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Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

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Woman relaxing with alcohol

Alcohol addiction, which is known clinically as alcohol use disorder, occurs when a person abuses alcohol to a point where their brain has changed in such ways that they cannot curb or stop their compulsive use. Addiction, regardless of what to, is a disease that causes functional and structural changes within the brain that support continued, reckless, dangerous abuse of alcohol despite the potential consequences it can cause. 

When someone you love has developed alcohol addiction, it can be impossible to put aside your own personal feelings and look at their disease as just that — a disease. That is because addiction is so deeply personal and can cloud the perception and judgment of everyone involved. Sometimes, alcohol addiction can be so bluntly overwhelming that the people it impacts the most are in a state of denial that anything is wrong. It may sound odd, however it occurs much more often than people may think. That is because alcohol addiction is painful, traumatic, and anxiety-provoking, oftentimes triggering everyone it touches into survival mode. 

Today, more than 15 million Americans struggle with alcohol addiction. That exceptionally large number is even bigger than it seems, as addiction is a family disease and negatively affects the loved ones of those who are dealing with the disease of alcohol. The best thing that can be done when alcohol addiction is occurring is to get it to stop preferably through professional addiction treatment services. But, in order to reach out for help, those impacted by the alcohol addiction (including the user) need to recognize exactly what is going on.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction impacts each person a little bit differently than the next, however the vast majority of symptoms tend to be shared across the board. These symptoms include behavioral, psychological, physical and emotional symptoms, all of which can manifest in the following ways:

Behavioral signs and symptoms:

Depending on the severity of a person’s alcohol addiction, the following behavioral symptoms can occur:

  • Neglect of basic, everyday responsibilities at home and/or at work 
  • Secretive/dishonest behavior surrounding drinking (e.g. being untruthful about how many drinks they drank or hiding bottles)
  • Socially withdrawing from friends, family members, and other loved ones and acquaintances 
  • Hanging out with a new crowd of people who have problems controlling their drinking and abuse drugs, as well as who engage in risky behavior in order to use
  • Behaving recklessly, such as driving while under the influence, participating in unprotected sex, drinking to excess while responsible for minors, going to work drunk, etc.
  • Experiencing disciplinary actions at work, being terminated, and/or having difficulty finding unemployment due to drinking 
  • Developing financial problems due to supporting their alcohol addiction, spending irresponsibly when under the influence, or making major, inappropriate financial decisions
  • No longer participating in activities or hobbies that they once enjoyed
  • Continue to abuse alcohol despite already experiencing negative effects of doing so/knowing that continued alcohol abuse will cause repercussions
  • Combative and/or aggressive responses when confronted about their drinking

Psychological signs and symptoms:

  • Inability to control alcohol intake
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings for continued alcohol use
  • Feeling unable to function without alcohol
  • “Needing” to use alcohol in order to cope with stress, pain, anxiety, etc.
  • Becoming obsessed with alcohol, such as how much they have left, when they can get more, when they can drink again, and so on
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems 

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Development of withdrawal symptoms when unable to drink at all or only able to drink a smaller amount than usual (known as physical dependence)
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Deterioration of outwardly appearance, such as disheveled clothing, messy hair, unbrushed teeth, body odor, and changes in skin health (such as the development of acne or excessively dry skin)
  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Needing to increase the amount of alcohol consumed in order to feel the effects of it (known as tolerance)
  • Dehydration
  • Chronic headaches
  • Spending a lot of time recovering from drinking 
  • Being able to get rid of painful physical symptoms by drinking again 
  • Development of health problems such as liver disease or failure, cancer (including esophageal, rectal, liver, and breast cancers) 

Emotional signs and symptoms:

  • Unpredicted mood swings
  • Weapiness
  • Aggression, irritability, and agitation
  • Defensiveness
  • Pervasive sadness
  • Seeming detached from their surroundings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor self-care practices
  • Increase in self-sabotage tactics (intentional and unintentional)
  • Frequent arguments with loved ones 
  • Bouts of fear, panic, or paranoia
  • Euphoria and/or lowered inhibitions when under the influence of alcohol

As previously mentioned, not everyone is going to experience all of these signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction. It is common for those with the most severe alcohol addictions to develop more symptoms than those with mild addictions to alcohol. However factors such as a person’s social standing, economic abilities, gender, race and access to healthcare and education influence how serious alcohol addiction can become. With the right resources available, alcohol addiction can be treated so that these and other symptoms do not take over the lives of those hooked on alcohol and the people who care about them.

What To Do If a Loved One Has an Alcohol Addiction?

If your loved one is addicted to alcohol and you want to be part of the solution, there are many things that you can do to help. Consider the following:

  • Speak with your loved one in a calm, non-judgmental, and supportive tone 
  • Reach out to a local rehab center or treatment facility for some specific guidance for your unique situation
  • Educate yourself about the disease of addiction
  • Set boundaries that your addicted loved one is not allowed to cross — if boundaries are ignored, be sure to uphold the repercussions of doing so
  • Seek professional treatment for yourself via a therapist, counselor, or another mental health professional so you can deal with the pain and trauma associated with alcohol addiction
  • Encourage addiction treatment in your loved one and let them know that they can count on your for support if and when they decide to get help

There is only so much you can do to help a loved one get sober from alcohol addiction. That does not mean that the things you can do are ineffective. So, if you want to help someone you love stop their drinking, put forth the effort and try some or all of the above.

Do You Need Help? Call Us Today.

If you are addicted to alcohol and need help to stop, do not hesitate to reach out to us right now. We can help you overcome the challenges your addiction has put in your path so that you can live a happy, healthy life free of active addiction.


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  • Hathaway Recovery is a very solid, very friendly place. My boyfriend decided to go here and has spent a significant amount of time at the recovery house. They are very good at bringing clients to meetings and on fun outings occasionally! Hathaway is committed to their clients’ recovery and their sobriety and to helping them in any way possible. They go above and beyond for the clients and I definitely would recommend considering Hathaway for your sobriety/recovery.

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