Alcohol Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Rolling Hills Hospital helps individuals struggling with alcohol addiction build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Ada, near Oklahoma City, Rolling Hills Hospital is the premier provider of mental health & addiction treatment for adolescents, adults & seniors.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction and substance abuse

When individuals abuse alcohol, they are partaking in a pattern of problematic drinking that is so excessive that it begins to elicit distress and impairment on their bodies and minds. Developing an addiction to, or dependence on, alcohol can quickly take over all aspects of a person’s life. Not only will these individuals struggle to function appropriately on a daily basis, but they will also find that their behaviors have started to negatively impact the lives of those around them as well. Despite the presence of such adverse consequences, however, those who are addicted to alcohol find that they are unable to cease their use without proper treatment.


Alcohol addiction statistics

Alcohol abuse and addiction is something that plagues many individuals. In the United States alone, it has been estimated that 8.5% of adults over the age of 18 abuse alcohol. Among adults, statistics have been provided stating that 12.4% of adult men abuse alcohol, in comparison to the much lower percentage of 4.9% of adult women.

In regards to children and adolescents, alcohol is believed to be the most commonly abused substance, surpassing both illicit drugs and tobacco. Sadly, research has offered evidence that nearly half of junior high and high school students admit to drinking alcohol at least once each month. Additionally, 11% of the total amount of alcohol consumed in the U.S. is said to be ingested by adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

The underlying reasons for why some individuals abuse alcohol while others do not are believed to be the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and physical factors, as described in the following:

Genetic: Substance abuse and addiction, including alcohol addiction and dependence, is largely known to run in families. Research has concluded that individuals who have biological family members who struggle with alcoholism are three to four times more likely to start using and abusing alcohol themselves. Additionally, studies have shown that a person’s susceptibility to alcoholism is 40%-60% the direct result of genetic influences.

Physical: Due to the brain’s malleability, when individuals begin to drink alcohol in excessive amounts, chemical changes rapidly occur, leading to tolerance and dependence. The longer that people consistently abuse alcohol, the more prominent this chemical disturbance comes, resulting in the brain’s inability to function appropriately in areas such as using sound judgment and exercising self-control. This can ultimately render a person unable to gain control of his or her drinking impulses.

Environmental: The environment in which individuals spend a significant amount of time can have an immense impact on whether or not they will begin to use and abuse alcohol. For adolescents, growing up in a home where alcohol is frequently used, or being surrounded by peers who use the substance, are at a greater risk of abusing it themselves. For adults, working in highly stressful careers or being subjected to chronic stress due to other circumstances can place them at risk for beginning to use alcohol as a means of unwinding. Additionally, individuals of any age who are made victim to abuse and neglect may begin to use alcohol as a way to numb themselves from the negative emotions that have resulted from their experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of alcohol and/or drug abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Family or personal history of mental health conditions
  • Being faced with consistently high levels of stress
  • Significant relationship discord
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • Low self-esteem

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

The signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone is abusing alcohol will vary from person to person depending upon factors such as the person’s age, the extent to which the person has been drinking, and how long the person has been drinking. Various examples of symptoms that may be present in an individual who is abusing alcohol may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drinking alone
  • Hiding alcohol in the home
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Unprovoked aggressive outbursts
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Frequent absences from school or work
  • Refraining from participating in activities one once enjoyed
  • Isolation / alienating loved ones

Physical symptoms:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic stomachaches / stomach cramping
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Distorted vision
  • Excessive nausea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lapses in memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired decision-making abilities
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Episodes of “blacking out” after drinking heavily

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Oscillating emotions
  • Excessive feelings of hostility, irritability, and agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety


Effects of alcohol addiction

People who abuse alcohol will inevitably experience numerous negative consequences as a result of their behaviors. Such consequences can affect both the short-term and long-term lives of those who chronically use this substance. Examples of the various effects that alcohol abuse can impose on an individual when left untreated can include:

  • Drastic decline in one’s overall physical health
  • Drastic decline in one’s overall mental health
  • Heart problems
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Familial discord
  • Divorce / disturbances within interpersonal relationships
  • Participating in high-risk behaviors, such as drinking while intoxicated

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who are struggling with an addiction to alcohol to also be suffering from another mental health condition. In fact, there are many cases in which people will begin drinking alcohol as a means of unconsciously self-medicating symptoms that are present as the result of the existence of another mental health disorder. Some of the most commonly cited examples of disorders that are known to occur alongside alcohol abuse can include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Polysubstance use

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When an individual is consuming alcohol excessively, but then suddenly stops using, he or she will inevitably go through a period of withdrawal. The severity of the symptoms experienced during this time will range from person to person, as will the length of time during which the withdrawal period lasts. In most cases, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are said to be the most intense within 24-72 hours following the individual’s last drink. Examples of the effects of alcohol withdrawal can include, but are not limited to:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Increasing sense of confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Jumpiness / jitteriness
  • Shakiness / incessant trembling
  • Increased irritability
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Changes in skin color

Effects of alcohol overdose (otherwise known as alcohol poisoning): Alcohol poisoning is an extremely dangerous occurrence that most often happens without individuals even realizing that they have crossed the threshold as to how much alcohol their bodies are capable of tolerating. An alcohol overdose should always be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately in order to prevent fatal consequences. Examples of signs that may indicate that a person is overdosing on alcohol can include, but are not limited to:

  • Excessive, violent vomiting
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Unconsciousness / unresponsiveness
  • Significant changes in skin color (often either turning blue or extremely pale)
  • Slowed or erratic breathing
  • Seizures

I couldn't ask for better help when I needed it most and I will forever be thankful to the treatment team.

– Former Patient