Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholism

Authored by First City Recovery Center    Reviewed by Dr. Vahid Osman    Last Updated: August 31st, 2021


Dr. Vahid Osman Medical Reviewer
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN. Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

About 85.6% of people over age 18 drink alcohol at one point in their lives. Alcohol stimulates the production of dopamine in the brain, which produces feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. If you use alcohol regularly, you may begin to crave those experiences, making it hard to control alcohol intake.

As a result, frequent users of alcohol are more likely to develop unhealthy drinking habits that turn into alcohol dependence. With the proper knowledge, you can identify the onset of alcoholism and may be able to seek help early enough to avoid adverse effects. Read on to gain more insights.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, alcohol dependence, alcohol use disorder, or alcohol addiction, is defined as a strong and uncontrollable desire to drink. This is a progressive disorder, meaning that the effects become more severe with continued drinking.

Most people view alcoholics as people who drink too much to the extent that their lives fall apart. However, there are still alcoholics who manage to keep their job, family, and friendships. Such people are called high-functioning alcoholics.

Causes of Alcoholism

Although 14.1 million adults in the USA struggle with alcohol addiction, there is no a single cause of this condition. This problem gradually develops over time when a person drinks too much alcohol. Alcoholism may develop due to psychological, environmental, genetic, or social factors. Alcoholism is more likely to develop at certain stages in life. For instance, male college students and people dealing with trauma are more likely to turn to alcohol. People who begin to drink at an early age are also at risk of addiction.

Some people drink to stay calm in social gatherings while others do it to cope with stressful life issues. For others still, it’s just fun. Alcoholism may develop if you have co-workers, friends, or a partner who regularly drinks alcohol to excess.

Alcohol abuse may also run in families. If you have parents or another family member struggling with alcoholism, you are more likely to develop the condition. People also tend to turn to alcohol when they experience frustration, anger, anxiety, boredom, emotional stress, sadness, or loneliness. Other mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety can lead to alcoholism.

Various factors increase the risk of alcoholism. If you are a male and consume more than 15 drinks or a female who consumes more than 12 drinks weekly, you are at a high risk of alcohol use disorder. Anyone who consumes more than five drinks in a day at least once per week is at risk of alcoholism.

When measuring drinks per week, the volume is different depending on the kind of beverage. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer with 5% alcoholic content. For malt liquor with 7% alcohol, a drink measures 8 to 9 ounces. One drink of unfortified wine is measured as 5 ounces with about 12% alcohol. For hard liquor with 40% alcohol, one drink is an equivalent of 1.5 ounces.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism can either be mild, moderate, or severe. During the early stages, a person may begin to think about alcohol more often and establish a heavy drinking pattern. Such people also become actively involved in planning alcohol-filled events. In the mild alcoholism stage, people exhibit other symptoms like:

• Slurred speech
• Difficulty concentrating
• Poor decision-making
• Decreased ability to control body movement
• Memory lapses

With continued alcohol abuse, the user may begin to develop some recurring problems. The person may begin to drink more often than usual. At this stage, it is common to be in denial of an existing drinking problem. Such people justify their behavior by trying to blame others or particular circumstances for their drinking. Others will even take alcohol the first thing in the morning. Anytime such a person tries to stay away from alcohol, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

At this point, you may also note some personality changes or mood swings in the person who is drinking. If mild alcoholism goes untreated, this behavior may get out of control. The alcohol will now begin to negatively affect your life or the life of your loved one who is drinking.

Severe alcoholism is defined as the desire to drink heavily and more often than you intend to. If you are a severe alcoholic, you may feel that you want to cut down on the alcohol but with no success. Such people spend most of their time alone acquiring the alcohol, drinking it, enjoying the effects, and struggling with hangovers. In this stage, people crave alcohol most of the time.

Even after realizing that drinking affects their job or relationships, an alcoholic may still choose to drink. Such people begin to develop problems with their schoolwork, job, or family since they neglect obligations. Alcoholics give up or limit participation in social, occupational, or recreational activities.

