Alcohol Symptoms and Warning Signs

Alcohol abuse can sneak up on you and it can be difficult to notice when your consumption crosses the line from moderate consumption in social situations to problem drinking. However, if you’re using large amounts of alcohol to cope with trying times or challenging emotions, you could be in potentially dangerous territory.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting help for alcohol abuse is denial, often using several reasons to rationalise your drinking in the face of negative consequences. Therefore, it’s important to understand the symptoms and warning signs of alcohol abuse and take steps to reduce consumption when you identify them. Understanding the problem of alcohol abuse and recognising its common signs can help you cut back or quit completely.

Recognising the Common Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Left untreated, alcohol abuse can quickly spiral out of control. Recognising the common warning signs of abuse and getting the required treatment early can contribute to an effective recovery. Even though there isn’t an exact formula to determine whether or not you’re abusing alcohol, some symptoms may become obvious. These eventually add up and result in additional problems further down the line.

Generally, you could have a problem if you need to drink before you can feel relaxed; lie to others about your drinking habits; or regularly drink more than you intended to. Other common warning signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Preferring to drink, rather than carry out your usual obligations and responsibilities
  • Experiencing hangovers when not drinking
  • Finding excuses to drink, such as to feel normal, relieve stress or calm your nerves
  • Experiencing short-term memory loss or temporary blackouts
  • Changing physical appearance
  • Socialising with new, alcohol-drinking acquaintances
  • Exhibiting signs of irritability and extreme mood swings

No matter how minor, these signs of alcohol abuse should never be ignored. If you or someone you know is dealing with alcohol abuse, get in touch with an addiction advisor to locate a reputable treatment facility.

The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can result in several health issues, affecting almost every area of your personal and professional life. Heavy drinking over a prolonged period of time can therefore put you at risk for developing severe health complications including potentially life-threatening diseases. Unfortunately, the damaging effects of alcohol are often not recognised, because of the widely accepted status of alcohol in society. Although alcohol is consumed by many people in an effort to

experience its stimulant effects, the dangers of abuse still remain, long after the initial pleasant feelings have passed. Alcohol abuse affects men and women in different ways; this is because women’s bodies metabolise alcohol at a slower rate than men. They are also more susceptible to the effects of alcohol due to their build and weight. Alcohol abuse in women can contribute to breast cancer, infertility, sexual assault, depression, pregnancy complications and an increased risk of becoming alcohol-dependent. However, men are more likely to encounter problem drinking, as their alcohol tolerance is higher than that of women. Alcohol abuse can affect men in many ways, including: cognitive impairment, permanent redness of the face, hair loss, beer gut, colon cancer, liver cancer, erectile dysfunction, and gout.

Recognising an Alcohol Addiction

It can be easy to tell when a person has been drinking. Some tell-tale signs include the smell of alcohol on the breath, uncoordinated movement, slurred speech and lowered inhibitions. However, recognising an alcohol addiction might not be so simple. This is because many of the more obvious signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse can be hidden for a long period of time. In addition, you or those around you may choose to ignore the addiction. You might also be in a state of denial about the realities of your substance abuse.

Addiction can therefore be difficult to spot. If you need help determining whether you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction or dependency, it’s not too late to seek help. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to identify alcohol addiction, due to some of the distinct behavioural patterns that occur. These include:

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about drinking
  • Often needing a drink in order to relax or feel better
  • Losing the ability to control the number of drinks consumed
  • Experiencing bad hangovers
  • Becoming intoxicated frequently
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is unavailable
  • ‘Blacking out’ or having no memory of the events after drinking
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Alcohol Addiction and the Brain

Alcohol addiction is overwhelming and can affect several organs in the body, including the brain. You could begin to feel the effects of alcohol a few minutes after consuming only one or two drinks. These could include blurred vision, cognitive impairments, slurred speech, difficulty walking and slowed reaction time. Some of these effects will dissipate as your body cleanses itself of alcohol, but other psychological effects of alcohol addiction and long-term abuse can prove irreversible.

Alcohol addiction and dependence affects the brain chemistry by altering the levels of neurotransmitters (including GABA and glutamate in the brain that control behaviour, emotion and thought processes. This is what leads to the sluggish behaviours experienced when alcohol is consumed.

Learn the Immediate Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse

The immediate side effects of alcohol abuse begin with feelings of relaxation and lowered inhibitions, which then progress to poor coordination, lowered reflex and response time, as well as decreased concentration. When alcohol is combined with other mind-altering substances (legal and illegal drugs for example), these immediate side effects can be magnified to become more severe.

