Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of alcohol addiction. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction and substance abuse

Drinking alcohol is a common practice in many societies and, for many, it is a pleasurable way to celebrate special events, catch up with friends, or just simply kick back at the end of a long day. While alcohol is a completely legal substance and perfectly fine to consume in small doses for those who are over the age of 21, it does not come without its consequences. While many individuals can enjoy a drink from time to time, there are others who struggle with alcohol abuse and, for them, it is close to impossible to manage their drinking.

Alcohol abuse is a harmful pattern of drinking that will bring about a vast amount of negative consequences in a person’s life and, if not properly treated, has the high potential to turn into an addiction. For those individuals who have entered the dangerous territory of alcohol abuse, they may have noticed a number of difficulties popping up on a daily basis. These individuals may begin to neglect responsibilities at work or school, they may have had multiple run-ins with law enforcement, and could begin to jeopardize interpersonal relationships. This does not even touch on all of the health problems that are sure to develop over time, including permanent organ damage and mental health issues. However, despite the fact that their world is slowly crumbling around them, they continue to drink. For those abusing alcohol, it is extremely important that professional treatment is sought and implemented before more detrimental consequences arise.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

Just as the cause for alcohol abuse is not known, it is also not understood why some people have the ability to drink without experiencing adverse effects, while others cannot. However, while an exact cause has not been determined, researchers have many hypotheses on possible risk factors and variables that may play a role. Examples of such variables and risk factors are listed below:

Genetic: It is now widely known and accepted that alcoholism tends to run in families. Because of this genetic predisposition, those who have family members with substance abuse problems are at a higher risk for having a problem with alcohol.

Physical: In addition to genetic influences, research has identified multiple biological factors. For example, the areas of the brain that are responsible for impulse control, decision-making, and motor functioning become impaired when an individual consumes alcohol. The longer alcohol abuse occurs, the more damage can be done to these areas and functions of the brain.

Environmental: Many mental health professionals believe that a person’s environment can cause a person to abuse alcohol. Especially if an individual has a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse, it is likely that certain environmental or situational influences can lead a person to begin drinking excessively. Exposure to chronic stress, violence, and trauma are examples of such influences. Lastly, if an individual lacks necessary coping skills or has a poor self-esteem, peer pressure to drink can also lead to the onset of an alcohol abuse problem.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse or other substance abuse problem
  • Exposure to alcohol at a young age
  • Being male
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Easy access to alcohol
  • Poor impulse control
  • Peer pressure
  • Relationship problems

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

There are many different signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of a drinking problem. Additionally, since alcoholism is a progressive disease, without treatment, these symptoms tend to gradually become more severe over time. Below are some of the behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may appear:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Repeatedly neglecting work, home, or school responsibilities
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations, such as drinking and driving
  • Concealing drinking habits
  • Lying or omitting information
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Continued drinking despite the onset of negative consequences
  • Poor occupational functioning
  • Social isolation
  • Drinking alone
  • Hiding alcohol

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Slurred speech

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Changes in personality
  • Memory deficiency
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Hostility
  • Increased aggression or anger


Effects of alcohol addiction

There is no denying that continued alcohol abuse will eventually affect all aspects of a person’s life. Prolonged alcohol abuse will lead to a number of serious health complications, damage emotional stability, and diminish one’s ability to maintain satisfying relationships. The following are potential effects that can occur if an individual develops a problem with alcohol:

  • Development of certain cancers
  • Heart problems
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Higher risk for divorce
  • Consistent unemployment, resulting in financial difficulties
  • Poor work performance, resulting in job loss
  • Driving under the influence
  • Poor school performance, which may lead to academic failure
  • Involvement with the legal system
  • Incarceration
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

When a person is abusing alcohol or is battling an addiction to alcohol, it is common for that same individual to also struggle with a mental health condition, as well as additional substance abuse problems. The following mental health disorders are those that are commonly diagnosed in individuals who struggle with an addiction to alcohol:

  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Another substance use disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol for a long period of time, his or her body builds up a tolerance to the alcohol consumed. Therefore, when a person suddenly stops drinking, it is likely that withdrawal symptoms will manifest. These symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Convulsions
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings

Effects of alcohol overdose: When an individual consumes alcohol to a degree that his or her body is unable to metabolize, the result is an alcohol overdose. An alcohol overdose is a serious medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately in order to prevent severe damage or death.

The following are signs that a person may have overdosed on alcohol:

  • Vomiting
  • Labored breathing
  • Nausea
  • Decrease in reflexive response to stimuli
  • Slurred speech
  • Incoherence

San Juan Capestrano Hospital taught me techniques that I needed to be able to live a healthy life, without addiction.

– Carlos D.