Alcohol Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of alcohol addiction can be an important first step on the path toward successful long-term recovery. Sierra by the Sea in Newport Beach, California, is proud to be a source of accurate and relevant information about the impact of alcohol addiction.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction

Alcohol use disorder is a type of substance use disorder that causes an individual to experience signs and symptoms that can affect both the body and mind. Common terms for alcohol use disorder include alcohol addiction and alcoholism.

The most prominent of these symptoms include alcohol cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal. Cravings for alcohol occur when an individual has a strong urge or desire to consume alcohol. This urge often impairs an individual’s ability to complete daily tasks such as work or school. It can also undermine a person’s ability to meet social or family responsibilities.

Having a tolerance to alcohol means that a person will need to use greater amounts of the drug in order to experience the desired effects. Continued use of alcohol can cause the body to adapt to the presence of the substance. When a person then tries to stop using alcohol, they may experience both physical and psychological pain. This response is called withdrawal.

Withdrawal from alcohol causes an individual to experience uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms. These signs and symptoms occur when an individual is no longer consuming alcohol or consumes significantly less alcohol than usual. For people who have become addicted to alcohol, symptoms of withdrawal can occur within four to 12 hours after their last drink.


Statistics about alcohol use and addiction

The National Institute of Mental Health has reported the following statistics about alcohol use and alcohol addiction in the United States:

  • More than 15 million American adults meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.
  • Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed in 16.2% of adults between 18 and 29 years old.
  • Alcohol-related causes are a factor in more than 88,000 deaths every year in the United States.
  • About 12.4% of adult men and 4.9% of adult women are addicted to alcohol.

Causes & Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction

Potential causes of alcohol addiction

A combination of factors can increase a person’s risk for becoming addicted to alcohol. These factors can include both genetic and environmental concerns. Common causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction include:

  • Easy access to alcohol
  • Cultural views regarding alcohol use and intoxication
  • High stress levels
  • Exposure to environments where there is heavy drinking (including bars, social events, and home and community settings)
  • A family history of alcohol use disorder
  • Personality traits such as high impulsivity and engaging in risk-taking behaviors
  • A naturally low sensitivity to alcohol consumption, meaning that someone seemingly experiences little to no results from consuming low levels of alcohol

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Symptoms of alcohol addiction

As with many substance use disorders, an addiction to alcohol can cause a variety of symptoms and signs. These symptoms and signs typically fall under three categories: behavioral, physical, and mental. These symptoms will vary from one person to the next, and individuals may also experience different symptoms based on the severity of their struggles with alcohol use disorder.

The following are examples of the many symptoms of alcohol use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Trying but failing to lower or stop alcohol intake
  • Continual urges to consume alcohol
  • Spending an excessive amount of time getting, consuming, and recovering from the use of alcohol
  • Needing to use alcohol to celebrate success or cope with stress
  • Consuming alcohol alone or in secret
  • Arguing with friends or loved ones about alcohol use
  • Using alcohol when it is clearly dangerous to do so, such as when taking medication
  • Needing to drink alcohol in larger quantities in order to experience the desired effects

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Watery eyes
  • Weight gain
  • Swollen or reddish skin near nose

Mental symptoms:

  • Problems with memory
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Poor judgment
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

Effects of Alcohol Addiction

The negative impact of alcohol addiction

If left untreated, alcohol addiction has the potential to negatively impact many areas of a person’s life. Because alcohol use disorder causes an individual to experience physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms, the effects of this condition can be far-reaching and may include the following:

  • Impaired ability to maintain current social and family relationships
  • Inability to form new relationships or friendships
  • Difficulty verbally communicating with others
  • The development or worsening of certain medical conditions
  • Poor attendance or performance at work or in school
  • Demotion, disciplinary actions, or termination at work
  • Inability to fulfill financial, domestic, or community responsibilities within home, community, or family settings
  • Risk of eviction and/or homelessness
  • Increased risk of violence, accidents resulting from intoxication, and public intoxication
  • Legal charges that may result from violence, theft, public intoxication, or driving under the influence

Thankfully, when you receive effective treatment for alcohol use disorder, you can avoid these outcomes. Proper care from a reputable alcohol addiciton treatment center can also help repair the damage caused by alcohol use disorder.

With the right type and level of care, individuals who have been suffering from alcohol use disorder can live full and healthy lives.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who are addicted to alcohol

Due to the negative effects of alcohol on the body and mind, there are several mental health conditions that may accompany a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. Common co-occurring disorders among individuals who struggle with an addiction to alcohol include the following:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Neurocognitive disorders

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal & Overdose

Withdrawing from alcohol and the risk of overdose

Effects of withdrawal: An individual who is undergoing withdrawal from alcohol may experience some of the following physical and mental symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors to hand or other body parts
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Seeing, hearing, or feelings sensations that are not real
  • Seizures

Effects of overdose: An individual who has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol is at risk for an overdose. Overdoses are extremely dangerous and may lead to death if an individual does not receive emergency medical care.

Common symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Extreme disorientation
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Having a seizure
  • Entering a coma

Any individual who demonstrates the signs or symptoms of an overdose requires immediate medical attention.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous