What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism?
Author: Thomas Roth
Last Updated: 2/10/2023
There are many signs and symptoms that point to alcoholism but the most common are drinking frequently, drinking in secret, and experiencing withdrawal from alcohol. The most prominent sign is the symptom of uncontrollable drinking. Uncontrollable drinking is when a person is unable to control the urge to drink, which leads to chronic alcohol use and bouts of binge drinking.
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What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol abuse disorder, is a chronic condition that develops over long periods of frequent alcohol abuse. This can include binge drinking, drinking on a daily basis, and drinking to the point of blacking out frequently. Alcohol abuse disorder order impacts millions of people each year and has many negative impacts on health.
The common signs of alcoholism include the following.
- Temporary blackouts or periods of memory loss
- Irritability and mood swings
- Drinking at every chance
- Damaging work or relationships because of drinking
- Keeping drinking a secret
- Hangovers when not consuming alcohol
- Distant from friends, family, and loved ones
When looking at alcoholism it’s important to catch these signs early. This is because alcohol effects lead to death, illness, and even cancer in the worst cases. For example, people have lost organs (like the liver) because of the damage from toxins in alcohol.
Below are some of the common issues that come from alcoholism.
- High blood pressure
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, breast, lungs, liver, and stomach
- Stomach ulcers
- Liver disease
- Liver failure
- Liver transplant
- Heat disease
- Increased risk of stroke and heart attack
Unfortunately, the longer alcoholism persists the worse the outcome becomes for many of these ailments. This is why it’s better to catch alcoholism early and focus on prevention.
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism prevention is key and it’s not impossible. It begins with intervention and letting the individual know that there is a problem. Many alcoholics will disagree or deny that they have an issue with drinking. For this reason, helping them understand the issue is the best method of prevention.
What are the Common Symptoms and Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse rears its ugly head in many ways, which makes it hard to pinpoint the exact signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse. The good news is that there are some common signs and symptoms you can look for. In fact, you can check a person’s behavior to verify if they’re struggling with alcohol abuse disorder.
First and foremost, it’s important to go over the signs of alcohol abuse. While they vary, the most common signs are found below.
- Withdrawal when not drinking
- Loss of job or spouse
- Mood swings
These are a handful of the many warning signs you’ll see when people start suffering from alcoholism. Still, there are also physical, psychological, and stage-based signs to look for.
1. Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Alcoholism has many physical symptoms. While it’s a mental addiction, the body also becomes addicted to chemicals in the brain that become dependent on the dopamine that alcohol releases. This can lead to serious symptoms of withdrawal and strong urges to consume more.
Here are some of the common physical symptoms of alcoholism.
- Poor coordination
- Bowel issues
Alcoholism causes illnesses that can harm you over time. While you’re not likely to get sick from consuming alcohol once or twice, frequent use will lead to liver damage, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other serious illnesses. Moreover, these illnesses can result in death.
The last thing to consider, physically, is withdrawal. While many people believe that opioids cause the worst withdrawal, alcohol can be just as bad or even worse.
People can experience a range of symptoms including the information found below.
- Loss of appetite
People can experience different symptoms and the types of symptoms someone experiences tend to depend on the severity of the alcohol addiction. For example, seizures are less likely to occur in people that have only been drinking for a year or so compared to life-long drinkers.
2. Psychological Signs of Alcoholism
Alcoholism also leads to many psychological problems. When a substance changes brain chemistry it can lead to imbalances in hormones that trigger responses to emotion. This is one of the reasons people use alcohol when Mourning the death of a loved one –it can take the pain away, albeit temporarily.
That said, alcohol also has many negative psychological symptoms. Below we list these symptoms.
- Mood swings
- Lack of restraint
- Aggressive behavior
- Uncharacteristic behavior
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
These are only a handful of psychological issues that can occur –everyone is different and alcohol impacts everyone in a unique way.
What are the Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a condition that tends to develop in four common stages. The stages are listed below. The stages of alcoholism can also progress to crippling alcoholism.
