Causes & Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn About Alcohol Addiction & Abuse

Consuming wine, beer, and liquor is a common practice for individuals over the age of 21 throughout the United States. In fact, it is an almost expected behavior in many settings, like at social gatherings, sporting events, and weddings. While many people can consume alcohol occasionally without experiencing any significant detriments, there are others who become trapped in a cycle of alcohol abuse that they feel powerless to stop. When this is the case, these individuals may be suffering from an addiction to alcohol, or alcohol use disorder.

The presence of alcohol use disorder can cause monumental devastation in the lives of those battling this condition. When an individual is battling an addiction to alcohol, the use of the substance quickly becomes his or her top priority, leaving other obligations and responsibilities to fall to the wayside. Any number of negative consequences can result, including the demise of relationships, career or academic failure, and the deterioration of one’s physical and mental health. Putting an end to this alcohol dependency can be extremely difficult to do on one’s own, but, fortunately, there are treatment options for help.


Alcohol Abuse Statistics

As one of the most popular substances of abuse available today, alcohol addiction affects many individuals. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) reports that an estimated 17.6 million American adults struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. This equates to approximately one of every 12 adults in the United States. Among that number, the NCADD notes that more than half of these individuals come from homes where problematic drinking was prevalent. Additionally, estimates have shown that, at any given time, approximately seven million children and adolescents live in homes where at least one parent is either abusing alcohol or has become addicted to alcohol.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse

The causes and risk factors that can contribute to the onset of alcohol abuse and addiction are discussed briefly in the following:

Genetic: Decades of research have shown that there is a strong genetic link to the onset of alcohol use disorder. When an individual has a family history of alcoholism, he or she is more susceptible to abusing the substance than are other individuals who do not share the same type of familial background. In more specific terms, the American Psychiatric Association reports that 40% to 60% of a person’s vulnerability to developing alcohol use disorder comes from his or her genetic makeup.

Environmental: The presence of a number of environmental factors can impact an individual’s likelihood of suffering from an addiction to alcohol. For example, those who grow up in an environment where alcohol use is prevalent are more likely to abuse the substance themselves. Additionally, the level of availability that one has in regards to acquiring alcohol can impact how frequently he or she consumes it. Furthermore, when individuals are exposed to highly stressful or chaotic environments, they are also more vulnerable to abusing substances like alcohol.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse and addiction
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of abusing other types of substances
  • Suffering a trauma
  • Suffering from abuse and/or neglect
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Lacking appropriate, healthy coping skills

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

The signs and symptoms that may be displayed by an individual who is suffering from an addiction to alcohol will vary from person to person, but may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using alcohol in situations where it is physically hazardous to do so, such as driving while intoxicated
  • Continuing to consume alcohol despite suffering from persistent problems that arise as a direct result of that alcohol use
  • Failing to adhere to major obligations at work, home, school, or in social settings
  • Spending a significant amount of time engaging in activities that are related to acquiring, consuming, or recovering from the use of alcohol
  • No longer participating in occupational, recreational, or social activities that one once enjoyed
  • Slurred speech
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol alone

Physical symptoms:

  • Development of tolerance (the need to consume increasing amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the desired effects)
  • Development of physical dependence (the body’s need to have alcohol in its system in order to function)
  • Flushed skin
  • Lack of coordination
  • Involuntary rapid eye movement

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Experiencing strong, overpowering cravings for alcohol
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to sustain attention
  • Decreased ability to reason, use sound judgment, and/or use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Frequent changes in temperament and mood

Lasting Effects

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

When an individual continues in a problematic pattern of abusing alcohol, he or she is at risk for experiencing a number of negative effects. Examples of such effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Failure to perform occupationally, potentially resulting in job loss or demotion
  • Failure to perform academically, leading to academic failure, suspension, or expulsion
  • Disturbances within important relationships, including lost friendships, familial strife, and divorce
  • Loss of child custody
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Financial struggles

Additionally, the abuse of alcohol leaves individuals susceptible to suffering from a constantly deteriorating state of physical wellbeing. Examples of possible physical detriments that can arise from the chronic use of alcohol can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Brain damage
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Weakened immune system

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

As is true for an addiction to any substance, an addiction to alcohol has the potential to present alongside symptoms of other mental health conditions. Disorders that have been noted as commonly co-occurring with alcohol use disorder include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Consuming alcohol in excessive amounts and then suddenly ceasing that consumption can result in the onset of symptoms of withdrawal. While the type and severity of withdrawal symptoms will inevitably vary from one individual to the next, all will likely cause significant disruption in the person’s ability to function. Examples of possible symptoms of withdrawal may include the following:

  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Increased levels of anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pulse rate exceeding 100 beats per minute
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Intense cravings
  • Seizures

Effects of alcohol overdose: When an individual ingests more alcohol than his or her body is capable of safely metabolizing, he or she will likely suffer an overdose. Also known as alcohol poisoning, overdosing on alcohol can be a life-threatening experience for which medical attention should be sought immediately. Potential signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone has overdosed on alcohol can include the following:

  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Dulled response to stimuli
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Violent vomiting
  • Clammy skin
  • Skin developing a bluish tint
  • Labored breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Addiction

What are the causes of alcohol addiction?

An addiction to alcohol can develop as a person begins to consume more of the substance on a more frequent basis, disrupting the normal functioning of the body and leading to physical dependence. There is not anyone cause that can lead to this type of addiction, but research has shown that factors such as having a family history of substance abuse, suffering from a trauma or mental illness, and being the victim of abuse or neglect, among others, can place a person at heightened risk for abusing and becoming addicted to alcohol.

What are the symptoms of alcohol addiction?

The symptoms that could indicate that someone is addicted to alcohol can vary, but may include the following:

  • Continuing to use alcohol despite having a desire to quit
  • Hiding alcohol and/or drinking alone
  • Needing alcohol to get through the day
  • Memory impairment
  • Lacking the ability to use sound judgment or appropriate decision-making skills
  • Frequent changes in mood or temperament

What are the physical symptoms of alcohol addiction?

When the symptoms of alcohol abuse are consistently displayed, it could indicate that someone is suffering from an addiction. Examples of the physical symptoms of alcohol abuse include the following:

  • Flushed skin
  • Involuntary rapid eye movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling sensation in fingers or toes

Are there alcohol anxiety disorders?

There are not specific alcohol anxiety disorders. However, it is possible for someone to suffer from both an addiction to alcohol and an anxiety disorder at the same time.

What are some of the long-term effects of alcohol abuse?

There are any number of negative effects that can occur as the result of alcohol abuse, including the following:

  • Health complications, such as ulcers, pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, heart problems, etc.
  • Loss of employment or academic failure
  • Depression
  • Social isolation
  • Damaged relationships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Legal problems and financial setbacks

What are the indicators of alcoholism?

There are many things that can indicate that a person might be an alcoholic, and examples of these symptoms, if persistent, can include the following:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Belligerence
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Frequent illness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Tics/tremors

What determines if you are an alcoholic?

If you find yourself needing to consume alcohol in increasing quantities in order to get the desired effects, or if you feel as though you cannot get through the day without drinking alcohol, it is possible that you have become an alcoholic. Additionally, if you stop drinking and experience uncomfortable or painful symptoms of withdrawal that can only be alleviated by drinking again, you are probably suffering from an addiction to alcohol. However, only a qualified professional can make a true diagnosis.

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My stay at Serenity Knolls gave me the beginning of a strong foundation for a solid recovery. Learning about how completely devastating alcoholism can be, not only for myself but for my family too was eye opening.

– Tiffany B.