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.
Alcohol Addiction Defined
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.
Understanding Alcohol and Its Effects on 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.
Immediate Effects of Alcohol Abuse
There are several obvious physical signs that 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
- Violent and/or risky behavior
- Impaired vision
- Inability to walk without stumbling or staggering
- Loss of consciousness
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol 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.
Recognizing the 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.
- Feeling unable to stop drinking alcohol
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when the drinking stops
- Requiring more alcohol to achieve the same effect
- Allowing alcohol to take priority over school, work, family, etc.
- Putting yourself or others in dangerous situations while intoxicated
- Experiencing consistent strains on close relationships due to drinking habits
- Continuing to drink alcohol even when it causes mental or physical problems
- Getting into legal trouble due to alcohol consumption
It is wise to assume that any negative consequences caused by drinking alcohol are enough cause for concern. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above issues, you should consider seeking treatment as soon as possible.
The Dangers of Alcohol Addiction
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 personal 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.
Addiction leads to nothing but destruction, leaving you and those close to you broken in the aftermath. But there is hope for overcoming addiction. 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.