family we're starting to be too much. The Camp welcomed me and was like no other place I have been to. The staff and therapists actually cared and it made all the difference with my treatment.

– Dennis F.