Alcohol Effects & Warning Signs

The abuse of alcohol is something that affects many individuals in society today. While consuming alcohol on occasion is acceptable for people who are over the age of 21 in the United States, there are some individuals who fall into a pattern of using this substance so frequently or in such great quantities that it begins to affect their ability to function appropriately. When this is the case, these people are likely struggling with an addiction to alcohol, or alcohol use disorder. Once this cyclical pattern of excessive alcohol consumption has developed, it can be an extremely difficult habit to break, often requiring professional intervention in order to break free from the grasp of this type of addiction. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help individuals struggling with an addiction to alcohol overcome their compulsion to use and successfully walk forward on a path to a bright, happy, and sober future.

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Alcohol abuse and addiction is a widespread problem throughout the world today. While the consumption of this substance by individuals over the age of 21 is commonplace, the abuse of alcohol is said to affect approximately 8.5% of men and women over the age of 18 in the United States. Additional studies show that men tend to abuse alcohol more frequently than women do.

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse

Researchers and professionals in the fields of addiction and mental health agree that there are various contributing factors that can ultimately make an individual more susceptible to developing an addiction to alcohol. These factors are discussed briefly in the following:

Genetic: Ongoing research has demonstrated that there is a strong genetic link to the onset of alcohol use disorder. Individuals with family members who struggle with an addiction to alcohol are at an increased risk for suffering from the same addiction at some point in their lives as well. In fact, specific studies have ascertained that 40%-60% of a person’s vulnerability to experiencing the onset of alcoholism lies in his or her genetic background.

Environmental: The environment in which a person spends a significant amount of time can have a profound impact on his or her susceptibility to developing an addiction to a substance like alcohol. One major factor that can impact this vulnerability is a person’s exposure to the use of alcohol. If someone is consistently placed in an environment where alcohol is frequently used, he or she is likely to come to view that behavior as an acceptable means of recreation. Similarly, if an individual constantly witnesses others using alcohol as a means of coping with stress or other negative factors in life, he or she may come to view it as being an acceptable means of coping as well. Both circumstances can result in the onset of alcohol abuse and subsequent addiction. Furthermore, individuals who have experienced traumatic events, or who have been victimized or subjected to abuse, are more vulnerable to turning to alcohol as a way to numb the emotional turmoil that they struggle with as a result of their negative experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a preexisting mental health condition
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Low feelings of self-worth
  • Lacking healthy coping skills
  • Being the victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Being the victim of neglect
  • Peer pressure
  • Being male

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

The signs and symptoms that are displayed by a person who is abusing alcohol will vary depending on the length of time that he or she has been drinking excessively, the frequency at which he or she consumes alcohol, and the amount of alcohol that is consumed at any given time. A person’s age and overall state of health can also impact what symptoms will be most prominently displayed. Examples of the behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may manifest in a person who is addicted to alcohol may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drinking alcohol alone
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Drinking then engaging in activities that could prove hazardous
  • Consistently lying about one’s alcohol consumption
  • Alienating loved ones / withdrawing socially
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in aggressive outbursts
  • Being repeatedly absent from work

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory impairment
  • Concentration struggles / lacking the ability to focus
  • Decrease in ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Decrease in ability to use sound judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent, and sometimes sudden, changes in mood
  • Feelings of depression
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Heightened levels of agitation and irritability
  • Exaggerated feelings of hostility
  • Excessive, unwarranted anger
  • 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

When prolonged alcohol abuse is a prominent factor in a person’s life, he or she will inevitably experience a number of negative consequences. These consequences can become apparent in all aspects of an individual’s life, ultimately impacting his or her mental health, physical health, and social functioning. Examples of effects that may potentially result from the ongoing abuse of alcohol may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Familial strife
  • Divorce
  • Severed interpersonal relationships
  • Occupational failure and subsequent job loss
  • Financial turmoil
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart problems
  • Brain damage
  • Liver disease

Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many instances in which an individual who is battling alcohol use disorder is simultaneously experiencing symptoms synonymous with another mental health condition. Examples of disorders that have been cited as co-occurring alongside the presence of an addiction to alcohol may include the following:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Additional substance use disorders
  • Personality disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When the chronic use of alcohol is suddenly ceased, the person who has been engaging in this behavior will likely experience a period of withdrawal. While each individual’s experience with withdrawal will vary in duration and level of severity, it is known to be a very uncomfortable experience with symptoms that may include the following:

  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trembling / shakiness
  • Restlessness / jitteriness
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Onset of flu-like symptoms
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Heightened feelings of anxiety
  • Heightened feelings of irritability

Effects of alcohol overdose: When a person consumes more alcohol than his or her body is capable of metabolizing, he or she is at risk for experiencing an alcohol overdose. This occurrence, also known as alcohol poisoning, should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately in order to prevent a fatal outcome. Examples of things that can happen that may indicate that someone is overdosing on alcohol can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Skin becoming pale or turning bluish in color
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Extreme confusion
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Labored breathing
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Violent vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Losing consciousness / becoming unresponsiveness
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