Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Understanding the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction can help you or a loved one make a decision about treatment. Every experience with alcohol addiction is different, and if you or a loved one are struggling, we are here to help.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction and substance abuse

When people are abusing alcohol, they are participating in a problematic pattern of use to the extent that it begins to inflict clinical impairment and/or distress on their minds and bodies. When individuals become addicted to alcohol, the substance quickly starts to rule their lives. These people will experience significant disturbances in their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis, negatively impacting their capability of adhering to responsibilities and obligations. Despite all of the negative consequences that their drinking has on their lives, and on the lives of those around them, these individuals will continue to abuse the substance.  With proper treatment, people can recovery from alcohol abuse.


Alcohol addiction statistics

In the United States, an estimated 8.5% of individuals over the age of 18 abuse alcohol. Research has shown that men are known to abuse alcohol in greater numbers than are women, and the risk of alcohol dependency onset is believed to peak between the ages of 18 and 29.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

The reasons why a person may develop an addiction to alcohol can be determined through a combination of genetic, environmental, and physical factors, the most common involving the following:

Genetic: Alcohol abuse and dependence is known to run in families. Research has shown that people are three to four times more likely to start using alcohol if they have biological family members who use it and are addicted to it. Additional research has shown that between 40% and 60% of one’s susceptibility to developing alcoholism is due to genetic influences.

Physical: As a result of the brain’s malleability, chemical changes occur as a person begins excessively drinking alcohol, leading to tolerance and dependence. The longer that a person abuses alcohol, the greater the disturbance in the balance of the brain’s chemicals and nerve tracks are. These imbalances will affect a number of different areas of one’s brain, including one’s ability to use sound judgment and exercise self-control, resulting in a lack of being able to gain control over his or her drinking impulses.

Environmental: The environment in which people spend a significant amount of time can have an immense impact on whether or not they begin abusing alcohol. Individuals who are surrounded by others who use alcohol on a regular basis are more likely to see it as being an acceptable behavior and are therefore at a higher risk of using it more frequently, leading to the development of tolerance and addiction. Additionally, people who spend a great deal of time in stressful situations, such as hectic work environments, may potentially turn to using alcohol as a way to relax.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of substance use
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • High levels of stress
  • Relationship discord
  • Unemployment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor socioeconomic status

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

The signs that are indicative of an alcohol addiction will vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors. Examples of signs and symptoms that one may exhibit can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden, unprovoked angry outbursts
  • Repeated absences from work or school
  • Alienating loved ones
  • Social isolation
  • Drinking alone
  • Becoming excessively hostile and defensive when questioned about alcohol
  • No longer participating in activities that one used to enjoy

Physical symptoms:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Excessive nausea
  • Flushed skin
  • Stomach cramping
  • Tremors
  • Excessive sweating
  • Distorted vision

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lapses in memory
  • Having extreme difficulty focusing
  • Lacking the ability to make decisions
  • Lacking the ability to use sound judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Anger
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Oscillating emotions


Effects of alcohol addiction

Individuals who abuse alcohol will inevitably suffer many negative consequences as a result of their actions, including the onset of physical, social, and emotional difficulties. Examples of such effects can include:

  • Drastic decline in overall health
  • Liver disease
  • Heart problems
  • Brain damage
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Familial discord
  • Divorce / severed relationships
  • Partaking in high risk behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

There are a number of different mental illnesses that can exist alongside alcohol abuse and addiction. Some individuals may, in fact, use alcohol as a means of self-medicating the symptoms that they are experiencing. Examples of different mental disorders that can co-occur with alcohol abuse can include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal & overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When a person drinks alcohol excessively, but then stops, he or she will go through a period of withdrawal. On average, withdrawal symptoms present around eight hours following the individual’s last drink. Some people, on the other hand, may not experience symptoms until days later. For most, the intensity of the symptoms will peak within 24-72 hours after the last drink. The effects of withdrawal can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Jumpiness
  • Increased confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Skin color changes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increasing irritability

Effects of alcohol overdose: Also known as alcohol poisoning, overdosing on alcohol is extremely dangerous and most often occurs without individuals realizing that they have crossed the line on how much alcohol their bodies are able to tolerate. An alcohol overdose should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. Without intervention, the result of the overdose could be fatal. Signs that a person is overdosing on alcohol may include:

  • Sudden, excessive vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Drastic drop in body temperature
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Paling of the skin, sometimes turning a bluish color
  • Slowed or irregular breathing rate