When an individual develops an alcohol addiction, their physical health suffers, their relationships suffer, and the lives of others around them are negatively impacted as well. What may initially start as a beer or glass of wine each day may easily turn into something more dangerous, so it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of addiction as well as its long and short-term effects.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”
While a single drink once in a blue moon isn’t going to lead to addiction, binge drinking and regular drinking habits may prove to be dangerous. In fact, an estimated 16 million people in the United States are suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder and may benefit from alcohol addiction treatment.1
The severity of a person’s alcohol addiction can range from mild to severe based on the criteria they meet, as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A person may be diagnosed with AUD if they meet two of the following criteria within the same 12-month period.
- Have you had moments when you ended up drinking more than you planned to?
- Have you tried to stop drinking several times but couldn’t?
- Have you spent a significant amount of time drinking or being hungover?
- Have you experienced strong urges or cravings for alcohol?
- Have you found that drinking frequently interfered with your family, employment, or school responsibilities?
- Have you continued to drink even though it was causing problems with family and friends?
- Have you neglected activities and hobbies that you enjoyed in order to drink?
- Have you gotten into dangerous or life-threatening situations while drinking (or after drinking) more than once?
- Have you continued to drink even though it made you depressed, anxious, or complicated an existing health problem?
- Have you found that drinking the same amount of alcohol does not give you the effect it did before?
- Have you experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, hallucinations, shakiness, or irritability when the effects of alcohol wear off?
If two or more of the above criteria apply to you or a loved one within the last year, you should seek help to get treatment.
Physical Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction contributes to many physical problems and results in serious short and long-term effects. According to WebMD, researchers have linked chronic heavy drinking to more than 60 diseases, including2,3,4:
- Cancer (mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, colorectal)
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
Regardless of whether a person drinks too much on a single occasion or over a long period of time, the effects of excessive alcohol consumption are very harmful to the body. It affects just about every organ, causing stomach distress, heart, liver, brain, and bone damage, diabetes complications, birth defects, and infertility. Malnutrition is also a hallmark of alcohol addiction.
Short-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption also include:
- Memory lapses
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- Impaired judgment and coordination
- Distorted breathing and hearing
Unintentional injuries such as car crashes falls, burns or drowning may also occur as a result of alcohol consumption.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the NIAAA, alcohol consumption severely affects the brain on a short-term and long-term basis, impacting reaction time, the ability to walk, and causing impaired memory, vision, and hearing. Research has shown that some of the effects on the brain will even persist long after a person has been sober, and some individuals may also develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disease that results in mental confusion, nerve paralysis, and impaired muscle coordination.6
Psychological Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction
According to the NIAAA, heavy alcohol use directly impacts the brain function and hormonal systems that are involved in the development of several common mental disorders, especially mood disorders.7 It is common for individuals suffering from alcohol addiction to develop psychological issues such as:
- Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
- Aggressive and/or antisocial behaviors
Alcoholism is also associated with the following psychiatric disorders that develop independently, either before or after the alcohol abuse begins:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Social phobia
- Panic disorder
Social Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction and Alcohol Abuse Disorder also have a severe impact on social interactions and situations.
- Missed work/lost productivity: Individuals who are suffering from alcohol addiction may miss work often due to hangovers and sickness. As a result, they typically experience a loss of productivity at work and increased pressure from management and coworkers.
- Relationship problems: Alcohol addiction also frequently leads to family problems and broken relationships. This is because addicted individuals are often unreliable, act irrationally, may be aggressive or irritable, and put others in dangerous or life-threatening situations.
- Financial problems: In addition, many people who are addicted to alcohol will neglect responsibilities such as paying bills, taking children to school, or spending and saving money responsibly. All of this contributes to broken relationships at home, school, and work.
- Physical/emotional abuse: Domestic violence and sexual assault are also common symptoms of alcohol addiction, as irrational and aggressive behaviors are more likely to occur under the influence of alcohol.5
How Common is Alcohol Addiction?
In 2016, more than 3 million people died from alcohol abuse.8 The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence also cites several powerful statistics that illustrate just how common alcohol abuse is in America and the world.9
- 237 million men and 46 million women across the globe are “problem drinkers.”
- One in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking.
- 28 percent of deaths linked to alcohol use were due to injuries, 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent were due to cardiovascular diseases.
- Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
- Alcohol use in the U.S. is responsible for $191.6 billion in resource and productivity costs.
- Global consumption of alcohol is predicted to rise in the next 10 years.
- Of the 2.3 billion people who drink alcohol worldwide, the average daily consumption is 33 grams of pure alcohol a day (equivalent to two glasses of wine, a large bottle of beer, or two shots).
Find Treatment for Alcohol Addiction