A man holding a glass of alcohol, with his other hand covering his face

How to Recognize Alcoholism

5 Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism comes with significant health outcomes. Long-term health risks like heart disease and liver disease may have dire consequences. According to data from National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), about 140,557 Americans die from alcohol use disorder each year. Knowing the physical signs of alcoholism can help identify the condition and prevent chronic health conditions from occurring.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Levels of harmful use of alcohol are challenging to determine because alcohol’s effects differ from person to person. Drinking alcohol frequently doesn’t necessarily mean someone is an alcoholic. Alcoholism does not occur overnight.

The stages of alcoholism happen over a period of time. People often begin by drinking a standard alcoholic beverage. As the frequency of drinking increases, so does the amount consumed. By the time they have chronic alcoholism, they no longer drink for pleasure. Instead, drinking is a compulsion.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a standard alcoholic beverage is:

  • 8 oz malt liquor
  • 12 oz of beer.
  • 5 oz wine.

The CDC defines excessive alcohol consumption as binge drinking or heavy drinking. However, roughly 90% of people who drink alcohol excessively do not meet the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism, also known as severe alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence. An individual who struggles with alcoholism:

  • Displays an inability to limit their alcohol consumption.
  • Continues to consume alcohol despite professional or personal problems due to alcohol use.
  • Requires more and more alcohol to obtain the same effects.
  • Finds their craving for alcohol overwhelming.

Due to alcohol’s effects on the body, some physical signs may indicate alcoholism. The following are the five most common physical signs of an alcoholic.

5 Physical Signs of an Alcoholic

1. Blackouts Due to Excessive Alcohol Use

Alcohol-related blackouts are often confused with “passing out,” but they’re not the same thing. A person who passes out typically falls asleep or loses consciousness. In contrast, during a blackout, the person drinking alcohol remains awake — but their brain does not create memories in correlation to what they are doing.

Therefore, the person experiencing a blackout will act out activities that they do not remember later. Blackouts are inherently dangerous, and experiencing a blackout should prompt a deep examination of a person's use of alcohol. Frequent blackouts, however, may be a sign of alcoholism.

2. Showing Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal When Stopping Drinking

Alcohol slows down the nervous system. Over time the body becomes accustomed to functioning with chronic alcohol use. Without alcohol, the body must adjust quickly and release the toxins built up from alcohol it once used. This process is called alcohol withdrawal.

The most common signs of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • Shaky hands.
  • Anxiety.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Insomnia.
  • Sweating.
  • Racing heart rate.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Confusion.
  • Fever.

Individuals who drink heavily for months or years may experience alcohol withdrawal when trying to stop drinking.

3. Time Spent Feeling Sick From the Effects of Excessive Alcohol Use

Drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time can cause alcohol toxicity or an alcohol overdose. Alcohol is toxic to the body's systems and depresses the nervous system. Consuming an excessive amount of alcohol makes it difficult for the body to remove toxins fast enough, causing the following symptoms:

  • Seizures.
  • Vomiting.
  • Inability to stay awake.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute).
  • Reduced heart rate.
  • Dulled reflexes.
  • Low body temperature.

Alcohol toxicity can be lethal, especially when other drugs are involved or the individual is in poor health. Seek help immediately if alcohol toxicity is suspected.

4. Increasing Alcohol Consumption

Requiring more and more alcohol to obtain the same effects is called alcohol dependence, and it is a physical sign of alcoholism. Only one out of nine people who consume alcohol excessively are alcohol-dependent.

As a person drinks alcohol more frequently, the brain and body adjust themselves to that level of alcohol. Therefore, excessive long-term alcohol leads to needing more and more alcohol to produce the same results.

5. Shows Signs of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Alcoholic liver disease results from many years of chronic heavy alcohol consumption. The liver processes and removes wastes and toxins, and excessive alcohol use damages liver cells over time. When too much liver damage occurs, it impacts all body systems.

Signs of alcoholic liver disease are:

  • Weight loss.
  • Yellow skin and eyes.
  • Fatigue.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Large abdomen (due to fluid buildup).
  • Confusion.

Liver disease due to alcohol is preventable and treatable. However, if the person does not stop drinking alcohol and does not receive medical treatment, alcoholic liver disease can be fatal.

Statistics Regarding Alcohol Use

Alcohol consumption is a worldwide practice and is widely accepted in social situations. However, alcohol is considered a drug because it depresses a person’s central nervous system (CNS). The effects of alcohol on the CNS disrupt thinking, judgment, and motor skills. Alcohol is also toxic to the body and can damage internal organs.

Further data from the NCDAS shows that:

  • Nearly 100,000 annual deaths are attributable to alcohol abuse.
  • Approximately 19.1% of all deaths involving alcohol are a result of alcoholic liver disease.
  • About 53.7% of deaths related to alcohol occur due to chronic consumption of alcohol.
  • Alcohol poisoning causes 32% of alcohol-related deaths
  • Suicides involving alcohol occur at higher rates than car accidents involving alcohol
  • Roughly 75.1% of all alcohol-related deaths are male.
  • Nearly 85.9% of people over 65 who die from alcohol use do so from chronic conditions related to alcohol.
  • On the other hand, 96.5% of adolescents who die from alcohol use die from immediate causes, like suicide or car accidents.

Because of these troubling statistics, spotting alcoholism is essential. Early identification of alcohol abuse can stop the long-term health effects of alcohol use and prevent early death.

Getting Help for Alcoholism

Learn how to spot an alcoholic face by knowing the physical signs of alcoholism. For example, many people who drink heavily have skin problems like broken capillaries, dryness, and redness on their faces. These facial indications and the five signs listed above may be clues to a person’s alcoholism.

Early intervention prevents further damage to the body from alcohol use and lets the body recover. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use, get help. Consult with a physician or healthcare professional to find the right form of treatment.

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