Get in front of an alcohol addiction by learning the signs and symptoms. Read what causes alcohol addiction, what signs to look out for, and potential long-term effects. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.
Learn about alcohol and substance abuse
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused addictive substances in the United States. Many people are able to safely consume alcohol in moderation. However, for others, alcohol use leads to abuse, then addiction.
Alcohol addiction is commonly known as alcoholism. The clinical term for this disease is alcohol use disorder. When you become addicted to alcohol, you lose control over the amount and frequency of your alcohol use.
Two characteristics of alcoholism are tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance means that you need to consume larger amounts of alcohol to experience the desired effect. Withdrawal means that when you don’t consume alcohol, you experience physical and psychological distress.
The compulsion to keep drinking, the loss of control over your behavior, and the pain of withdrawal can keep you trapped in the downward spiral of alcoholism. But it is important to remember that alcoholism is a treatable condition.
When you choose to get professional treatment for alcoholism, you can learn to manage your symptoms. With the right type of help, you can make the lifestyle changes that will support long-term recovery.
Alcohol addiction statistics
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has reported the following information about alcohol abuse and addiction in the United States:
- About 15.1 million adults in the United States meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism.
- Only about 6.7% of people who have alcoholism received treatment in the past year.
- Experts estimate that about 5.3 million women abuse alcohol to the point that it negatively impacts their health, safety, and well-being.
Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction
Your risk for alcohol addiction can be influenced by several factors, including the following:
- Family history of alcohol abuse and alcoholism
- Having a parent with developed alcoholism
- Family history of mental illness
- Prior substance abuse
- Personal history of mental illness
- Personal history of abuse, neglect, or other trauma
- Early exposure to alcohol use
- Easy access to alcohol
- Exposure to stress
- Living in a culture that emphasizes or prioritizes alcohol use
- Associating with peers who abuse alcohol
- Having an impulsive personality
Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction
A person who has become addicted to alcohol may demonstrate a variety of symptoms, including the following:
- Being unable to get through the day without consuming alcohol
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Drinking when it is clearly dangerous to do so, such as when driving or when taking medication
- Needing alcohol to experience pleasure or deal with stress or sadness
- Continuing to drink even after experiencing negative repercussions from prior use
- Prioritizing alcohol over relationships and responsibilities
- Trying but failing to stop drinking
- Watery, glassy eyes
- Problems with balance or coordination
- Slurring words
- Tolerance (needing more alcohol to experience the desired results)
- Bumpy, red, swollen skin on cheeks or nose
- Unintentional weight gain
- Confusion or disorientation
- Problems with memory and judgment
- Mood swings
- Hallucinations or delusions
Effects of alcohol addiction and substance abuse
Untreated alcoholism can have a devastating impact on your life. Failing to get proper care for addiction to alcohol can increase your risk for several negative outcomes, such as the following:
- Kidney damage
- Brain damage
- Certain types of cancer
- Automobile accidents
- Strained relations with family members and friends
- Unsatisfactory performance in school or at work
- Chronic absenteeism
- Academic failure
- Job loss and unemployment
- Financial problems
- Fines, arrest, incarceration, and other legal problems
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Onset or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
- Loss of hope for the future
- Suicidal thoughts
When you enter treatment for alcoholism, you reduce your risk for further harm, and can begin to heal from past damage. When you choose to enter treatment for addiction, you put yourself on the path towards a more hopeful future.
Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders
A person who develops alcoholism may be at increased risk for certain co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:
- Bipolar disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder
Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose
Effects of withdrawal: When you become addicted to alcohol, your body adapts to the presence of this substance. When you then try to stop drinking, your body will react with a series of distressing and possibly dangerous symptoms, including the following:
- Intense cravings for alcohol
- Excessive sweating
- Tics, twitches, and tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Elevated heart rate
Effects of overdose: A person who demonstrates the following signs after using alcohol may have overdosed:
- Extreme confusion
- Faint heartbeat or pulse
- Slow or otherwise irregular breathing
- Low body temperature
- Cold or clammy skin
- Bluish tint near lips or fingertips
Alcohol overdose, which is also known as alcohol poisoning, can be extremely dangerous. It can even be fatal. Anyone who experiences the symptoms above after using alcohol needs immediate medical attention.