- Pre-alcoholic: Early signs of drinking and a tendency to binge drink
- Early-alcoholic: Starting to put alcohol first, potentially developing co-occurring disorders and starting to experience blackouts
- Middle-alcoholic: When drinking becomes obvious to family members, friends, and even coworkers
- Late-alcoholic: Medical and mental health issues begin to compound leading to chronic illness
Each stage varies in intensity and duration, based on the person, but everyone follows a similar path and progression. It’s important to note that end-stage alcoholism increases the risk of death.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
Alcohol use disorder is a severe type of alcoholism. It becomes a chronic condition and people become more likely to engage in binge drinking, blacking out, and chronic drinking. While alcoholism and alcohol use disorder are used interchangeably, there are some differences based on context.
For example, alcoholism occurs when someone is unable to control the urge to drink based on mental and physical urges. This differs from alcohol abuse disorder, which is more of a chronic illness than an urge. Still, both phrases can be used interchangeably in most circumstances.
How to Recognize Alcoholism
Recognizing alcoholism starts before you reach the doctor. There are many signs you can observe before it gets to the point of needing a medical diagnosis.
If you see someone suffering from:
- Frequent bouts of binge drinking
- Frequent blackouts
- Sudden urges to drink
- Excuses to drink
- Problems at home or at work
There is a good chance they’re struggling with alcoholism.
Keeping this in mind, doctors do a few things to diagnose alcoholism. First and foremost, they’ll administer exams like the FAST test, which can detect alcoholism during an initial screening. These tests are in no way perfect but they give doctors a place to start.
After the test, doctors will move on to other tests like blood tests. By testing the blood, doctors can tell how well the body is doing and find alcohol content in the blood –if any is left over before the visit. Doctors can also use lab tests to look for organ damage, mostly around the stomach and liver, to diagnose alcoholism.
What are the Dangers of Alcoholism?
Alcoholism can, and will, kill people. Frequent alcohol consumption comes with many dangers and puts your health at risk. While it causes unique illnesses, it also increases the risks of other serious illnesses.
Below we list the dangers of alcoholism.
- Liver damage
- Liver cysts
- Liver failure
- Liver transplants
- Organ and tissue damage
- Many types of cancers
- Stomach ulcers
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
- Alcohol poisoning
- Thin blood
- Brain damage
Alcoholism also causes other dangers that don’t immediately threaten your life. For example, you can lose your job or loved ones to the addiction. People with alcoholism can also struggle with life-threatening side effects of alcohol consumption. Some short-term risks of alcoholism include alcohol intolerance and blacking out.
How to Treat Alcoholism
Alcoholism can be treated in many ways –it depends on the specific case. Treatment options for alcoholism vary depending on the person.
- Medication-Assisted Detox (MAT): Medications like benzodiazepines are used to prevent seizures and serious complications during withdrawal.
- Inpatient Care: Staying at a residential treatment center for a prolonged period –typically monitored by licensed mental health professionals.
- Outpatient Care: Meetings with addiction treatment professionals on a weekly basis –can also turn into aftercare meetings and AA settings.
- Sober Living Homes: These are homes where people live in groups to recover. These homes use responsibility and a safe environment to reduce triggers of relapse.
- Faith-Based Treatment: Treatment programs that help people recover from alcoholism in spiritual ways. Many faith-based programs are inpatient facilities that are run by churches and other religions organizations.
- Support Groups: Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous are based on accountability, meetings, and sponsorships.
- Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs): Intensive outpatient programs help people get through alcohol withdrawal comfortably. People who go through severe cases of alcohol withdrawal may also need medications to help with symptoms like delirium tremens.
These are the most common types of alcohol addiction treatment but some people can also recover on their own if the case isn’t severe.
What are the Immediate Impacts of Alcohol on the Body?
Alcohol impacts the body immediately once it reaches the liver. Once in the liver, alcohol gets metabolized and circulated throughout the body through the blood. This is the process that leads to the desirable impacts of alcohol.
These immediate impacts of alcoholism are found below.
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Difficulty breathing
- Upset stomach
- Erectile dysfunction
- Red face (flushing)
When examining alcohol consumption it’s clear that its short-term positive impacts don’t outweigh the long-term negative impacts. Even when consumed infrequently, the feelings of nausea, upset stomach, and vomiting are far from comfortable.