Alcohol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction

An addiction to alcohol, clinically referred to as alcohol use disorder, is a common problem throughout American society. The consumption of wine, beer, and liquor is an accepted, and generally expected, behavior for individuals over the age of 21 nationwide. However, while many people can consume alcohol occasionally without suffering any type of severe detriments, there are others who rapidly become trapped within an ongoing cycle of alcohol abuse, over which they become powerless. When this is the case, individuals will consistently find that their abilities to function regularly on a daily basis have become hampered, leading to numerous negative ramifications throughout all aspects of their lives.

The tolerance and physical dependence that comes from continued alcohol abuse makes it increasingly more challenging for individuals to defeat because, if they attempt to put a stop to their drinking, they can suffer a period of withdrawal. Therefore, it is imperative that individuals who are struggling with alcohol addiction obtain appropriate treatment so that this devastating substance use disorder does not continue to destroy their lives.


Alcohol addiction statistics

Alcohol is one of the most popular substances to abuse, as it is easy to access and is legal for those over the age of 21 in the United States. Research has shown that at any given time, approximately seven million children are living in homes where one or both parents are abusing alcohol. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that roughly 17.6 million adults in the United States battle alcohol addiction, which is the equivalent of about one in every 12 adults. The NCADD goes on to report that, out of the population, over half come from homes where there was a prevalence of problematic behaviors related to drinking.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

There are many causes and risk factors that are known to play a role in the onset of alcohol use disorder. These factors can be described through the following:

Genetic: Addictions are known to have a genetic connection to their onset. Those who have family members who grapple with the abuse of alcohol or other substances are more likely to battle similar concerns than those who do not share this same family history. More specifically, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that as much as 40-60% of an individual’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder comes from his or her genetic makeup.

Environmental: Specific environmental factors can play a critical role in the development of an alcohol abuse problem. When individuals grow up in an environment where alcohol consumption is common, especially as a method of coping, they are more likely to engage in similar behavior. In addition, when individuals are exposed to very stressful environments, they are more likely to abuse alcohol as a method of reducing the stress they experience. Furthermore, when individuals are subjected to numerous forms of trauma, including neglect and abuse, they may find reprieve from their emotional turmoil through alcohol use.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a trauma
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Lacking healthy coping skills
  • Personal history of abusing other types of substances
  • Personal or family history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

The signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and addiction will vary in severity and type from one individual to the next, but may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities at work, home, or in social settings
  • Slurred speech
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Spending significant amounts of time engaging in activities that center on acquiring, consuming, or recovering from the use of alcohol
  • No longer participating in activities or hobbies that one once enjoyed
  • Continuously consuming alcohol despite possessing a desire to put an end to one’s use of the substance
  • Consuming alcohol in settings where it is hazardous to do so, such as drinking and driving
  • Continuously consuming beer, wine, or liquor despite the onset of persistent problems that are a direct result of alcohol consumption

Physical symptoms:

  • Development of tolerance, which is the need to consume greater amounts of alcohol in order to experience the desired effects
  • Involuntary rapid eye movement
  • Development of dependence, which is the body’s need to have alcohol in order to continue functioning
  • Lack of coordination
  • Flushed skin

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Decreased ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Powerful, all-consuming cravings for alcohol
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Inability to sustain attention
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased ability to reason and use sound judgment
  • Cognitive impairment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Significant changes in mood and temperament
  • Depression


Effects of alcohol addiction

An alcohol abuse problem can cause tremendous problems to develop in the user’s physical health. Some ailments can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Brain damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Liver disease

However, physical problems are not the only effects that can result from an alcohol addiction. Most, if not all, aspects of an individual’s life can be impacted negatively by a substance use disorder of this kind, leading to the onset of the following detriments:

  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Social isolation, resulting in deteriorated friendships and struggles within other important relationships
  • Decline in occupational performance, potentially leading to demotion or job loss
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Financial difficulties


Signs, symptoms, and effects of alcohol withdrawal

When an individual has become trapped within a pattern of over-consuming alcohol for a long period of time, he or she will likely experience a period of withdrawal when alcohol use is stopped. The withdrawal process can be extremely uncomfortable and, at times, even dangerous, which is why it is most beneficial for individuals to go through this process under the supervision of professionals. Signs and effects of alcohol withdrawal can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Seizures
  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Heightened feelings of anxiety
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Pulse rate exceeding 100 beats per minute


Signs, symptoms, and effects of alcohol overdose

Also known as alcohol poisoning, an overdose on alcohol can be life-threatening. Occurring when an individual ingests more beer, wine, or liquor than his or her body is able to metabolize or excrete, an alcohol overdose should be viewed as a medical emergency, with treatment being sought immediately. Signs that could indicate that someone has overdosed on alcohol can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Delayed response to stimuli
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Clammy skin
  • Violent vomiting
  • Skin developing a bluish tint
  • Labored breathing
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Delayed reflexes

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for those who are grappling with alcohol addiction to also suffer from symptoms of other mental health disorders. Examples of disorders that are known to co-occur alongside alcohol use disorder can include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
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