Alcohol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

An addiction to alcohol, which is known clinically as alcohol use disorder, is a common problem throughout the United States. Consuming beer, liquor, and/or wine is a behavior that is widely accepted, and in many cases, expected of those who are 21 years of age and older.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction

However, while many people drink alcohol occasionally without suffering any negative consequences, there are others who find themselves rapidly falling into a pattern of continual alcohol abuse, causing them to appear powerless over their drinking. When this occurs, individuals can find that their ability to function on a regular basis becomes hindered, leading to many upsetting consequences within all aspects of their lives.

The tolerance and physical dependence that develops in response to continued alcohol abuse makes it more challenging for individuals to rise above it, as when they attempt to stop their drinking, they are met with upsetting withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it is critical that individuals who are struggling with an alcohol addiction obtain the appropriate treatment so that this type of substance use disorder does not continue any further.


Alcohol addiction statistics

Alcohol is by far one of the most commonly abused substances, as it is a substance that is easy to obtain, as well as legal for those Americans aged 21 and over to consume. Research has proven that approximately seven million children are living in homes where one or more parents are abusing alcohol at any given time. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), an estimated 17.6 million Americans grapple with an addiction to alcohol, which breaks down to about one in 12 adults. The NCADD also reports that of that population, more than half have come from homes where problematic drinking occurred.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

There are many causes and risk factors that are known for triggering the onset of an alcohol use disorder. Some of these causes and factors include the following:

Genetic: Substance abuse and addiction are known to share a genetic link to their onset. Therefore, those individuals who have family members who grapple with the abuse of alcohol or drugs are more likely to suffer from similar issues than those who do not have this same family history. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that nearly 40%-60% of an individual’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder depends on his or her genetics.

Environmental: Specific environmental factors can play an important role in the development of an alcohol abuse problem. When individuals are raised in an environment where alcohol consumption is common, especially as a way of coping with emotional stress, they are more likely to partake in similar behavior. In addition, when individuals are exposed to environments that are highly stressful, whether at home, work, school, or any other setting, they are more likely to abuse alcohol to reduce that stress. Also, when individuals experience trauma, including neglect and abuse, they might find relief from that upset through the use of alcohol.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a trauma
  • Lacking healthy coping skills
  • Personal history of abusing other types of substances
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

The signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction and abuse can vary in severity and type depending on the person, but can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities at school, work, home, or in social settings
  • Slurred speech
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Continuously consuming alcohol despite possessing a desire to put an end to one’s use of the substance
  • Spending significant amounts of time engaging in activities that center on acquiring, consuming, or recovering from the use of alcohol
  • No longer participating in activities or hobbies that one once enjoyed
  • Consuming alcohol in settings where it is hazardous to do so, such as drinking and driving
  • Continuously consuming beer, wine, or liquor despite the onset of persistent problems that are a direct result of alcohol consumption

Physical symptoms:

  • Development of tolerance, which is the need to consume greater amounts of alcohol in order to experience the desired effects
  • Flushed skin
  • Involuntary rapid eye movement
  • Development of dependence, which is the body’s need to have alcohol in order to continue functioning
  • Lack of coordination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Decreased ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Powerful, all-consuming cravings for alcohol
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased ability to reason and use sound judgment
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Inability to sustain attention
  • Cognitive impairment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Significant changes in mood and temperament
  • Depression
  • Anxiety


Effects of alcohol addiction

A problem with alcohol abuse can cause significant problems for one’s physical health and wellbeing. Some examples of these effects can include the following:

  • Kidney disease
  • Brain damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease

However, physical problems are not the only detriments that can develop in the face of alcohol abuse or addiction. Almost all areas of an individual’s life can be severely impacted by a substance use disorder of this kind, leading to the development of the following consequences:

  • Loss of child custody
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Decline in occupational performance, potentially leading to demotion or job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Decline in academic performance, potentially resulting in suspension, expulsion, or academic failure
  • Social isolation, resulting in deteriorated friendships and struggles within other important relationships

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for individuals who are struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction to also grapple with symptoms of other mental health problems. Examples of disorders that can co-occur alongside of alcohol use disorder can include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When someone has been trapped within a pattern of abusing alcohol for a long period of time, he or she will likely suffer a period of withdrawal when alcohol use ends. This process can be painful and dangerous at times, which it why it is imperative for individuals to experience the process under the close supervision of professionals. Some of the signs and effects of alcohol withdrawal might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Pulse rate exceeding 100 beats per minute
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Heightened feelings of anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Intense cravings for alcohol

Effects of alcohol overdose: Commonly known as alcohol poisoning, an overdose on alcohol can be deadly. An overdose will occur when an individual consumes more beer, liquor, or wine than his or her body can process, and it should be viewed as a medical emergency. Signs that someone has experienced an alcohol overdose can include the following:

  • Delayed response to stimuli
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Labored breathing
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Clammy skin
  • Violent vomiting
  • Skin developing a bluish tint
  • Disorientation
What our clients are saying

My alcoholism got to the point where it was destroying my personal, professional, and familial life. That was when I had enough and sought treatment at Huntington Creek. Thanks to them, I am now 10 years sober!

– Former Patient
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