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What Are the Physical Signs of Alcoholism?

In a previous post, we discussed whether an alcoholic drinks every day or not. Like almost all types of mental disorders, there are common signs and symptoms, but no two alcoholics demonstrate the exact same drinking behaviors.

So, you may be asking yourself, “I don’t look like an alcoholic, and I don’t drink every day, so how can I have a drinking problem?”

This article is going to address the physical health risks and symptoms of alcoholism. The priority is to provide you with information for you to be able to make an informed decision in the best interests of your own health.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

While commonly referred to as alcoholism, the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) and the American Psychiatric Association adopted the new term, AUD, in May 2013 to describe alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependency. The DSM-5, APA’s handbook for diagnosing mental disorders, outlines 11 criteria for the self-diagnosis of AUD. These are questions that require you to be honest about your drinking in the past 12 months.

According to the APA’s DSM-5, if you have experienced at least two (2) of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking altogether, but when you tried, you found that you couldn’t
  • Spent a lot of time drinking, or being sick from drinking, or getting over any other aftereffects of drinking
  • Wanted a drink so badly you don’t think about anything else other than your next alcoholic beverage
  • Drinking, or being sick from alcohol, interfered with taking care of other priorities, like your home, family, job, school, etc.
  • Continued drinking even if it caused problems with your family and friends
  • Stopped doing activities that were once important, fun, or pleasurable to you so that you could continue drinking
  • More than once, you got into harmful situations while drinking or because of drinking (such as driving, swimming, operating machinery, or participating in unsafe sexual patterns)
  • Experienced depression or anxiety from your drinking, and continued drinking anyways, or have you experienced “blackouts,” or missing memory, after drinking
  • Find yourself having to drink more than you used to in order to feel its effects
  • Experienced withdrawal symptoms after the effects of alcohol wore off, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, increased heart rates, or a seizure, or you even experienced hallucinations of things that were not really there

If you have experienced any two or three of these over the past year, you have the symptoms of mild AUD. If you have four or five of these symptoms, you have moderate AUD. More than six signs as outlined? You are considered to have severe AUD.

Seizures and Alcohol

The last criteria listed in the APA handbook of diagnosable disorders refers to the physical withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism. However, not all people who drink are alcoholics. In fact, over 50 percent of all Americans over the age of 12 have had an alcoholic beverage in the past year, and the average age of someone who had their first drink was 17-years-old.

More than likely, if you’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms, though, you are among the more than 16 million people living with AUD. If you are suffering withdrawals from alcohol abuse, the physical signs are frequent, painful, and clear; and the only way to “cure” these symptoms, it seems when you are stuck in alcohol addiction, is more alcohol. This is perhaps the most critical criteria of alcohol use disorder.

Not only are withdrawals from alcohol painful, but they can also be deadly. Alcoholic seizures typically begin 6-48 hours after stopping drinking. These can be fatal and, for this reason, medical supervision is strongly recommended to detox from alcohol. Even if you are unsure if your seizures are caused by alcoholism, you should see a doctor immediately.

Other Physical Signs of AUD

Chronic alcohol use and addiction can cause several other physical health problems. Alcohol-related liver disease can cause jaundice in people who have been drinking regularly and excessively between 8-10 years. If your skin has taken a yellowish coloring recently, you may have jaundice and other liver diseases. Jaundice isn’t treated as a condition. Instead, doctors will address the underlying condition.

One of the most common causes of jaundice is alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver. Excessive drinking and AUD are the primary causes of liver disease in the United States and Europe. In addition to jaundice, alcoholic tremens are the other main physical symptom. The only real way to recover from alcoholic liver disease is to abstain from drinking alcohol altogether. Symptoms of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption include:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
  • Swelling in lower limbs
  • A bulging abdomen, sometimes referred to as a beer belly
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Atrophy, or weakening, of your muscles
  • Very itchy skin
  • Bloody vomit and stools
  • Extreme sensitivity to the effects of alcohol (you get drunk more quickly than usual)

If you are concerned about your drinking and feel like it’s impacting your health, there are many resources to help you regain your health. Treatment options are available that place your health and wellbeing as the priority. If you do need to detox, medical supervision is highly recommended, and Boardwalk Recovery can help you live a healthier life so that you can get back to doing what you love the most.

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