Alcohol Abuse Signs & Symptoms

While the use of alcohol is a widely accepted behavior for individuals over the age of 21, there are some people who struggle to adhere to a moderate level of alcohol consumption. These individuals will drink alcohol at such an excessive level or on such a consistent basis that it begins to hinder their ability to function appropriately each day. Even when these individuals begin to experience adverse consequences as a direct result of their chronic alcohol consumption, they find themselves incapable of putting an end to their habit. When this form of addiction or dependency has developed, people may struggle to overcome their problematic drinking patterns without professional intervention. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available that can help people who are battling an alcohol abuse problem achieve and maintain sobriety.

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Statistics show that men abuse alcohol more frequently than women. As a whole, however, studies have provided estimates that nearly 8.5% of the American population over the age of 18 abuse alcohol in some capacity. In regards to children and adolescents, alcohol is the most chronically abused of all substances, surpassing both tobacco and illicit drugs.

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse

There are several factors that come into play when looking into the origins of an addiction to alcohol. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Alcohol abuse is known to run in families, providing evidence that there is a genetic link to its onset. Research on the causes of alcohol addiction has offered conclusive evidence stating that, when an individual has a family member who struggles with problematic drinking, he or she is three to four times more likely to develop similar struggles at some point in his or her life. Additionally, studies have shown that the development of alcoholism is 40%-60% the result of one’s genetic background.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors can play a role in the eventual onset of alcohol abuse. One distinct factor lies in the exposure that a person has to the use of this substance. For example, if someone spends a significant amount of time in an environment where the consumption of alcohol is prominent, he or she is more likely to view the behavior as one that is acceptable. Additionally, people who are exposed to chronically high levels of stress, or who have been the victim of crime, abuse, and/or neglect are more susceptible to abusing alcohol as they may find that the substance causes them temporary reprieve from the emotional turmoil or stressful circumstances that plague them.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcoholism or other types of substance use disorders
  • Pre-existing mental health condition
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Peer pressure
  • Low self-esteem
  • Being the victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Being male

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

A person’s age, the length of time that he or she has been consuming alcohol, the frequency at which he or she drinks, and the amount of alcohol that is consumed on a regular basis will all be factors regarding which symptoms will be displayed by an individual who is engaging in problematic drinking behaviors. Possible signs and symptoms that could infer that a person is battling an alcohol abuse problem may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Alienating friends and family members
  • Lying about one’s drinking habits
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Drinking alone
  • No longer engaging in activities that one had previously enjoyed
  • Frequently being absent from work or school
  • Decline in occupational or academic performance
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Unprovoked aggressive outbursts

Physical symptoms:

  • Distorted vision
  • Profuse sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Stomach cramping
  • Shakes / tremors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory disturbances
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Declined ability to maintain sound judgment
  • Declined ability to appropriately use decision-making skills

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent changes in mood
  • Improper regulation of emotions
  • Excessive anger
  • Chronic depression
  • Heightened levels of anxiety
  • Inexplicable hostility
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Suicidal ideation
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

There are a number of negative ramifications that can occur following the prolonged abuse of alcohol. Not only will a person’s physical health be detrimentally impacted, but one’s mental health and social functioning will also become impaired. Examples of some such effects that can potentially arise may include:

  • Heart problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Brain damage
  • Liver disease
  • Discord amongst interpersonal relationships
  • Breakups with significant others / divorce
  • Familial strife
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss

Co-Occurring Disorders

Sadly, it is very common for individuals who are struggling with an addiction to alcohol to be suffering from another type of mental health condition simultaneously. In some cases, individuals will turn to alcohol as a means of self-medicating the distressing symptoms that they experience as a result of a mental illness while, in other cases, the abuse of alcohol may have caused symptoms of a mental illness to develop. Examples of mental health conditions that have been known to occur alongside the presence of an alcohol use disorder can include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When a person has been engaging in the abuse of alcohol for any significant amount of time and then suddenly stops consumption of the substance, he or she will experience a period of withdrawal. The length of this period of time will vary from person to person, but the intensity of symptoms will typically reach their most intense level, on average, between 24 and 72 hours following a person’s last drink. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are typically very uncomfortable and may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Changes in skin color
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Feelings of jitteriness
  • Incessant trembling
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Excessive levels of anxiety and irritability
  • Extreme cravings

Effects of alcohol overdose: Any time that a person consumes more of a substance than his or her body is capable of metabolizing, he or she is at risk for overdosing. Also known as alcohol poisoning, when an individual experiences an overdose on alcohol, he or she should receive immediate medical attention in order to prevent a grave outcome. Symptoms of an overdose on alcohol can include:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Violent vomiting
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Skin turning pale, sometimes blue in color
  • Seizures
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Shallow or irregular breathing
  • Losing consciousness / unresponsiveness
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