Alcohol intoxication will produce many of the effects of alcohol abuse. Though the effects may vary between individuals, common reactions to alcohol consumption include:
Problems walking steadily
Poor memory and attention
Many of these effects are dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed. Someone could have a desirable mood change after a drink or two, but undesirable mood changes with inappropriate or aggressive behaviors with additional drinks. As people continue drinking, they risk overwhelming their system with alcohol and experiencing alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call us immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help.
In the long term, addictions like alcohol use disorder make daily activities nearly impossible. A recent poll by The Recovery Village found physical health (61%), mental health (52%) and relationships (47%) are the most common negative impacts on daily life. In many cases, people will also struggle to maintain their jobs, parental responsibilities, housing, financial health and hygiene. Alcohol use can even threaten someone’s freedom due to legal issues. Left untreated, alcoholism can destroy everything the person has worked hard to achieve.
Outlook for Alcoholism
With its ability to negatively impact nearly every facet of mental and physical health, alcoholism can leave lingering effects on the individual. Fortunately, if a person can end their substance abuse, their body and brain can begin the recovery process.
Before the recovery, a person physically dependent on alcohol must experience a period of alcohol withdrawal. During this time, a person can expect a series of uncomfortable symptoms, like:
Rapid heart rate
Shakiness or tremors
Anxiety or stress
Inability to sleep
Nausea and vomiting
Many of these symptoms begin within a few hours following last use and generally last 2–8 days. Some symptoms, like anxiety and poor sleep, can last for six months or more. Though this may be discouraging, people in recovery from alcohol use can establish a happy and fulfilling life with time and patience.
How Addictive Is Alcohol?
Alcohol can be a highly addictive substance, especially when consumed in large amounts within a short period of time. Alcohol addiction develops in several stages. The process of addiction may begin with the first drink, with physical and mental factors that can escalate quickly.
Brain Chemistry During Alcohol Use
Like any other addictive drug, alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry. When a person drinks alcohol, the drug causes their brain to release the neurotransmitters, which are chemicals responsible for signaling (among other things) pleasure and reward. In the brain, alcohol increases the effects of neurotransmitters that slow the body down while also decreasing the effects of neurotransmitters that speed the body up. The combined effect results in many of the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
Once the effects of alcohol wear off, so does the feeling of happiness, pleasure and satisfaction caused by the neurotransmitters. A person can experience these feelings again if they drink alcohol again. After a period of continued alcohol abuse, it takes more substantial quantities of alcohol to achieve the same effect. This process is called tolerance and causes people to use higher amounts of alcohol over time to achieve the same level of intoxication.
Alcohol Dependence, or Physical Dependence
As alcohol use continues, the body and brain begin to adjust to the neurochemistry changes caused by the alcohol. This adjustment, called dependence, makes it necessary to have alcohol so the brain and body can function normally.
If alcohol use is stopped, someone who has been misusing alcohol and is dependent on it will experience withdrawal symptoms. During withdrawal, the brain has become so accustomed to alcohol that it has a volatile reaction when the drug is removed, causing headaches, vomiting, sweating, anxiety and other symptoms.
Alcohol Addiction, or Physical and Psychological Dependence
Alcohol addiction is marked by the obsessive desire to consume alcohol, regardless of the negative consequences. Dependence is a physical process, while addiction is a form of psychological dependence. At this point, the person engaging in alcohol abuse will likely experience many negative side effects from drinking — such as financial trouble or legal trouble — but cannot stop themselves from continuing to drink.
The signs of alcohol abuse are numerous and will negatively impact many facets of a person’s well-being over time. Physical, psychological and social signs of alcohol abuse may include:
Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Many signs of alcohol abuse can appear in the short term, including:
Drinking larger amounts of alcohol than previously consumed
Spending more time, money and energy working on getting and using alcohol
Spending more time being hungover and recovering from alcohol’s effects
Frequently showing signs of intoxication, like slurred speech, poor coordination and walking problems
Increased injuries from falling or engaging in risky behaviors
Decreased self-care and poor hygiene
Smelling of alcohol or having many empty bottles around the house
Significant weight changes
Other physical signs of alcohol abuse require prolonged use and include:
Cardiac issues, like high blood pressure, stroke and irregular heartbeat
Liver problems, like fatty liver, hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis
Weakened immune system
Psychological Signs of Alcohol Abuse
The psychological signs of alcohol abuse emerge when the substance interferes with usual brain functioning. The most common emotional signs of alcoholism include:
Rapidly changing moods
Increased irritability, anger and aggression
Failing to follow throughout on responsibilities
Problems with memory, concentration and attention
New or worsening anxiety
Possible hallucinations or delusional thinking, especially during periods of withdrawal
Alcohol addiction’s psychological signs can either mask a mental health condition by covering up its symptoms or intensify symptoms of a co-occurring disorder. Accurately identifying all present psychological disorders is extremely challenging when alcohol abuse is still happening.
Social Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse’s effects extend beyond the physical and psychological to include social influences. The most common social signs of alcohol abuse include:
Spending less time around friends and isolating oneself
Spending more time in new and changing social groups
Increased lying and deceitfulness
Failing to follow through on plans
Increasing conflicts with friends, family and coworkers
Decreased performance in school, work or sports
Socially, a person with an addiction to alcohol will likely be very inconsistent. One day, they could be happy and outgoing. The next day, they could be feeling down, angry and hostile. Unpredictable social interactions are a strong indicator of substance use disorders.
Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, occurs when the individual has a drive to use alcohol, regardless of the unwanted consequences. Addiction is different from dependence: dependence is a physiological process while addiction is psychological. Though they can occur separately, they usually emerge at the same time.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is considered a mental health disorder in which the drug causes lasting changes in the brain’s functioning. These changes make continued use and relapse more likely in the future. Because symptoms can range from mild to severe in intensity, alcoholism can create numerous effects on someone’s mental, physical, social and spiritual health.
Many variables and individual differences increase the risk of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. Some of the most prevalent risk factors for alcohol addiction include:
Binge drinking and heavy drinking
Drinking before age 15
Genetics and a family history of alcohol problems
Co-occurring mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, personality disorders and schizophrenia
History of traumatic experiences
Not everyone who abuses alcohol will develop an addiction, but as use continues, the risk grows.
we can help fight the stigma that surrounds these disorders and encourage and empower more people to seek the life-changing treatment they need for themselves or a loved one. We want to help people understand the facts, risks and available treatment options so that they can make informed decisions about addiction treatment and long-term recovery planning.