Alcohol Addiction Symptoms, Signs & Effects

Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction.

What is Alcohol Addiction

Learn More About Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse is characterized by a problematic pattern of using alcohol to the extent that it causes clinically significant impairment or distress. Alcohol abuse causes dysfunction in a person’s ability to perform tasks appropriately on a daily basis. People who abuse alcohol continue to drink despite any adverse effects that their drinking may be having on their lives. While many adults drink alcohol, it becomes a problem when its use starts to take over different aspects of the person’s life, including relationships, work, and completing daily tasks. Alcohol abuse is known to be a chronic, progressive disease that continuously intensifies as more time passes.


Statistics of Alcohol Addiction

It is estimated that 8.5% of adults over the age of 18 abuse alcohol in the United States. It is said to peak between the ages of 18 and 29 and men are known to abuse alcohol more often than women do, with the comparable statistics being 12.4% among adult men and 4.9% among adult women.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction

The reasons that a person may develop an addiction to alcohol cannot be summarized into one specific cause, but rather professionals believe that it is a combination of factors which can vary and overlap differently depending on the person who is using it. Some examples of these factors can include:

Genetic: Alcohol abuse is known to run in families. Studies show that 40%-60% of the risk of developing alcoholism is due to genetic influences. People are to three to four times more likely to begin using and develop a dependence on alcohol if they have biological family members who struggle with it as well.

Physical: It is believed that chemical changes in the brain can cause a person to go from just occasionally using alcohol to developing a dependence on it. The longer that a person drinks, the more likely it is that there will be a disturbance in the balance of chemicals and nerve tracks in the parts of the brain that recognize pleasure. The parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling a person’s judgment and ability to exercise self-control may also be negatively affected by this chemical imbalance.

Environmental: The environment in which a person lives or works can also play a role in the development of a dependence on alcohol. For example, people who are under a lot of stress at work may be more likely to drink alcohol after work in an attempt to relax. Similarly, people who have home lives that are stressful or abusive may turn to alcohol consumption in an attempt to numb themselves from the emotions that result from the environment around them.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Being male
  • Stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationship struggles
  • Family discord
  • Unemployment
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Being prone to acting impulsively

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

The signs and symptoms that may exist as a result of alcohol dependence can vary from person to person depending on how long the person has been drinking, the extent to which that person is drinking, and the age of the person. Examples of various symptoms that someone who is dependent on alcohol may exhibit can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drinking alone
  • Always bringing alcohol into the home
  • Hiding alcohol within the home
  • Making excuses or finding reasons to justify drinking
  • Lying
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Alienating loved ones
  • Missing work or becoming unemployed
  • Acting hostile or defensive when asked about drinking behaviors
  • No longer participating in activities that one used to enjoy
  • Continuing to drink despite the presence of adverse health effects resulting from the alcohol abuse

Physical symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach cramping
  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Distorted vision

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory lapses
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Impaired judgment
  • “Blacking out” after drinking heavily

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Hostility
  • Various emotional disturbances
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety (especially when not able to drink)


Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Abusing alcohol can lead to many negative effects on a person’s life, as well as on the lives of those around him or her. Some examples of these effects can include:

  • Health concerns, including liver disease, brain damage, heart problems, and weakening of the immune system
  • Increased risk of developing certain types of cancer
  • Participating in high risk behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated
  • Severed relationships
  • Increased family discord
  • Divorce
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders of Alcohol Addiction

There are a number of different mental disorders that can occur with alcohol abuse. In fact, it is not uncommon for people who are suffering from the symptoms of various other mental illnesses to begin drinking alcohol as a means of self-medicating the other symptoms. Some examples of disorders that can co-occur with alcohol abuse can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose of Alcohol Addiction

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Withdrawal from alcohol abuse will range in severity from person to person. It is said that, on average, withdrawal symptoms begin to occur approximately 8 hours after a person has had his or her last drink. However, for some people, the effects may not occur until days later. Typically, the symptoms will be most intense within 24-72 hours after the last drink but can continue to exist for days or weeks, depending upon the person. Some effects can include, but are not limited to:

  • Shakiness
  • Jumpiness
  • Confusion
  • Increased irritability
  • Change is skin color
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Mood swings

Effects of alcohol overdose (also known as alcohol poisoning): Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous and usually occurs without people even realizing that they have crossed the threshold as to how much they can tolerate. Even if a person stops drinking because he or she has “passed out,” his or her blood alcohol level will continue to rise, putting them at greater risk for alcohol poisoning. Some critical signs a person is experiencing alcohol poisoning can include:

  • Seizures
  • Excessive vomiting
  • A drop in body temperature
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • Change in skin color (sometimes turning blue or becoming extremely pale)
  • Unresponsiveness

When a person is suffering from alcohol poisoning, it is essential that he or she receive medical treatment as quickly as possible. If immediate treatment is not received, the results could potentially be fatal.

Abusing alcohol was a way for me to escape from my problems. Once I realized that my body relied on alcohol to be a functional mess, that's when I had enough. Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry was able to help me get to the root cause of my alcoholism, and provided me with healthier ways to cope.

– Jackson P.
Marks of Quality Care
Why does this matter?
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • The Jason Foundation
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval