Alcohol Effects & Warning Signs

Drinking alcohol is often an enjoyable social activity, and research suggests alcohol, when consumed in moderation, may even have health benefits. However, sometimes one’s drinking can spin out of control. A person’s drinking may increase to the point that it affects his or her work, social, or family life. In these cases, one may have developed an alcohol addiction. Thankfully an addiction to alcohol can be overcome, and there is help available for those who seek it.

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Statistics

Alcohol use is extremely common in the United States. A 2013 study cited by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that nearly 87 percent of adults have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives, while nearly 25 percent reported having engaged in binge drinking in the month before the study. Alcohol use can also be fatal to oneself and others. Alcohol-related deaths are the third most common cause of preventable death in America, and alcohol use was implicated in nearly a third of traffic deaths in 2013. Of the 16.6 million adults who were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder in 2013, 1.3 million received specialized treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse

The causes of alcohol abuse are diverse and complex, though researchers and clinicians agree that both genetic and environmental factors affect a person’s chances of developing an alcohol use disorder. Below is an explanation of some causes and risk factors:

Genetic: People whose parents or siblings abuse alcohol are more likely to abuse alcohol as well. According to the NIAAA, about 50 percent of a person’s risk of alcoholism can be attributed to genes.

Environmental: Environmental factors also affect a person’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. People exposed to frequent use of alcohol, especially when friends or family use alcohol to cope with stress, are more likely to abuse it. Exposure to severe chronic stressors, such as abuse, violence, poverty, or unemployment, also increases a person’s chance of alcohol abuse, as does exposure to trauma.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of chronic stress or trauma
  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Being male, as males are more likely to abuse and become addicted to alcohol than are females
  • Having inadequate coping skills

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

People who are abusing alcohol show differing signs and symptoms of their abuse based on the length and extend of their use of alcohol. Below are some common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lying or stealing
  • Hiding alcohol at home, work, or school
  • Absences from school or work
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Falling behind in obligations
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Frequently downplaying one’s alcohol consumption or degree of intoxication

Physical symptoms:

  • Shakes or tremors
  • Poor coordination
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Distorted vision
  • Flushed skin
  • Sleep disturbances

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment and decision-making
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent or sudden changes in mood
  • Agitation
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • 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

Alcohol abuse can have serious and even life-threatening consequences. The following are some of the effects alcohol abuse can have if left untreated:

  • Cardiovascular damage
  • Problems forming new memories
  • Malnutrition
  • Ulcers
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Decreased sensation
  • Loss of job or expulsion from school
  • Strained or broken relationships
  • Financial difficulties
  • Death from overdose, attempts at suicide, or accidents as a result of being intoxicated

Co-Occurring Disorders

People who turn to alcohol often do so to cope with severe stressors or other mental health conditions. Those who meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder may also meet criteria for the following mental health disorders:

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

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Over time, the body of someone who abuses alcohol begins to need alcohol in order to function. If someone who abuses alcohol should abstain from drinking, his or her body will begin to adapt itself to functioning without alcohol. This extremely uncomfortable and possibly dangerous process is known as withdrawal, and the following are some common effects of withdrawal:

  • Disorientation
  • Pale skin
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Hot or cold sweats
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Anxiety

Effects of alcohol overdose: In small or moderate doses, alcohol does not have permanent negative effects on the body. However, if someone drinks a large amount of alcohol faster than his or her body can metabolize it, an overdose can result. An overdose is a potentially life-threatening situation. If you or a loved one experiences the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately in order to avoid a fatal outcome:

  • Loss of color in skin
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Violent vomiting
  • Labored breathing
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
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