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Alcohol Symptoms and Warning Signs

Understanding the symptoms and effects of alcoholism can help you recognize when someone you love needs help.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Woman abusing alcoholAlcohol abuse is defined as any use that negatively impacts the user. This encompasses health effects, such as bad hangovers and alcohol-induced accidents, as well as social effects, such as doing or saying regrettable things while intoxicated.

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse can start in the teenage years or even earlier, though adults and the elderly may pick up the habit too.

Alcoholism often begins in a person’s early 20s and is characterized by frequent heavy drinking. This behavior leads to an increased tolerance to alcohol and eventually presents social and health problems. Recognizing when someone you care about is abusing alcohol can help you determine if they need help.

Some of the signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of coordination
  • Rambling or repetitive statements
  • Difficulty standing up or walking
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Glassy or blank stares

The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Many people don’t recognize the damaging effects of alcohol because it is so prevalent in society. Whether it’s having one too many drinks at happy hour after work one night or developing a pattern of frequent binge drinking, the effects of alcohol can be seen across the country in many forms.

Long-term abuse of alcohol takes a serious toll on the brain and body, as every organ is affected by it. Certain organs, such as the liver and the brain, are affected more than others.

Although many people drink to feel buzzed, the ramifications of alcohol abuse can persist long past the initial period of intoxication. Short-term side effects of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Impaired judgment
  • Headaches
  • Blackouts
  • Nausea
  • Distorted vision and hearing

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse are more serious and can include irreversible damage that could lead to death. Some of the common long-term effects of alcoholism include:

Depression

 

Brain damage

 

Psoriasis

 

Anxiety disorders

 

Neurological impairment

 

Cirrhosis of the liver

 

Chronic pancreatitis

 

Hand tremors

Compromised immune system

 

Studies have shown that those who use alcohol as a teen have up to five times the risk of developing a dependence on alcohol compared to those who began drinking at 21. Teens who abuse alcohol also have significant issues with normal brain development.

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Recognizing an Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism is diagnosed on a spectrum. There are 11 criteria for recognizing an addiction, with different levels of severity based on the number that apply.

In 2013, an estimated 16.6 million adults in America had an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Because alcohol is so prevalent throughout society, diagnosing an addiction to it can be difficult. Heavy drinking can lead to dependence, but a heavy drinker doesn’t necessarily have a use disorder — at least by the clinical definition.

An alcohol use disorder can be mild, where the drinker only meets two or three of the criteria for addiction; four or five is considered a moderate disorder. The more criteria present, the more severe the disorder. These are what people traditionally think of as alcoholics.

Recognizing an AUD comes down to the negative effect of alcohol on the user’s life. When alcohol takes priority over close relationships, work responsibilities or personal health, the user likely has a problem. Alcohol has the highest rates of abuse and addiction in America, with millions of people suffering. There are also many rehabilitation centers and programs that are experienced specifically in treating alcoholism.

Intervention for Alcoholics

If someone you care about has an alcohol use disorder, there are several ways you can help them. If they are unwilling to go to treatment or are denying that they have a problem at all, you might consider staging an intervention. Telling someone you care about that they have a problem can seem daunting.

It’s important to treat your loved one with care and respect, avoiding accusations or casting blame. Focus the intervention on how their alcohol use has caused emotional or physical distress for you or others that they care about. Make sure they know your intervention is coming from a place of concern and not judgment.

Withdrawal from Alcohol, Treatment and Next Steps

The first step of recovery is alcohol detox, or cleansing the body from all physical traces of alcohol. Those who have used alcohol heavily over a prolonged period have developed a dependence on it, meaning their body doesn’t quite function normally without it.

The detox period is crucial as well as dangerous — alcohol is one of the few drugs with withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal. For this reason, it is imperative to have medical supervision during detox.

If someone you care about is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, we can help you find treatment and support. Get in touch with us now for help.

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Sources & Author Last Edited: January 21, 2016

  1. Office of Applied Studies. The NSDUH Report: Alcohol Dependence or Abuse and Age at First Use. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2004.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011). Alcohol. Retrieved on February 18, 2014, from: http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/alcohol
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Alcohol and Public Health. Retrieved on February 18, 2014, from: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#moderateDrinking
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). NIH study finds hospitalizations increase for alcohol and drug overdoses. Retrieved on February 18, 2014, from: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/sep2011/niaaa-20.htm
  5. The New York Times. (2009). High Functioning, But Still Alcoholics. Retrieved on February 18, 2014, from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/05/health/05brod.html?_r=0
About the Writer, Kayla Smith

Kayla Smith is the editorial director for Addiction Center. After working for years as a journalist, she joined the Addiction Center team in hopes of spreading awareness about addiction and mental health issues and helping people get treatment.

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