Alcohol Addiction Effects, Signs, & Symptoms

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Alcohol addiction can often times be hidden in plain sight, making it difficult to identify. Understanding and recognizing the signs, symptoms, risks and more is the first step in the recovery journey.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction

Drinking alcohol is common in this country, we incorporate it into social occasions and celebrations. Alcohol is advertised on the radio, television, billboards, and in movies that make the stars appear attractive, successful, or romantic. Being raised in a culture in which alcohol is legal, frequently used, and something we are often exposed to, there is no stigma involved in using alcohol on a daily basis. This makes it difficult to determine when alcohol use has become a problem rather than something controllable.

If alcohol is causing problems in the ability to function normally in your daily life, you may have a problem that needs to be addressed. If you have reached a point that you don’t think you can function without alcohol, have tried to cut down or quit unsuccessfully, or you feel extreme anxiety over your ability to get through the day without alcohol, you may have a drinking problem. Most people who reach this stage are aware they have a serious condition, but feel out of control and helpless to help themselves. An individual who has a problem with drinking may experiencing cravings when attempting to cut down or after something triggers the desire to drink. There may be a loss of control over drinking, so that a person drinks more, or more frequently, than intended. Physical and psychological dependence develops, signaled by withdrawal symptoms if one attempts to cut down or stop drinking.

If you have problems with alcohol and feel it has taken over your life, our compassionate, experienced staff at The Refuge can help. Know that you are not alone.


Alcohol addiction statistics

In the U.S., the 12-month prevalence rates of alcohol for those over the age of 17 have been estimated at 8.5%. These rates differ by gender however, and surveys indicate that women experience alcohol abuse disorders at significantly lower rates (4.9%) as compared to men (12.4%). The lowest rates of alcohol use disorders are found in older individuals above the age of 64 (1.5%), while the highest rates of the disorder are found in individuals between the ages of 18 to 29 (16.2%). From early adulthood through middle age, the rates of alcohol abuse decease consistently. Alcohol use and abuse among teens has shown a sharp downward trend until reaching historically low levels in 2012.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

There are numerous theories about what causes alcohol abuse, however none have been definitively proven. Potential causes include:

Genetic: It is recognized that alcohol abuse runs in families. Those with a first-degree relative who suffered from addiction are more likely to develop addiction than those without a similar family history. There is also evidence that a number of genes play a role in the development of addiction.

Brain Structures: Brain structures such as the amygdala work to limit alcohol cravings. People who are addicted to alcohol are noted to have a difference in the amygdala and related structures compared to those who don’t have alcohol problems. Additionally, abnormal levels certain chemicals in the brain are responsible for neural communication, called neurotransmitters, may lead to addiction in some individuals.

Environmental: Sometimes when a person is exposed to alcohol, they discover it can numb negative emotions. Those who experience a great deal of uncontrollable, unpredictable stress, may use drinking as a coping mechanism.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

There are numerous symptoms of alcohol use disorder. The symptoms experienced are affected by individual differences, length of use, amount used, the symptoms of other co-occurring disorders, and the presence of medical illnesses. The most common symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

Mood symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unsuccessful attempts to decrease or quit alcohol use
  • Appearing intoxicated
  • Much time is expended finding, using, or recuperating from alcohol use
  • Alcohol is used in larger amounts or over a longer time period than planned
  • Inability to satisfy major obligations or responsibilities due to effects of alcohol use
  • Despite continuous relationship problems and loss of important relationships, the individual continues to use the substance
  • Abandonment of previously valued activities
  • Use of alcohol in situations that could be hazardous
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Intense cravings
  • Despite knowing alcohol abuse is related to the development of psychological or physical illnesses, the individual continues to use the substance
  • Tolerance develops, causing the individual to need greater amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms result when attempting to decrease or stop using alcohol
  • Alcohol is used in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Negative physical or psychological effects result following cessation of alcohol use

Psychological symptoms:

  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Worsening overall mental health
  • Suicidal thoughts


Effects of alcohol addiction

The effects of alcohol abuse are quite varied and depend on a number of variables. Common effects include:

  • Clumsiness leading to accidents and injuries
  • Anger and loss of inhibition resulting in violence against others, property destruction, and disregard for others
  • Poor judgment and impaired decision making resulting in unsafe sex and other high-risk behaviors
  • Hypothermia
  • Depressed respiration
  • Impairments in central nervous system functioning
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Shock
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal Effects

Withdrawal effects of alcohol addiction

Some of the withdrawal symptoms that may result when someone cuts down or stops using alcohol after physical dependence has developed include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Tremors
  • Cold sweats
  • Stomach aches, nausea, and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

Almost every type of mental health disorder can co-occur with alcohol use disorders. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Substance abuse
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder

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