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Alcohol Addiction: Symptoms, Health Effects & Treatment

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Alcohol addiction often leads to social, economic, and health problems. Excessive alcohol use is an extreme health hazard. Nearly 40% of adults in the U.S. have succumbed to the severe consequences of alcohol misuse.1

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Abuse reported:2

  • 15.7 million U.S. citizens aged 12 and up are involved in alcohol use
  • Each year, 85,000 people die in the U.S. due to misuse

Keep reading to discover what counts as alcohol addiction, its effects, and available treatment options for the condition. 

DSM-5 Definition of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

The DSM-5 is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and was published in 2013. The DSM-5 is used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose mental disorders and provides a common language and framework for diagnosis.

Some of the conditions under the criteria set by the DSM-5 include:

  • Several anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use

DSM 5’s definition of alcohol use is a pattern of alcohol consumption that often leads to clinically significant distress or impairment within a 12-month timeframe.

Two to three of these symptoms is mild alcoholism. Moderate AUD includes four to five symptoms. And severe alcoholism is six or more symptoms.


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Symptoms of Alcoholism

Many people find it challenging to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism.4 Alcohol’s regular use and acceptance in several cultures may play a role in this. Unlike meth or cocaine, alcohol isn’t considered to be dangerous. It’s also used as a token of celebration globally. 

It’s difficult to differentiate someone who drinks for fun from someone with a severe drinking problem. However, several identifiable symptoms of AUD can help you confirm the latter. Symptoms include: 

  • Frequent drinking 
  • Drinking at inappropriate times
  • An high tolerance for alcohol
  • Finding reasons to drink
  • Going into isolation
  • Dependence on alcohol for everyday functionality 
  • Depression and emotional issues
  • Lack of professionalism

Failure to detect a person’s alcohol addiction early on can result in worsening symptoms. For instance, that person could greatly suffer from mental and physical health problems.

To increase the chances of successful addiction recovery, it’s best to detect signs of addiction and enlist help as early as possible..

Behavioral and Mental Signs of Alcoholism

People suffering from AUD tend to follow certain behavioral patterns when influenced by alcohol.5 Alcoholics tend to behave differently when trying to hide their drinking problems from their family and friends. Behavioral signs of alcoholism may include:

  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Drinking in secret or hiding alcohol
  • Lying about drinking habits
  • Experiencing financial problems due to excessive drinking
  • Drinking despite negative consequences, such as losing a job or getting in trouble with the law

Mental signs of alcoholism may include:

  • Obsessing about alcohol and when the next drink will be available
  • Experiencing blackouts or memory loss due to drinking
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, needing more and more to get drunk
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as anxiety, shaking, or sweating

Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism

The physical symptoms of alcoholism can vary depending on how much and how often someone drinks. Some people may only experience mild symptoms, while others may develop serious health complications.

Common physical symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Vision problems

Who is at Higher Risk for Alcoholism?

There is no one cause for alcoholism. Many biological, psychological, environmental, and socioeconomic risk factors are attributed to this condition. 

Many factors can increase someone's risk of developing alcoholism. Some of these factors are out of our control, like our genes and family history. But we can also reduce our risk, like choosing not to drink alcohol or drinking in moderation.

Here are some of the most common risk factors for developing alcoholism:

  • Family history
  • Gender
  • Mental health disorders
  • Stressful life events

There is no gender-based difference regarding AUD.6 Both men and women are prone to developing alcoholism at the same rate. However, some studies suggest that men have a higher risk factor.7

Research also shows that kids are more prone to developing AUD as adults if they grew up with one parent who struggled with it.8

The people who should drink cautiously or shouldn’t drink at all are:

  • Minors
  • Pregnant women
  • People planning to participate in activities that require high attentiveness 
  • People on certain medications
  • People who show signs of withdrawal symptoms9

Occasional drinks might not seem like a big deal. However, those more prone to developing alcoholism and having higher risk factors should avoid drinking at all costs.

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Short Term Effects of Alcoholism

The short-term effects of alcoholism can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, which means that the symptoms and effects of drinking alcohol get worse over time. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

 Some of the most common short-term effects of alcoholism include:

  • Blackouts
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Frequent urination

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Long Term Effects of Alcoholism

Over time, the damage caused by heavy drinking causes chronic and/or severe health problems. Many also deal with non-health problems in their lives.

Most people who have been dealing with AUD for a long time experience one or more of the following:

  • Emotional health issues, such as Hyperkatifeia10
  • Physical problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and cancer
  • Brain damage that leads to memory problems, difficulty learning and concentrating, and depression
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries
  • Social problems including trouble keeping a job or maintaining relationships
  • Financial problems due to spending a lot of money on alcohol
  • Legal problems due to the obsession with acquiring alcohol and drinking being a top priority

Treatment Options for Alcoholism 

Once alcoholism has passed the initial stages, treatment can become challenging for the individual and doctor.11

The treatment options below are more likely to work when the person is committed to bettering themselves. Here are a few treatment options for alcoholism.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is one of the most recommended and effective ways to treat alcoholism. The individual will have to admit themselves into a rehab center, undergo regular treatments, and remain at the facility for a specific period.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

A partial hospitalization program is a sort of semi-inpatient treatment. The individual would visit a facility 6 days a week and undergo a strict treatment plan. They don’t have to check in the hospital for this treatment method.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is another available treatment for people suffering from AUD. This treatment allows the individual to remain involved in their daily activities and professional responsibilities while attending a daily program recommended by their doctor.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism involves using various therapies, medications, counseling sessions, and other necessary programs.

Final Thoughts

Alcoholism is becoming a serious concern among adults and teenagers. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the symptoms of alcohol addiction, its risk factors, and treatment options. We hope you can identify early signs of alcohol addiction developing in your loved one, friend, or coworker. 

If you see someone suffering from AUD and in need of help, we encourage you to get them the support they need as soon as possible.

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Updated on September 22, 2022
11 sources cited
  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Strategic Plan 2017-2021.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Apr. 2017
  2. Nehring SM, Freeman AM. “Alcohol Use Disorder.” StatPearls Publishing, Jan. 2022 
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Oct. 2021
  4. Brown SA, Inaba RK, Gillin JC, Schuckit MA, Stewart MA, Irwin MR. “Alcoholism and affective disorder: clinical course of depressive symptoms.” Am J Psychiatry, Jan. 1995
  5. Matošić A, Marušić S, Vidrih B, Kovak-Mufić A, Cicin-Šain L. “NEUROBIOLOGICAL BASES OF ALCOHOL ADDICTION.” Acta Clin Croat., Mar. 2016
  6. Ceylan-Isik AF, McBride SM, Ren J. “Sex difference in alcoholism: who is at a greater risk for development of alcoholic complication?” Life Sci, 16 Jun. 2010
  7. Finn PR, Pihl RO. “Men at high risk for alcoholism: the effect of alcohol on cardiovascular response to unavoidable shock.” J Abnorm Psychol, Aug. 1987
  8. Schuckit MA. “Studies of populations at high risk for alcoholism.” Psychiatr Dev, 1985
  9. Kobayashi T, Tani N, Haga H, Fukui K. “Mental and physical symptoms in alcoholics after alcohol withdrawal.” Nihon Arukoru Yakubutsu Igakkai Zasshi, Oct. 1997
  10. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “The Cycle of Alcohol Addiction.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Dec. 2021
  11. Wackernah RC, Minnick MJ, Clapp P. “Alcohol use disorder: pathophysiology, effects, and pharmacologic options for treatment.” Subst Abuse Rehabil, 23 Jan. 2014

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