Alcohol abuse is a serious condition that can become life-threatening if left untreated. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 5.3% of people aged 12 and older in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, of those with AUD, only 7.2% received treatment for their condition in the past year. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to spot the symptoms of alcoholism in yourself or others as drinking is so ingrained in everyday life. It’s essential people understand the symptoms of alcoholism so they can recognize — and address — when people progress from casual drinking to an AUD. Keep reading for a comprehensive overview of what alcohol misuse is, the symptoms of alcohol abuse and the potentially devastating effects of this disease. 

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What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse, also known as alcohol misuse, is when an individual develops a pattern of drinking excessively. When this pattern starts to negatively impact the individual’s life (their relationships, work, physical health or mental health), this is known as an alcohol use disorder.

When someone suffers from alcoholism, they may be able to see the dire consequences their drinking is having on their life, but they’re unable to stop. Without proper treatment, alcohol abuse and alcoholism can cause severe health problems and even be life-threatening.

It’s estimated that twice as many men have AUD as women. Additionally, it’s unclear why some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, but having a family history of AUD puts people at a higher risk. Individuals who start drinking at an early age are also at extremely high risk of developing alcoholism as well as those with mental health issues and untreated traumatic events.

Alcohol addicted man holding glass and bottle of whiskey

How to Know When Someone Is Drinking Too Much

Individuals may have varying tolerances for how much alcohol they can technically handle, but the definition for excessive drinking is clear and applies to everyone.

According to the CDC, these are the following definitions for drinking:

  • Moderate drinking is one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.
  • Heavy drinking is having eight drinks or more per week for women and 15 drinks or more for men.
  • Binge drinking is when a person brings their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. For the average person, this means consuming four (women) to five (men) drinks on a single occasion and within approximately two hours.
  • Anyone who’s participating in binge drinking or heavy drinking fits the profile of “excessive drinking.”

Even frequent moderate drinking can have severe consequences for a person’s overall health and well-being. However, it’s excessive drinking that puts people at risk of developing alcohol addiction.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse?

The symptoms of alcoholism can be particularly challenging to spot because drinking is sometimes seen as a common and normal part of everyday life. Many social settings, such as parties, work functions, birthdays, weddings, get-togethers with friends, date nights and evenings out, are intertwined with drinking.

As alcohol is everywhere, it can be easy to excuse it when you think you see someone overdrinking. You might think the person had a long day and needed to unwind or that they’re having fun and got carried away. In reality, alcohol is a highly addictive substance that impacts many people. After tobacco, alcohol is the most common form of substance abuse in the United States. As a result, it’s essential to know the symptoms of alcoholism so you can watch out for them in yourself or others.

Angry man showing extreme mood swing which is one of the symptoms of alcohol abuse

Physical Symptoms

Some of the most common physical warning signs of alcohol abuse or AUD are:

  • Frequent smell of alcohol on their breath
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Brittle nails, hair loss and dry skin due to the dehydrating impact of alcohol
  • Broken capillaries on the face and nose
  • A noticeable decline in the person’s hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow skin or eyes if the person has begun to have liver damage
  • Tremors
  • Loss of balance

Behavioral Symptoms

Often, the behavioral symptoms of alcoholism display before the physical warning signs. The most common behavioral symptoms a person may show are:

  • Experiencing temporary blackouts
  • Having short-term memory loss after drinking
  • Finding reasons or making excuses to drink, such as having a hard day, being overly stressed, etc.
  • Always drinking more than intended
  • Developing extreme mood swings
  • Being highly irritable
  • Being unable to stop drinking, even if they promised to stop
  • Spending a lot of their time drinking
  • Choosing to drink over other responsibilities
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Continuing to drink despite friends and family voicing their concerns
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in secret
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Giving up hobbies or passions to focus on drinking
  • Being put at an increased risk of physical harm due to constant drinking
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol

If a person starts to develop the above symptoms, they should seek professional help and work towards sober living.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

The effects of alcohol abuse on the body and the mind are extremely serious and should not be ignored.

Physical Effects

The psychical effects of abusing alcohol can fall into two categories: short-term and long-term side effects.

The short-term effects include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Alcohol poisoning

The long-term effects include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Liver damage (cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic liver disease)
  • Heart damage (cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure)
  • Alcoholic cancers (oral, liver, breast and colorectal cancer)
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Hand tremors
  • Sexual issues (infertility, reduced libido, long-term erectile dysfunction, menstruation disruption)
  • Nerve damage
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency
  • Gastritis
  • Diabetes complications
  • Eye problems
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Bone damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)
  • Hepatic encephalopathy

Additionally, alcohol can interfere with medication. Combining alcohol and medicine can make the prescription more effective, less effective or even potentially toxic.

Psychological Effects

Alcoholism can take a toll on a person’s mental health, too. Some of the psychological effects of alcohol abuse are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Lapses in judgment, which can cause the person to engage in high-risk behaviors (driving while drunk, unprotected sex, etc.)
  • Isolation
  • Loss of relationships

It’s quite common for someone to have co-occurring disorders; individuals can be diagnosed with alcoholism and a mental health condition simultaneously. It’s often impossible to know if the drinking caused the mental health condition or the other way around. However, it’s essential to seek diagnosis and treatment for both conditions for a successful recovery, as each condition can hinder the treatment for the other if ignored.

Young man at balcony suffering from depression which is an effect of alcohol abuse

Effects on the Brain

Alcohol abuse can cause permanent brain damage, which can cause forgetfulness, blackouts, issues with short-term memory, imbalance and the inability to coordinate movements. In some cases, individuals who have alcohol poisoning can fall into a coma.

The good news is that sobriety can reverse the impact of any brain damage for most people. The recovery may take longer for some than others as it’ll depend on factors such as the severity of the brain damage and the length of the alcoholism.

Alcohol Mortality Rates

Alcoholism is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Every day, approximately 261 people in the country die from excessive alcohol use. On average, each person who passes cuts their life short by roughly 29 years.

Treatment Is Possible

Alcoholism is a severe condition that can overtake a person’s life. However, the condition is entirely treatable. People can go back to living a functioning, happy life if they commit to recovery and living a sober lifestyle.

With alcohol use disorder, the key is to get into treatment as soon as possible. The longer the addiction continues, the more at risk the individual is of developing side effects. Still, even people who have been struggling with addiction for years are fully capable of getting sober when they seek help.

Enroll in Alcohol Abuse Treatment at Changing Tides

If you or a loved one is displaying the symptoms of alcohol abuse, consider receiving treatment at Changing Tides. Addiction is incredibly challenging, but it isn’t something you have to go through on your own.

Changing Tides is a beachfront alcohol and drug rehab in North Carolina that helps people get on the road to recovery. The facility offers a day treatment/partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient program (IOP) and general outpatient program. Call us today at (252) 715-3905 to find out how we can help.