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Alcohol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Treatment

Are You Addicted to Alcohol?

Alcoholism is a debilitating condition characterized by problematic drinking that causes distress in the drinker’s life and, often, in the lives of his or her loved ones.

If you are looking for more information on alcohol, addiction and treatment, read on to learn more about:

How to Tell if You or a Loved One Is Addicted to Alcohol

An individual who displays 2 or more of the following signs or symptoms within the past year 6 may already be struggling with a drinking problem or, more technically, meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

  • More alcohol is consumed and more often than the drinker intended.
  • Consistent failed attempts to quit drinking.
  • Spending an excessive amount of time buying and drinking alcohol, and recovering from its effects.
  • Strong craving to drink alcohol.
  • Neglecting work, home or school responsibilities in favor of alcohol use.
  • Continuing to drink regardless of consequences.
  • Choosing alcohol over previously enjoyed activities.
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations such as driving.
  • Choosing to drink despite psychological or physical problems caused or worsened by alcohol.
  • Tolerance: requiring increased amounts of alcohol to get the same desired effects and drinking the same amount but experiencing less of an effect.
  • Withdrawal: experiencing withdrawal symptoms or drinking to prevent or alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

These are some of the common signs of alcoholism. No matter how many of these signs are present, if alcohol is causing any significant impairment or distress in your life, an alcohol recovery center or other form of substance abuse treatment can provide help.

Getting Treatment and Starting Recovery

More than 17 million people suffer from alcohol dependency, and an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths per year. 1 Despite these alarming numbers, only about 20% of alcoholics receive treatment for their condition. 4

If you are looking for an alcohol addiction treatment center, remember that what works for one person might not work for another and vice versa. That’s why it’s important that you educate yourself on the different alcohol recovery options. Various mental health and medical professionals will also be instrumental in directing the type of treatment you undergo. But knowing your options can help you advocate for yourself and help you to ultimately make a sound treatment decision.

Some common treatments for alcoholism include:

Medications Used to Treat Alcohol Dependence

Some alcohol treatment programs use a medically assisted approach to aid the recovery process. Doctors or therapists may prescribe the following medications when treating you for an alcohol addiction. As an integrated part of some recovery programs, these medications have been beneficial in decreasing drinking habits and lowering relapse rates. doctor writing prescription for medication for alcoholism10

  • Naltrexone: A medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that blocks receptors associated with alcohol cravings, decreasing instances of relapse in alcoholics.
  • Vivitrol: This medication is an FDA-approved, extended-release version of naltrexone. It is given once a month intravenously.
  • Acamprosate: This medication decreases long-term withdrawal symptoms such as depression and anxiety and helps to prevent relapse.
  • Disulfiram: This medication causes unpleasant effects, such as nausea and heart palpitations, when you consume alcohol, in the hopes of reinforcing abstinent behavior.
  • Topiramate: Topiramate is not FDA-approved for use in treating alcohol use disorders. But it is sometimes used as an off-label adjunct to treating alcoholism.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Dependency

Alcohol dependence can bring about harmful short-term effects on the body and brain, which include: [6]

  • Involuntary eye movements.
  • Memory loss.
  • Stupor.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Coordination problems.
  • Unsteady gait.
  • Inappropriate sexual or aggressive behavior.
  • Mood swings.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Slowed pulse.
  • Blackouts.
  • Coma.

Additionally, there is an increased rate of suicide when someone is under the influence of alcohol. [6] If you are concerned about a loved one committing suicide while intoxicated, call 911 to get him or her the appropriate medical attention immediately.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Dependency

Long-term alcohol dependence can cause permanent damage to the body and brain.

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn’t directly kill brain cells. Chronic drinking behavior can result in changes in the size of brain cells and dysfunction in certain brain regions, such as the cerebellum – a part of the brain involved with motor functioning. 7,9

The long-term effects of alcohol abuse can include: 8

  • Cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Liver cancer.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Esophagitis.
  • Gastritis.
  • Mouth cancer.
  • Throat cancer.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Cardiomyopathy (weakened, enlarged heart muscle).
  • Arrhythmias.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Stroke.

American Addiction Centers has helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you or your loved one too. Check your insurance to find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies. You can also sign up 24/7 text support for addiction questions at your convenience.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you are dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking, you may experience severe and potentially life-threatening withdrawal effects that begin within a few hours to a few days after the last drink.6

For at-risk individuals, a detox center or alcohol recovery center will be necessary to provide medical monitoring during this time. Medications will be administered to preclude against dangerous adverse events such as seizures and to make you as comfortable as possible – easing the detox transition.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:5

  • Irritability.
  • Mood swings.
  • Fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Unpleasant, vivid dreams.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Tremor.

Delirium Tremens

Some people may go through a serious and deadly withdrawal syndrome called delirium tremens (also known as “the shakes”). Delirium tremens symptoms include: 5

  • Hallucinations.
  • Fever.
  • Seizures.
  • Profound confusion.

Why Is Alcohol So Addictive?

Alcohol affects many different neurotransmitters in the brain. One major neurotransmitter impacted by alcohol is gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. An increase in GABA activity can decrease anxiety and result in sedation. 3 It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and alcohol acts as an agonist on the receptor that ultimately amplifies GABA inhibition.friends drinking alcohol socially 2

Further, alcohol inhibits glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Alcohol also causes a release of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters associated with reward, motivation and mood. 2

Drinking alcohol targets GABA and glutamate in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, and the nucleus accumbens, which is a major reward center. 2 These mechanisms play a role in mediating the pleasure you experience when you drink alcohol. The enjoyment achieved by drinking positively reinforces the behavior. 2

If you regularly consume alcohol, you will build up a tolerance. This means you will need an increased amount of alcohol to achieve the same desired effect or “buzz.” An increased tolerance drives many to drink more and more which, in turn, increases the likelihood of dependence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Exercise/Fitness?

Alcohol has several negative effects on exercise and athletic performance.

  • Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it dehydrates your body of water necessary to maximize performance.11
  • It can cause low blood sugar, which impairs fitness and performance during endurance exercises.11
  • Alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to regulate its temperature during exercise and can cause reduced core body temperature.11
  • Alcohol impairs muscle recovery after an intense workout, which could inhibit strength gains.12

Find Help for Alcoholism

If you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol, it’s better to get help sooner rather than later to avoid severe health problems. Contact a recovery support specialist free today at to get more information on alcohol rehab programs.