The human body develops an alcohol tolerance with time, so alcoholics need to drink more to experience the desired feelings. They are likely to continue using alcohol in hazardous situations, such as while driving or operating machines. They might also feel tempted to take more alcohol or other substances to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Recognizing Alcoholism Signs

If you experience two of the above symptoms, you could be experiencing mild alcoholism. People with four to five symptoms have a moderate alcohol use disorder. Any person experiencing more than six symptoms has severe alcohol disorder. If you or someone close to you makes excuses that they drink to relax, feel normal, or confident, they could be struggling with alcoholism.

Be careful when your loved ones change the group of acquaintances they hang out with or when they start drinking alone in secret. If you ever feel that you need to cut down on alcohol or feel annoyed when people criticize your drinking, you need help. Alcoholics also tend to feel guilty about their drinking behavior.

People who get into legal problems related to alcohol or even forget what they did while drunk might need help. Others become defensive during discussions that address excessive drinking. Anyone who denies drinking, hides alcohol, or makes their loved ones worried about their drinking could be struggling with alcoholism. Pay attention to people who appear intoxicated more regularly and convince them to seek help. People with alcohol use disorder may also:

• Appear irritable, unwell, and tired
• Neglect personal hygiene
• Have a lapse in memory
• Neglect food in favor of alcohol
• Suffer from illnesses like alcoholic ketoacidosis

Effects of Alcoholism

Alcohol works by suppressing the central nervous system. Initially, a person will experience stimulation, but with continued drinking, you become sedated. Over time, drinking too much alcohol can cause serious health issues. Alcoholism can lead to liver cirrhosis, inflammation of the stomach lining, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Alcohol also affects glucose release from the liver, which can lead to low blood sugar. Excessive drinking alters the menstrual cycle in women and can cause erectile dysfunction in men. This can also interfere with the absorption of vitamin B, which can alter brain function. When a pregnant woman takes alcohol, they can experience miscarriage or give birth to a child with physical or developmental problems.

Alcohol also weakens the immune system and increases cancer risks. Excessive drinking lowers judgment, leading to poor choices. Such people are more likely to get involved in motor vehicle injuries or other accidents like drowning. Alcoholics also have an increased likelihood of committing a crime. People who struggle with alcohol might abuse other substances. Addiction also increases the risk of committing suicide. Alcohol use can lead to various physical effects, including:

• Weight loss due to poor diet
• Frequent alcohol smell on the breath
• Yellow eyes and skin due to liver damage
• Dry skin and brittle hair

How to Prevent Alcoholism

If someone acknowledges that they struggle with alcohol abuse early enough and seek treatment, they are less likely to reach the addiction state. They will need to learn their triggers and avoid them. It’s also important to look for better ways to manage stress, like meditation, rather than turning to alcohol.

Parents should also set a good example for their children by reducing their alcohol intake or refraining from it completely. If you have children, speak openly with them and spend quality time. Get to know any triggers or stress factors in your family members that could tempt them to use drugs as an escape.

How to Treat Alcoholism

The first step of treating alcoholism is recognizing that you have a problem that needs help. If you or your loved ones realize that you have an alcoholism issue, don’t try quitting on your own. You may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

• Irritability
• Insomnia
• Confusion
• Anxiety
• Tremors
• Headaches
• Vomiting
• Increased heart rate

If the above information describes you, you should seek professional help from an institution like First City Recovery Center. Our facility offers an alcoholism treatment program that utilizes a combination of medications, therapy, and support services. Once you get to the facility, you will begin with medical detoxification to flush out toxins.

Our mental health professionals will assess whether you may have a concurrent mental health concern, and our medical staff will assess the level of the drugs in your system to know the severity of the addiction. After this, the doctor may opt to administer drugs to control alcohol cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. Some of the medications used to treat alcoholism include disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate.

Alcohol Rehab at First City Recovery Center

Although alcoholism is a very prevalent issue, various treatment programs can help you regain sobriety. When you seek help before your drinking habit escalates to severe addiction, you have a higher chance of recovery.

If you or someone close to you displays signs of an alcohol use disorder, persuade them to seek professional help from First City Recovery Center. Our facility has addiction treatment specialists who will help you or your loved one learn better ways to control alcohol intake, maintain long-term sobriety, and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Learn more about our alcohol rehab program here.

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