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Alcohol Signs & Symptoms

Alcohol addiction is more prevalent than ever, bringing with it deadly consequences. There are around 95,000 alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. every year. Alcohol abuse tears families apart, destroys people’s physical and mental health, and ruins lives. It doesn’t have to be this way. Alcohol addiction is a disease that is treatable. There is hope and help. Learn about the signs of alcohol abuse.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse in a Loved One

It can be frightening to watch the drinking behaviors of someone you love get out of control. They may deny there’s anything wrong with their heavy drinking or get defensive when you express concern about their excessive alcohol use. For people at an increased risk for alcoholism, it can be a slippery slope from social drinking to an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The following signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism may indicate that your loved one needs help:

signs of alcohol abuse

  • Drinking to excess regularly or binge drinking more than five times in a one-month period. Binge drinking is considered five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women on one occasion.
  • Withdrawal from activities or relationships they once enjoyed
  • Bringing alcohol to events or happenings where alcohol isn’t served
  • Secretive behaviors around drinking, including hiding alcohol or lying about alcohol consumption
  • Changes in personal hygiene or appearance
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Engaging in risky behaviors, like drinking and driving
  • Absences at work or school due to drinking or declining performance at school or work
  • Erratic mood swings
  • Refusal to hear people’s concerns about their substance abuse or getting overly defensive and argumentative
  • Having the smell of alcohol on their breath at odd times and when you haven’t seen them drink
  • Drinking in the morning as a hangover cure

Signs You Have an Alcohol Problem

If you’re concerned you have a problem with alcohol, you probably do. People who don’t have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol may have a drink or two at a social event or at dinner from time to time, but they don’t worry they’re drinking too much. When it comes to alcohol, they can take it or leave it. For example, if they show up to an event where alcohol isn’t being served, it’s not a big deal. They may go a few weeks without drinking and not even realize it.

Authorities on substance abuse like the National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) define problematic, heavy drinking as:

  • Men: Four or more drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week
  • Women: Over three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week

There are causes and risk factors that can make you more susceptible to alcohol addiction. These signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • History of alcoholism in your family
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
  • A history of PTSD or complex trauma
  • Poor coping skills
  • Grief
  • Excessive stress
  • Underage drinking
  • Low socioeconomic status

If you have any of these risk factors, abusing alcohol can quickly become a way to self-soothe emotional pain or psychological symptoms. Over time, alcohol affects your brain in ways that make it nearly impossible to quit drinking without medical help and behavioral therapy.

Signs of alcohol abuse, dependence, or addiction include:

  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink or to stop drinking
  • Jeopardizing your job with absences or performance issues linked to your alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink despite negative effects on your relationships, finances, and physical and mental health
  • Drinking alcohol in the morning to get going, feel normal, or stave off headaches and other aftereffects of alcohol from the night before
  • Avoiding activities where alcohol won’t be accessible or bringing your own
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you go without it, like tremors, headaches, and feeling out of sorts
  • Needing alcohol to calm your nerves or deal with stress
  • Putting yourself or others in danger by drinking and driving, operating machinery, or having unprotected sex when under the influence of alcohol
  • Regular symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Needing alcohol to feel normal

The key symptom of alcoholism is if you continue to drink despite a negative impact on your life, which most of the above symptoms point to.

Beyond the immediate signs of alcohol addiction, there are several short-term and long-term physical and behavioral symptoms of alcohol abuse.

Physical Effects of Alcohol

The physical effects of alcohol abuse can be quite serious. People who abuse alcohol can suffer from liver damage, heart problems, and numerous other health issues, including:

  • Heart problems, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Liver damage, including cirrhosis and hepatitis
  • Weakened immune system, making you more susceptible to illness
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Poor nutrition, leading to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals
  • Damage to the nervous system, including seizures and dementia
  • Skin problems, such as redness, dryness, and flushing
  • Digestive problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Hormonal changes, such as irregular periods and infertility in women
  • Sexual problems, such as impotence in men and decreased libido in both sexes

Behavioral Effects of Alcohol

Abusing alcohol can have a broad range of negative effects on your behavior. Drinking can lead to violence and aggression, as well as impaired judgment and problem-solving skills.

