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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction?

Learn about the prevalence, signs and symptoms, and causes of alcohol addiction in order to effectively pursue treatment.

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

Addiction poses a significant challenge to the health and wellness of individuals, families, and communities globally. Many substances have a high potential for addiction, but one substance of abuse seems to be tightly ingrained in the core of societies worldwide—alcohol.

Statistics on Alcohol Addiction

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 14.5 million people as of 2019 had alcohol use disorder (AUD). Since that study was carried out, these numbers have likely increased; as a result, it is clear that alcohol addiction is a widespread issue.1

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, refers to compulsive or obsessive abuse and misuse of alcohol, resulting in increased dependency. Addiction of alcohol is an illness that affects people of various ages and backgrounds. It is important to note that AUD is a mental condition because it does have noticeable effects on brain chemistry and is associated with several adverse effects.

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How Common Is Alcohol Addiction?

Despite the common belief or misconception that alcohol abuse is a minor societal issue, research has shown that alcohol use disorder has been on the rise for quite some time and increasing globally. According to a study, alcohol abuse is a common substance of abuse in the United States, second only to tobacco misuse. Furthermore, it is estimated that at least 10% of the global adult male population and 5% of the global adult female population currently have alcohol use disorder.2

alcohol addiction

alcohol addiction

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction?

One significant factor that makes alcohol disorder so prevalent and difficult to deal with is that many people are unaware of when they are exhibiting signs of alcohol dependence. The symptoms of alcoholism can be divided into three parts:

  1. 1
    Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism
  2. 2
    Psychological Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence
  3. 3
    Social Signs of Alcohol Disorder

Physical Signs of Alcohol Addiction

The physical signs of drinking addiction include the following:

  • Drinking more significant amounts of alcohol than previously consumed
  • Spending more time, money, and energy working on obtaining and consuming alcohol
  • Spending more time hungover and recovering from alcohol’s effects
  • Frequently showing signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, poor coordination, and walking problems
  • Increased injuries from falling or engaging in risky behaviors
  • Decreased self-care and poor hygiene
  • Smelling of alcohol or having many empty bottles around the house

Psychological Signs of Alcohol Addiction

People with alcohol addiction problems are likely to exhibit the following psychological signs:

  • Rapidly changing moods
  • Increased irritability, anger, and aggression
  • Failing to follow through on responsibilities
  • Problems with memory, concentration, and attention
  • New or worsening anxiety
  • Possible hallucinations or delusional thinking

Social Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Social signs of people with alcohol addiction problems include the following:

  • Spending less time around friends and family
  • Isolating oneself
  • Spending more time in new and changing social groups
  • Increased lying and deceitfulness
  • Failing to follow through on plans
  • Increasing conflicts with friends, family, and coworkers
  • Decreased performance in school, work, or sports

What Causes Alcohol Addiction?

Research has shown that multiple factors can cause alcohol use disorder. The risk factors that could increase the predisposition or chances of an individual developing alcohol health issues upon exposure to alcohol include:3

Genetics

Just as it is possible to pass down certain illnesses via the gene route, it is also very much possible for alcohol addiction risks to be passed down across family generations. Genetics play a significant role in the transfer of alcohol abuse tendencies.

Early Childhood Events

Research has shown that early alcohol exposure is a significant alcohol addiction risk factor. There is also the fact that children of alcoholic parents have a fourfold greater risk of developing the disease.

Attempts to Relieve Emotional Pain

Research has shown that alcohol can alter the brain chemistry and parts of the brain responsible for impulse control, pleasure, reward, and mood. Therefore, when people drink alcohol in an attempt to relieve emotional pain, the brain and body begin relying on the substance to self-medicate and cope with symptoms.

How Can Drinking Alcohol Too Much Affect Me?

Alcohol is a widely consumed substance in many societies all over the world. Nonetheless, its abuse or misuse has been associated with several consequences ranging from mild, such as alcohol cravings, to severe, like alcoholism digestive problems.

