Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Man with his head in his hands

It is very common that a person struggling with addiction to alcohol does not realize or cannot admit the extent of their own problem. If family members appeal to them to stop drinking or to get help, in so many cases, they are unable to take their own first steps toward sobriety. That’s why it’s so important for family members and friends to be able to identify the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction.

Physical Signs of Alcohol Addiction

A person who drinks too much often tries to conceal the signs of their drinking unless they normally associate with others who also drink excessively. But alcohol’s toxicity, physical effects and odor can make it impossible to completely conceal the fact of excessive drinking. These signs show up when a person is drinking excessively:

Drunk woman on a roof

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor balance or slow reflexes
  • Poor memory and focus
  • Unstable moods
  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Falls
  • Blackouts

Many people who drink excessively do not know that alcohol can, in fact, kill them in one sitting. The term for this cause of death is alcohol poisoning.

When a person drinks enough to kill them, the alcohol in their system affects their breathing, heart rate and temperature. If the body attempts to vomit up the alcohol in their stomach while they are unconscious, they can aspirate or inhale the vomited material, which can result in a fatal form of pneumonia.

Signs of Alcohol Overdose

Many people fail to recognize the signs of an alcohol overdose. Those around a person who has overdosed may simply put them to bed to “sleep it off.” This can result in the death of the drinker. These are the signs of a potentially fatal overdose of alcohol:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness or difficulty staying conscious
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Blueish color or being very pale
  • Seizures

Behavioral and Emotional Signs of Alcohol Use

A person’s behavior and emotional reactions inevitably change when they lose control of their drinking. Signs like the following may be seen:

  • They spend increasing amounts of time drinking or being in places where they can drink
  • They have to drink more alcohol to get the same effects as earlier
  • Their drinking interferes with their family or work responsibilities
  • At work or school, they begin missing deadlines or quotas or the quality of their work falls off
  • Being drunk or hungover has caused them to miss meetings or family events
  • They make excuses for their poor performance or blame the problems on others
  • They stop participating in activities or sports that were important to them
  • They have been injured or assaulted while drunk

Sobriety Test

  • They have been arrested or lost their driver’s license due to their drinking
  • They have experienced multiple blackouts after drinking
  • Drinking has resulted in their being short on money for life basics like food or rent
  • Arguments and upsets in the home are more frequent after they drink
  • Their activities and schedules are planned around when they can drink
  • Lies are told about drinking, money or time spent away from home or work

Short-Term Alcohol Deaths

Alcohol has the ability to cause death without there needing to be an overdose. Many of the following causes of death are related to excessive alcohol consumption:

Broken wine bottles

  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Suicide
  • Drowning
  • Injuries from falls
  • Injuries from fires
  • Homicides

Alcohol consumption was the underlying cause of death for nearly 50,000 people in 2020.1

The Long-Term Physical Damage of Alcohol Addiction

Since alcohol kills far more of the earth’s population than any other drug, it is apparent that alcohol has a severely damaging long-term effect.

Many debilitating or fatal health conditions can be traced back to long-term alcohol abuse. The liver takes the biggest beating. In one year, alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver and other conditions causing liver failure resulted in more than 29,000 deaths in 2020.1

Alcohol is associated with several types of cancer, causing thousands of deaths annually:

  • Liver cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Oral cancer
  • Breast cancer (women)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Cancer of larynx

Excessive alcohol consumption also causes harm to the cardiovascular system, creating deaths and injuries from these causes:

  • Hypertension
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that nearly a million people died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017.2

The Long-Term Emotional and Mental Damage of Alcohol Addiction

Long-term alcohol consumption is very toxic to the brain, which causes emotional, mental and cognitive problems.

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy results from long-term alcohol consumption, resulting in severe confusion, paralysis of the nerves of the eyes and inability to coordinate muscle movements.

  • Kaorsakoff’s psychosis is marked by poor memory, difficulty learning, problems walking and frustration.

  • Animal studies have found that alcohol consumption causes a reduction in brain volume.3

Learning and memory problems, depression and anxiety are long-term effects of alcohol addiction. Chronic drinkers are also prone to more anger, impulsivity and aggression.

Withdrawal from Alcohol

Paramedics and a nurse

Withdrawal from alcohol can itself be fatal if a person has steadily been drinking high quantities of alcohol unless the person is carefully supported and monitored in a medical facility. These signs may be seen, listed from mild to serious:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Headache
  • Palpitations
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Delirium tremens are the most severe form of withdrawal. This serious and life-threatening condition can last as long as seven days and include visual hallucinations, agitation, high fever and high blood pressure.

Alcohol is the most widely-available addictive substance in Western culture. There are bars and liquor stores in almost every county in America. Anyone who is susceptible to alcohol abuse has next to no barrier to their indulgence to drink.

Because of alcohol’s ability to cause both long-term and short-term death, it is vital to get help for anyone who loses control of their drinking. While these are not specific signs of alcohol addiction, the impact of excessive alcohol includes destroyed families, injured spouses and children who may never recover from the trauma they have suffered. Rehabilitation is essential for the preservation of health, life, families and communities across America.

Sources:


  1. CDC. “Alcohol Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. Center for Disease Control. CDC. CDC Article ↩︎

  2. BNL. “Drinking Alcohol Shrinks Critical Brain Regions in Genetically Vulnerable Mice.” Brookhaven National Laboratory, 2012. BNL. BNL Report ↩︎

  3. NIAAA. “Alcohol-related deaths increasing in the United States.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2020, NIAAA. NIAAA Article ↩︎