The behavioral effects of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Inability to control impulses
  • Poor decision making
  • Memory problems
  • Unsafe sexual behavior
  • Physical aggression
  • Violence
  • Road rage
  • Criminal behavior
  • Emotional instability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

These behavioral and physical effects of alcohol can be broken down further into short-term and long-term consequences.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Short-term alcohol effects can range from mild to severe. When you drink alcohol, it enters the bloodstream and is carried to all parts of your body. Alcohol affects the brain, where it inhibits nerve cells from sending messages correctly. This can affect your balance, coordination, and judgment.

Short-term effects of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Blackouts
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Incoordination
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Altered perception
  • Risky behavior

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

If you continue abusing alcohol, over time the effects get worse and can impact your long-term health. Alcohol abuse increases the risk of:

  • Addiction and dependence on alcohol
  • Cancers: throat cancer, liver cancer, head and neck cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer
  • Swollen or inflamed pancreas
  • Weakened immune system
  • Liver disease
  • Cardiovascular issues: irregular heartbeat, stretched heart muscle, stroke, and others
  • Memory loss and poor focus
  • Mood disorders and other mental health problems

Why Is Alcohol Abuse Dangerous?

When you abuse alcohol, you put yourself at risk for developing chronic diseases, mental health problems, and even cancer. Abusing alcohol can also damage your liver, pancreas, and heart. Some dangers associated with alcohol abuse:

  • One of the most dangerous consequences of alcohol abuse is addiction. When you are addicted to alcohol, you cannot control your drinking. You may start drinking in the morning or drink all day long. You may miss work or school because of your drinking.
  • You may put yourself or others in danger by driving drunk or engaging in risky behavior while under the influence. Alcohol use is a factor in at least 40% of all fatal car accidents in the United States. It’s also a factor in drowning, burns, and falls.
  • People who abuse alcohol are more likely to become involved in domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.
  • Alcohol abusers are more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
  • Alcohol poisoning can lead to coma and death.
  • Alcohol is often a contributing factor in suicides and homicides.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can also be very dangerous and even deadly. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Tremors
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Alcohol detox should always take place under medical supervision. A medical detox program like the one at Vogue Recovery Center includes 24/7 monitoring to ensure you are safe. Staff provide medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

How Common Is Alcohol Abuse?

Millions of people abuse alcohol in the U.S., and thousands of lives are lost each year to alcohol abuse. People die from alcohol for a number of reasons, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Health conditions related to alcohol, like cancers, liver disease, and stroke

In just one month in 2020:

  • Over 60 million people had at least one binge drinking episode.
  • Over 17 million people engaged in at least one heavy drinking episode.
  • Over 3 million underage drinkers participated in heavy drinking or binge drinking.
  • 6 million people between ages 12 to 20 used alcohol.
  • Adults ages 18 to 25 were the heaviest binge drinkers.
  • Adults ages 18 to 25 participated in heavy drinking the most.

Also in 2020:

  • Over 28 million Americans met the DSM-5 criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
  • People ages 18 to 25 had the highest percentage of alcohol use disorders.
  • Over 4 million people started drinking.

How Do You Treat Alcoholism?

The first step in treatment for alcoholism is medically monitored detox. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if you try to quit cold turkey without medical professionals. Symptoms like seizures, delirium tremens, and dehydration can be fatal in some instances.

Detoxing in a treatment center ensures you’re safe during alcohol withdrawal. A team of professionals will monitor your vital signs around the clock and ease discomfort with medications.

After detox you must attend a drug rehab or addiction treatment program. Otherwise, you will be at great risk of alcohol relapse. In treatment for alcohol abuse, you’ll explore the reasons why you’re using substances to cope and you’ll address those difficulties. These sometimes include untreated co-occurring mental disorders, trauma, or challenging life situations.

Behavioral health experts will help you learn to manage emotional pain and build healthy coping skills to use when you’re triggered and feel the urge to drink. Alcohol addiction treatment is offered at various levels of care, including:

Some people choose to live in a sober living residence while attending an outpatient program in a treatment facility.

Get Help

Alcoholism affects every aspect of your life. We know it can feel hopeless when you’re in the grips of it, but it is possible to stop abusing alcohol for good and create a life better than you could have imagined. Vogue Recovery Center offers evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders that is engaging and motivating. Medical detox is available, as are inpatient rehab and outpatient programs. We know you can do this. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation.



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