The dangers of alcohol misuse can be divided into short-term and long-term effects. The severity of over-alcohol consumption usually depends on several factors, such as the amount, frequency, and duration of abuse. These consequences of alcohol use worsen with prolonged alcohol abuse, so the long-term effects of alcohol abuse are usually more severe than the short-term ones.

Dangers of Alcohol Addiction

Drinking too much alcohol exposes the body to the dangers of alcohol addiction, such as:

  • Brain damage, including dementia
  • Despair, depression, and suicide
  • Cancers of the breast, liver, colon, and mouth (some of the most significant physical consequences of alcohol)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Liver problems
  • Blackouts (alcohol loss of consciousness), assaults, DUIs, and homicide
  • Alcohol abuse weight loss

How Does Addiction Develop in the Brain?

Addiction occurs in three distinct stages; these stages will be detailed below.

Binge/Intoxication Stage

The binge/intoxication stage is when people are experiencing the benefits of drugs or alcohol, such as reduced social anxiety or anxiousness. In this stage, the reward system in the basal ganglia is repeatedly activated, resulting in habit formation and dependence.


Negative Affect/Withdrawal Stage

In this stage of the addiction cycle, people addicted to alcohol (or other substances of abuse) will start to feel and experience the negative consequences of alcohol abuse. A decision to reduce alcohol intake because of these negative effects will result in individuals experiencing adverse withdrawal effects, which can be quite serious.


So, in the negative affect/withdrawal stage, alcohol consumption increases to avoid experiencing depression and other adverse effects of withdrawal.

Preoccupation/Anticipation Stage

The preoccupation/anticipation stage of alcohol addiction is characterized by the obsession with drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence. It is also marked by cravings and impairment in decision-making abilities.


How Is Alcohol Addiction Diagnosed?

Unfortunately, it is common for AUD to go undiagnosed, as many may withhold information from their doctors because they feel ashamed or embarrassed. As a result, alcohol abuse screenings remain lower than 50%.4

Nonetheless, addiction is a complex mental illness usually diagnosed by a mental health professional. The tools commonly utilized in a diagnosis include:

  • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V)
  • Discussion about physical, psychological, and social symptoms and problems
  • Discussion about the frequency, amount, and duration of alcohol consumption
  • Blood tests


How Can I Prevent Alcohol Addiction?

Prevention of alcohol abuse and addiction is possible with the right tips and information. Some tips on how you can prevent alcohol addiction include:

  • Prevention is always better and cheaper than treatment, so any advice to stop drinking alcohol is useful
  • Drink moderately
  • Be mindful of the amount of alcohol consumed per sitting
  • Avoid alcohol consumption risk factors, including situations that could increase the tendency to drink
  • Get support from loved ones
alcohol addiction

alcohol addiction

Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

A number of treatment options are available to help people with alcohol addiction. The most common and effective approaches include: 

Detox

Treatment or rehab for alcoholism starts with alcohol detox, where the body is given time to taper off and eliminate alcohol from the system.


Medications

Doctors may prescribe medications to manage alcohol withdrawal effects and reduce cravings. In addition, medication can also be prescribed to alleviate other mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety. 

Behavioral Therapies

Alcohol abuse treatment involves the implementation of behavioral therapies to help patients develop healthy coping behaviors and skills to prevent alcohol use relapse. Therapists will teach patients to recognize drinking triggers and utilize skills to confront or avoid them.

Support Groups

Support groups play a vital role in addiction recovery and help provide support and coping solutions to problems people may face during recovery and in their daily lives. They also help provide an environment that fosters growth and progress throughout and after treatment.

Find Help for Alcohol Addiction at Boardwalk Recovery

Finding addiction alcohol help and navigating recovery can be challenging, especially without the right help and support. At Boardwalk Recovery, you will find all the help and support you need to beat alcohol addiction for good! Reach out to us today, and let us help you improve your life and obtain long-term sobriety.  

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