Alcohol Addiction Signs and Symptoms

As with all things we consume, moderation is key and our relationship with alcohol is no different. It’s important that we are cautious of our alcohol use to ensure our consumption stays at a healthy level, that it’s not negatively impacting our lives, and that we are in control of our drinking habits.

If you believe you or a loved one is having trouble moderating their drinking, it may be possible that they are living with alcohol addiction. You might feel worried, frustrated, or confused but all these feelings are completely normal. It’s important to remember that help is always available to support anyone who is dependent on alcohol and those surrounding them. Once you have acknowledged the problem of addiction, you might want to consider alcohol rehab treatment, but first – let’s learn more about the symptoms of abuse and addiction.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

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It is generally seen as socially acceptable to have a drink over a catch-up with friends, to celebrate a special occasion, or to simply unwind after a stressful day. While occasionally enjoying a social alcoholic drink is unlikely to severely harm you or your health, excessively drinking can have serious negative effects on your body, wellbeing, and social life.

To reduce alcohol-related harm, the NHS has offered low risk drinking advice. Both men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis. A unit of alcohol equates to around half a pint of lager, a single shot of spirit, and a small glass of wine.

However, if you are drinking because you find yourself dependent on the substance, it’s difficult to control your drinking habits, or your alcohol use is beginning to negatively affect your life, it may be because you are living with an alcohol use disorder. The disorder ranges from mild to severe; however, a mild disorder is likely to escalate into something more serious.

Early Signs of Alcohol Addiction

If someone is misusing drugs, then this will eventually take a toll on their health and physical appearance. Different drugs can cause different changes but spotting these signs can help you support your loved one in seeking professional help. Substance abuse can change someone’s appearance from bones to teeth in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

Certain drugs are known to damage and destroy an individual’s skin. For example, methamphetamine can cause a person to pick and scratch at their skin as the drug often induces a hallucination of parasites or bugs crawling under the surface. Opioids like heroin can cause skin abscesses if unsanitary needles are used. Stimulants can cause severe tooth decay, changes in taste, smell, and mouth sores. Similarly, morphine or heroin can lead to tooth loss and decay and reduce saliva production. Other common changes to look out for include:

  • Red eyes
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Neglect in appearance i.e., lack of interest in grooming or clothing
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Slurred speech
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Dilated pupils
  • Teeth clenching

It’s easy to overlook the early signs of alcohol abuse but spotting them can help you access early treatment to ensure you can get back to living a happy and healthy lifestyle. While there are recognisable signs, the disorder can present itself in individuals differently, making it difficult to identify the disorder.

Many people often try to hide their alcohol abuse by drinking in secrecy or by isolating themselves from their loved ones. This makes it challenging to intercede and offer support. You should remember that although it may seem minor, it can turn into something problematic very quickly. Some of the most common signs of alcohol abuse are:

  • Being unable to control alcohol use
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking
  • Coming up with excuses to drink; for example, to deal with stress, relax, or to feel normal
  • Opting to drink over other obligations or responsibilities
  • Becoming isolated from loved ones
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning you need more to feel the same effect
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences to your life

No matter how minor you believe the problem to be, these signs should not be ignored. Help is always available to support you or your loved one on your recovery journey.

Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction and Dependence

There are numerous physical symptoms of alcohol addiction, and they vary between individuals, depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder and the length of time an individual has been drinking.

Although alcohol is poisonous, drinking it in moderation allows the body to filter toxins without causing severe harm. However, if someone has been consuming large quantities of alcohol over a prolonged period of time, physical effects will begin to set in.  If continuous alcohol abuse is carried out, then milder symptoms could lead to more chronic problems such as liver disease and cancer. Further symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired memory and thinking.
  • A desire to stop drinking but not able to do so
  • Exhaustion
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Withdrawal symptoms in the absence of alcohol
  • Nausea and diarrhoea

If these symptoms are recognisable for yourself or someone you know, it may be time to reach out for help and support, whether it be a trained medical professional or a close friend or family member. Asking for help is one of the first steps on the road to recovery.

The liver works extremely hard to remove alcohol from the body. In fact, around 90% of the alcohol we consume ends up in the liver. Alcohol-related liver damage is caused when we drink more than our livers can process. Symptoms don’t tend to present themselves until it has been seriously damaged. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Swelling in tummy and ankles

Recognising the Symptoms of Severe Alcohol Withdrawal

If you have been abusing alcohol for a long period of time, then it is likely that you will experience both physical and mental side effects when you cut back on your drinking or suddenly decide to stop. These symptoms are called alcohol withdrawal syndrome and can even begin several hours after your last drink. Mild symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

In some rare cases, an individual may experience what is called delirium tremens. This is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal but only around 5% of people experience this. The most serious symptoms include tremors, hallucinations, and delusions. With the right help and support, all of the above symptoms can be relieved and you can learn to effectively manage the side effects.

Behavioural Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

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Alcohol Use Disorder, or alcohol addiction, is a known mental illness, and the disorder can cause changes within the brain which affects a person’s thinking, mood, and behaviours. These symptoms are not-one-size-fits-all, as an alcohol use disorder presents itself differently in all individuals. However, some key changes in behaviour to look out for are:

Loss of control

Maybe you are regularly drinking more than you anticipated and you are staying out to drink longer than intended. You’re unable to cut down even when you want to.

Risk Taking

Drinking can alter our sense of safety; maybe you are partaking in potentially dangerous situations such as driving under the influence.

Neglecting Activities and Responsibilities

You opt to drink over doing other things in your life. Your drinking could interfere with family obligations, school or work life, but this does not stop you. This could include missing work or school or choosing to drink over spending time with your loved ones.

Understanding When It’s Time to Seek Help

If you believe you or a loved one is displaying any of the symptoms listed above, then you may be living with an alcohol use disorder. There are several screening tools that can help you determine whether someone has an alcohol addiction or not. CAGE is a questionnaire that measures the severity and intensity of your drinking habits. The four questions are:

  1. Have you felt that you need to cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have you been annoyed by others criticising your drinking habits?
  3. Have you felt guilty or bad about your drinking?
  4. Have you drunk first thing in the morning to feel normal for the day?

If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, then it is probable you have an alcohol use disorder. The first step in any recovery journey is admitting and acknowledging your problem drinking. No one can force you to make the changes necessary to live a sober lifestyle.

There are a multitude of effective treatment options available for those living with an alcohol use disorder. Residential treatment is widely considered to be the most effective form that increases your chances of maintaining long-term sobriety. For abuse and addiction, alcohol detox is necessary before any therapy begins so that the body is ready to move on. If you are ready to live a sober and happy lifestyle, then help is always available, so reach out today to start your recovery journey.

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