What Are the Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction?

woman struggles with alcohol addiction

Updated on July 15th, 2020

Addiction is a serious disease that not only affects the addicted individual, but also the friends, family, co-workers and many others involved in his or her life. People with a substance abuse problem often have a distorted way of thinking and behaving because they are controlled by a compulsive urge to use drugs.

Over time, addictive substances like drugs and alcohol also change the way the brain works, making it nearly impossible for an addict to stop using without medical intervention. Mental illness is often present as well, further strengthening the suffocating hold of addiction.

If you believe you or a loved one are at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol, knowing the warning signs can help you recognize and treat the problem early on, before it becomes life-threatening for yourself or others. But first, let’s explore the definition and physical effects of alcohol addiction to gain a deeper understanding of the issue.

What Classifies a Person as An Alcoholic?

Alcohol addiction (or alcoholism) is a pattern of alcohol use defined by uncontrollable cravings and the inability to stop drinking. Although some characteristics of binge drinking are similar—such as the frequent and overabundant consumption of alcoholic beverages—some infrequent binge drinkers may have the ability to stop consuming alcohol on their own. Even still, binge drinking can lead to alcohol addiction. If you are addicted to alcohol, your body has developed a physical dependence on the substance and you will need clinical and medical assistance to safely stop consuming it.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

When consumed in large quantities, alcohol acts as a suppressant, leaving a person feeling sluggish and uncoordinated. But small amounts of it can have the same effects as a stimulant, which is why many people may claim to need a drink to “let loose” or have fun.

What Are the Immediate Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

woman has a headache

Several obvious physical signs can identify someone who is currently abusing alcohol. When alcohol is consumed in large quantities, it is known to largely inhibit decision-making, coordination, and control. Of course, the side effects listed below will depend on the person as well as how much alcohol is consumed and how quickly. Some immediate effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Intense mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Violent and/or risky behavior
  • Impaired vision and hearing
  • Inability to walk without stumbling or staggering
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness/blackouts
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What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse can cause serious, unintentional injuries due to car crashes, falls, or burns. Alcohol-related injury can also be a result of firearms, sexual assault, or domestic abuse. Alcohol abuse takes a toll on your body and can also lead to serious long-term health problems. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), alcohol abuse affects the following organs and bodily functions:

  • The brain – Alcohol changes the way you think and behave by disrupting communication pathways in the brain.
  • The liver – Fibrosis (excessive scarring of the liver) and Cirrhosis (slow deterioration of the liver) can be caused by heavy drinking.
  • The immune system – Drinking weakens your immune system and inhibits your body’s ability to fight off infections, leaving you more susceptible to disease.
  • The heart – Alcohol abuse can result in an irregular heartbeat, stroke or high blood pressure.
  • The pancreas – Inflammation of the pancreas can also be caused by heavy alcohol use, resulting in severe abdominal pain.

Other physical long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Permanent brain damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neurological impairment
  • Hand tremors
  • Cirrhosis (liver damage)
  • Sexual problems
  • Psoriasis
  • Malnutrition
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Mouth or throat cancer
  • Gastritis

Common non-medical effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Financial distress
  • Legal problems
  • Homelessness
  • Intense feelings of shame and guilt
  • Relationship problems
  • Not being able to relax or feel good without alcohol
  • Employment problems or loss of employment
  • Losing friends
  • Losing important social or recreational activities

What Are Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction?


The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol abuse disorder. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of those people ever receive treatment to overcome their addiction.1

Identifying the warning signs of alcohol addiction can improve the likelihood of you or someone you love getting the help they need before things spiral out of control. The following behaviors are telltale signs of alcohol addiction and should not be taken lightly or be ignored.

  1. Feeling unable to stop drinking alcohol
  2. Having cravings or urges to drink alcohol
  3. Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when the drinking stops
  4. Requiring more alcohol to achieve the same effect (developing a tolerance)
  5. Allowing alcohol to take priority over school, work, family, etc.
  6. Putting yourself or others in dangerous situations while intoxicated
  7. Continuing to drink alcohol even though when it causes relationship problems
  8. Continuing to drink alcohol even when it causes mental or physical problems
  9. Getting into legal trouble due to alcohol consumption
  10. Giving up important recreational or social activities because of alcohol use
  11. Spending a lot of time thinking about drinking, drinking, or recovering from drinking

Although not everyone who abuses alcohol is addicted, it is wise to assume that any negative consequences caused by drinking alcohol are enough to cause concern. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above issues, you should consider seeking treatment as soon as possible.

What Are The Dangers of Alcohol Addiction?

couple struggles with alcohol addiction

The dangers of alcohol addiction persist long after you finish a drink or stumble home after a weekend of binging. In addition to causing serious harm to your body and bodily functions, alcohol addiction also destroys other important aspects of life.

