Signs & Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Red River Hospital helps individuals struggling with alcohol addiction build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Wichita Falls, TX, Red River is the leading provider of alcohol addiction treatment.

Understanding Alcoholism

Learn about alcohol and substance abuse

Excessive drinking can have devastating effects on a person’s life. Carrying potentially fatal consequences, alcohol abuse and alcoholism pose risks to a person’s health and quality of life if left untreated. Marked by the inability to control one’s drinking, an abuser of alcohol is often preoccupied with drinking and continues regular use of alcohol despite the impact on his or her life.

Alcoholism, which involves physical dependence on alcohol, can lead to physiological changes in a person’s body that could cause serious medical conditions requiring long-term care. Alcohol abuse, a known precursor to alcoholism, can also put a person’s health at risk and cause serious impairment in behavioral and cognitive functioning. The treatment involved in ceasing a person’s alcohol consumption has proven to be effective and can assist an individual in regaining power over his or her addiction.


Alcohol addiction statistics

It is estimated that almost 88% of adults, aged 18 and older, have consumed alcohol in their lifetime. Binge-drinking (consuming more than 5 alcoholic beverages at one time) rates among individuals within that same age range are estimated at almost 25%, with almost 8% of those people admitting to drinking heavily within a month’s time. It has also been found that nearly 17 million Americans meet diagnostic criteria for an alcohol abuse diagnosis. Almost 85,000 people die each year in alcohol-related deaths, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

The development of an alcohol abuse problem can be explained by taking a number of factors into consideration. The most commonly agreed-upon notions about the causes of alcohol addiction are:

Genetic: Alcohol addiction is something that is known to have a genetic influence. Individuals with family members, especially immediate family members, who have struggled with alcohol abuse are at greater risk of developing an addiction to alcohol.

Physical: Significant drug abuse is known to alter brain chemistry and alcohol is no different in that regard. As an alcohol addition progresses and cravings to drink intensify, the portion of the brain that controls impulses can be affected. Moreover, frequent intoxication impairs motor functioning, which is ultimately controlled by the brain. Dopamine and serotonin levels can become imbalanced and an abuser of alcohol may experience drastic changes in mood as the part of the brain that regulates mood is adversely affected.

Environmental: Exposure to alcohol abuse, violence, trauma, and chronic stress could result in a person developing an alcohol addiction. Often occurring in those with a lack of healthy coping skills, regular alcohol consumption may be used as a means of escaping stress or unpleasant emotions. This escape can distance a person from his or her own thoughts and surroundings, so if an alcohol abuse problem goes untreated, the addiction to alcohol could lead to physical dependence.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse
  • Pre-existing mental illness
  • Undiagnosed mental illness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Early exposure to alcohol
  • Peer pressure to drink
  • Troubled interpersonal relationships
  • Access to alcohol
  • Lack of impulse control

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

Depending on the duration of a person’s addiction to alcohol and the amount of alcohol consumed, the following signs and symptoms may be present in an individual who abuses alcohol:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased anger / aggression
  • Lying or omitting information
  • Social isolation
  • Continued drinking despite consequences
  • Drinking alone
  • Concealing drinking habits and/or alcohol
  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Decreased performance at work or school

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of normal appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Lack of coordination
  • Headaches
  • Flushing of the skin

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Changes in personality
  • Memory impairment
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor decision-making

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Cravings to drink
  • Drastic mood changes
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood


Effects of alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction is something that affects an addict as well as those around him or her. Because alcohol impairs an individual physically and hinders good decision-making, a person suffering from alcohol abuse is likely to engage in risky behaviors and putting his or her interpersonal relationships at risk of demise. Some additional examples of the devastating effects of alcohol abuse are:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Risk of interaction with the legal system
  • Divorce
  • Decrease in quantity and quality of relationships
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Driving under the influence
  • Poor work performance / loss of employment
  • Poor school performance / academic failure

Alcohol abuse can also have lasting effects on a person’s health. With death being the most severe of all effects, the following health risks are increased for a person who suffers from alcoholism:

  • Liver disease
  • Increased risk of cancer development
  • Brain damage
  • Heart problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Physical injury due to engaging in risky behaviors

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of withdrawal and overdose

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal: Withdrawal can become apparent in a matter of hours or even days depending on the extent to which an individual abuses alcohol. Severity of symptoms experienced is also dependent on the abuser’s consumption of alcohol and the length of time he or she has suffered from alcohol abuse. Withdrawal symptoms can involve:

  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Increased heart rate
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Anxiousness
  • Mood swings
  • Depressed mood
  • Jitteriness

Effects of Alcohol Overdose: Alcohol overdose, known as alcohol poisoning, occurs when a person has exceeded his or her own tolerance level for alcohol. Indicators that a person is overdosing on alcohol are:

  • Slurred speech
  • Incoherence
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Labored breathing
  • Decrease in reflexive response to stimuli

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for a person with alcohol addiction to be diagnosed with another mental illness. Sometimes the individual has a preexisting mental health disorder or consumes alcohol in attempts to minimize the effects of an undiagnosed mental illness. The following co-occurring disorders can be applicable for a person with an alcohol use disorder:

  • Another substance abuse disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

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I was treated with respect and staff showed me love, and understanding from day one till leaving out the door! I received courage, motivation, open eyes, and my heart. Thank you staff, for bringing me back to life.

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