Alcohol Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances throughout the world, impacting countless individuals and families from all walks of life.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol and substance abuse

But what sets alcohol abuse apart from other types of chemical dependence is the sheer availability of it. Alcohol is a legal substance, and it is safely consumed by many adults each day. Sometimes used to toast some of life’s most important achievements or events, most adults can consume alcohol in a limited or social manner, never once feeling inclined to abuse the substance.

But sadly, the common use of alcohol may be a contributing factor to the widespread abuse of the substance. And unlike overcoming an addiction to an illicit substance like heroin or cocaine, ending one’s abuse of alcohol will mean being challenged to navigate an addiction to a substance that the affected person will likely be consistently exposed to in daily life.

Depending on the length of time one has been abusing alcohol, and the amount of beer, wine, or liquor that he or she consumes daily, ending one’s drinking can be at best difficult, and at worse life-threatening. This is due to the fact that when one becomes physically dependent on alcohol, his or her body and mind will react with painful and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal soon after the last drink. Given this scenario, finding professional help and quality treatment for alcohol abuse will be vital when a person decides that he or she wants to end his or her pattern of problematic drinking. With the proper supports, one can put a stop to his or her abuse of alcohol, and set the course for a healthier, happier life.

Statistics

Alcohol addiction statistics

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million adults aged 18 and older were struggling with alcohol use disorder. This staggering statistic highlights the scope of the problem in the United States, and highlights the acute need for more options for care to help individuals overcome this dangerous disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

Like most types of substance use disorders and mental health conditions, alcohol use disorder is thought to result from a variety of factors, most notably the following:

Genetic:  If you have a close relative who struggles with an addiction to alcohol or other substances, you are more likely to develop a substance use disorder yourself, and this may be due to certain heritable genetic traits.

Environmental: Early exposure to drug and/or alcohol abuse in one’s childhood home, suffering from significant trauma or abuse, or experiencing other types of chronic instability may prompt one to begin abusing alcohol as a means to cope with stress.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a first-degree relative who struggles with chemical dependence
  • Suffering a traumatic experience
  • Being the victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
  • Untreated mental illness
  • Chronic stress or instability
Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

Like most types of substance use disorders and mental health conditions, alcohol use disorder is thought to result from a variety of factors, most notably the following:

Genetic:  If you have a close relative who struggles with an addiction to alcohol or other substances, you are more likely to develop a substance use disorder yourself, and this may be due to certain heritable genetic traits.

Environmental: Early exposure to drug and/or alcohol abuse in one’s childhood home, suffering from significant trauma or abuse, or experiencing other types of chronic instability may prompt one to begin abusing alcohol as a means to cope with stress.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a first-degree relative who struggles with chemical dependence
  • Suffering a traumatic experience
  • Being the victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
  • Untreated mental illness
  • Chronic stress or instability
Effects

Effects of alcohol addiction

While there are many centers that offer quality, effective care for alcohol abuse, sadly not everyone who struggles with problematic drinking will get the help they need. An addiction to alcohol is a progressive condition that will continue to worsen over time if left untreated. If you or someone you care about does not take steps to put an end to an addiction to alcohol, the following effects may occur:

  • Increased risk of developing certain cancers
  • Injuries due to impaired cognition and motor functioning
  • Diminished academic performance
  • Substandard occupational performance
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Gastritis
  • Financial setbacks
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Heart problems
  • Family discord
  • Damaged or failed interpersonal relationships
Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

As is the case with many types of addiction, alcohol abuse is often accompanied by certain co-occurring mental health conditions, including:

  • Conduct disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Alcohol withdrawal can be a dangerous experience. Depending on one’s pattern of substance abuse, symptoms of withdrawal will vary in severity and may include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Strong cravings for alcohol
  • Sweating
  • Sleep disturbances / insomnia
  • Twitches, tics, and/or tremors
  • Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations
  • Seizure

Effects of alcohol overdose: If you or someone close to you who has been drinking begins showing the signs of an overdose listed below, immediate medical attention should be sought:

  • Vomiting
  • Slowed, shallow, or otherwise irregular breathing
  • Rapid, faint, or otherwise irregular pulse
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Confusion
  • Impaired motor functions
  • Unconsciousness
  • Bluish tint to skin near lips and/or fingertips
  • Seizure
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The lessons and skills I learned at Longleaf will last me a lifetime.

– Anonymous Patient
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