  • Your relationships become strained due to distrust, irresponsible behavior, and the refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem.
  • Your responsibilities at school, work, and home fall to the wayside, leaving others to pick up the pieces and fill in the void that is left.
  • Your appearance and hygiene suffer, affecting the way others view you and the way you view yourself.
  • You lose confidence in yourself and your abilities.

It can be very difficult to admit when you have a problem, but doing so is the first (and one of the most important) steps to obtaining a sober life again.

What Is the Best Way to Stop Drinking Alcohol?

drug and alcohol outpatient rehab

Addiction leads to nothing but destruction, leaving you and those close to you broken in the aftermath. But there is hope for overcoming addiction. The idea of going to rehab for alcohol addiction may be a difficult pill to swallow, but doing so greatly increases the likelihood that you will successfully get sober and maintain a lifestyle of recovery that lasts.

If you’ve never been to addiction treatment, you should know that the process looks different for everyone. There are several stages of treatment that can help you overcome your addiction.

  • Medical detox: This is often the first stage of treatment. It is designed to clear all of the addictive substances from your body and treat any uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal during the process. Detox clients receive round-the-clock medical care and clinical treatment for any challenging psychological responses to withdrawal. Group counseling and individual counseling are also available.
  • Residential rehab: Inpatient rehab offers a highly structured treatment program and living environment that uses evidence-based therapies to help you make positive life changes. These changes will contribute to a sober lifestyle and the peer support and professional support you receive during your stay at the treatment center will help reinforce healthy behaviors by providing personal accountability.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): An intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides comprehensive recovery support without requiring that clients live onsite at a rehab center. IOP gives you the flexibility to work, go to school, and maintain other responsibilities at home while you attend addiction treatment. IOP sessions meet several times a week and provide various types of group therapy sessions in-person or online. The goals of IOP participation are to stay sober and maintain healthy behavioral changes.
  • Sober living: Sober living programs are designed to help newly sober individuals maintain their sobriety by providing safe, sober housing, and support services. Sober living homes are gender-specific living environments with strict rules that ensure the home is safe and inclusive for all those living in it. Depending on the recovery residence, sober living homes may also provide additional support services such as regular drug and alcohol testing, medication management and case management, employment assistance, educational planning, and certified peer monitoring programs.

Depending on the severity of your alcohol addiction, you may need to complete some or all of the types of programs listed above. Research studies show people who remain in treatment for at least 90 days have the best chance at maintaining long-term sobriety.

Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for alcohol use disorder, but like other chronic diseases, comprehensive addiction treatment programs can help you learn how to manage it effectively and live a sustainable sober life.

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What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

For those who are mildly or severely addicted to alcohol, getting sober can be an uncomfortable and dangerous process. Once a person is physically dependent on alcohol, quitting cold turkey can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. This is because the body becomes accustomed to high levels of alcohol. When a person stops drinking and the alcohol level in the body suddenly drops, the central nervous system continues functioning as though the alcohol is still present and needs time to adjust.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin about six hours after the last drink and can last five to seven days or longer. Although the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, they typically include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Shaky hands
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Strong cravings for alcohol

Some people may also experience a more serious form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens or DTs, which includes symptoms like:

  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Confusion
  • Racing heart
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy sweating

The best way to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely is with a medical detox program.

How Can I Get An Alcoholic to Go To Rehab?

If someone is addicted to alcohol, he or she often must decide when it’s time to seek help independently. However, if a friend or loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction, there are a few things you can do to help.

  1. Initiate a conversation. Approach your loved one with respect and love as you address his or her addictive behaviors. You may explain how much your relationship has changed, how his or her addiction has affected you negatively, or the harm his or her alcohol abuse has caused physically. Whatever you say, make sure to approach the person with care and concern instead of judgment.
  2. Stage an intervention. If your loved one is in denial or is unwilling to go to treatment after you address them individually, it may be time to host an intervention. The goal of an intervention is to respectfully and effectively communicate your concern and convince the addicted person to go to treatment right away. A professional interventionist can help you prepare for the process and carry it out in a way that is productive instead of divisive.

Start Recovering From Alcohol Addiction Today

If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, a medically-assisted alcohol detox program may be the best first step into recovery. Continuing long-term treatment with a residential inpatient center, intensive outpatient program, and a sober living program can keep you or a loved one on track to achieving a healthy, fulfilling, and sober lifestyle. Call (888) 857-0557 to get started today.

References:

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcoholism/basics/definition/CON-20020866?p=1
  3. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  4. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
  5. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
  6. https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html
  7. https://www.report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=23&key=A#A
  8. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

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