Depending on your physical condition and how much has been consumed, alcohol abuse can induce different side effects, such as:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Decreased perception and coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhoea
  • Anaemia (loss of red blood cells)
  • Coma
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blackouts (memory lapses, where the drinker cannot remember events that occurred whilst under the influence)

Learn the Long-Term Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Consuming large amounts of alcohol for an extended period of time is associated with many health problems. These include pancreatitis, liver damage, nerve damage, cirrhosis and a range of brain disorders (as a result of the death of brain cells). Other long-term side effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases
  • Malnutrition
  • Liver disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Increased ‘on-the-job’ injuries and loss of productivity in the workplace
  • Ulcers
  • Gastritis (inflammation of stomach walls)
  • Unintentional injuries, such as burns, car crash, falls, drowning
  • Permanent damage to the brain
  • Increased family problems/broken relationships
  • Cancer of the mouth and throat
  • Sexual problems
  • Intentional injuries, such as sexual assault, firearm injuries, domestic violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a disorder characterised by apathy, amnesia and disorientation

Intervention for an Alcohol Addiction

When you recognise some of the symptoms and signs of alcohol abuse in a loved one, you may experience several difficult emotions, ranging from self-blame to shame, anger and fear. The problem may be so challenging that it seems easier to deny it even exists and try to ignore it. However, neglecting addiction can only result in irreversible damage to you, your loved one and other family members in the long run. The good news is that there are several ways you can help a loved one if they have an alcohol use disorder.

If they are denying they have a problem or are refusing to enter a treatment facility, you might consider staging an intervention for alcohol addiction. This option is highly effective, because it can be difficult to tell someone you care about that they need treatment for a drinking problem. Intervention should come from an angle of concern and not judgement. Therefore, it’s essential to treat them with care, respect and avoid casting blame or making accusations. Your focus during the intervention should be on how their consumption is affecting their physical health and causing problems in other aspects of their lives and those of their loved ones.

Detox and Withdrawal from Alcohol

Alcohol detox – or the removal of all physical traces of the substance – is considered the first step towards recovery. If you’ve used alcohol for a long period of time and become dependent, your body might be unable to function normally without it. Detoxing from alcohol is a potentially dangerous process, as it is one substance that is accompanied by potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. The severity of said withdrawal symptoms depend on a number of factors, such as the frequency,

longevity and level of your alcohol abuse; your age; past withdrawal history; and whether you’ve combined using additional substances alongside alcohol. There are several distressing symptoms that can occur during withdrawal from alcohol. These symptoms range from mild to severe and in certain cases can be life-threatening. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, confusion, weakness, tremors (across the whole body or parts of the body), nausea, craving, agitation, headaches, fear, sweating, quick mood changes, hallucinations (alcoholic hallucinosis), heart palpitations and seizures (that commonly occur in the first 48 hours).

Treatment and Next Steps

Treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction should be carried out under the close supervision of qualified addiction treatment specialists in a suitable facility. Attempting to undergo treatment on your own or without professional help can cause more harm than good. This is why a rehab programme is specially equipped to deal with the extremely uncomfortable and risky symptoms that can occur during the alcohol detox phase.

Undergoing treatment in a certified recovery programme with the help of a rehab expert can increase your chances of achieving long-term recovery. These experts can guide you through the different stages of recovery and recommend alcohol abuse counsellors and support groups that can help maintain your sobriety. Common support groups that may be recommended include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon, where you can meet other recovering addicts and learn practical tips for recovery. It’s never too late to take back control of your life. Help is available for you to live a sober and healthy lifestyle once more. Talk to recovery specialists to put you in touch with a treatment programme to address your needs.


Are there effective alcohol treatment programmes available?

There are several treatment programmes for alcohol abuse and addiction. Many of the substance treatment centres have professionals who can competently help you overcome alcohol addiction including counsellors, therapists, medical experts and other support staff. In addition, research is being carried out into alcohol abuse and addiction to boost the effectiveness of these programmes.

What treatment options work best?

Detoxification is usually the first treatment option to safely quit alcohol abuse. This involves working with an alcohol treatment specialist to safely taper you off the substance. Tapering is essential, because of the potentially unpleasant and dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as seizures, delirium or suicidal thoughts. By gradually reducing your alcohol intake, the risk of such symptoms is significantly reduced. After detox is completed, the next option is to undergo comprehensive rehabilitation for mental physical and psychological addiction.

Can I quit alcohol on my own?

Quitting alcohol on your own is never recommended. Alcohol abuse should be treated with the help of experienced medical professionals to ensure a safe process. Getting help for quitting alcohol can also increase your chances of long-lasting recovery.

Does an alcohol treatment programme require staying in a hospital?

Depending on your level of addiction and how long you’ve been drinking, outpatient treatment methods might also be recommended, so that you can avoid a long stay in a hospital.

Will my insurance provider pay for alcohol treatment?

Usually, most (or even all) of your treatment costs for alcohol abuse and addiction can be covered by a valid insurance policy. To find out if your desired treatment method is covered, you can contact your insurance provider or talk directly to your treatment centre.

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