Warning Signs, Symptoms and Side Effects of Alcoholism

Warning Signs, Symptoms and Side Effects of Alcoholism

Alcohol is a commonly consumed drug so it can be a little difficult to detect when a person has developed a drinking problem. Just like any other drug, its addiction is associated with severe physical, mental and social harm to the addict. Trying to hide an addiction is a common behavior among addicts. However, their family and friends should look for certain signs and symptoms to figure out when their loved one needs help.

Behavioral signs of alcoholism:

Alcohol is a mind altering drug that changes the structure of brain in such a way that the addict craves for alcohol all the time. These mental signs and symptoms can be a red flag for the detection of alcohol abuse problem long before physical signs become apparent. A number of noticeable signs can be seen an addict.

Some of the behavioral changes exhibited by an alcoholic may include:

  • Lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed by the addict
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Declined performance at school or office
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Carelessness towards hygiene and physical appearance
  • Legal troubles due to drunk driving or other reasons
  • Financial problems due to spending significant amount of money on alcohol
  • Difficulty to maintain good relationships with dear ones
  • Changes in weight

Usually, all of these signs start to appear at once. But if a loved one is showing even a few of these signs, make sure to get them the help they need.

Physical and social signs of alcohol abuse:

Apart from behavioral changes, a number of physical signs are also exhibited by alcoholics including:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation/inability to walk
  • Loud speech
  • Excessive aggressiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Memory problems

If alcohol abuse is continued, more serious signs become apparent such as:

  • Inability to cut off alcohol consumption even after trying
  • Development of tolerance – needing more alcohol to produce desired level of intoxication
  • Spending substantial amounts of money on alcohol
  • Drinking right after waking up in the morning
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Loss of memory
  • Drinking alcohol literally everywhere such as at working or while driving
  • Prioritizing alcohol over important things in life such as career and relationships
  • Giving up hobbies to spend time drinking
  • Serious legal and financial troubles
  • Getting into unsafe situations such as drunk driving or having unprotected sex
  • Frequent fights with loved ones

Exhibition of these signs and symptoms depends upon the blood concentrations of alcohol or level of intoxication. With a blood alcohol concentrations of 0.04 or lower, the user usually feels a buzz or light intoxication. When BAC is increased to 0.08, the signs of intoxication become apparent such as slurred speech and problem walking. This is when driving becomes illegal. When BAC is increased to 0.12, nausea and vomiting is experienced by the user. At BAC of 0.30-0.40, the user may even lose consciousness. A BAC of 0.45 and more can even prove to be deadly.

Long term health effects of alcohol use:

Excessive and long term use of alcohol is associated with permanent damage to physical and mental health. Liver is heavily affected by excessive alcohol consumption. The heart and brain are not spared either.

Liver damage caused by alcohol: As soon as the alcohol is consumed, liver starts working to break it down. Ethanol is first converted in acetaldehyde which is further broken down into water and carbon dioxide. The liver is only capable of processing certain amounts of alcohol at a given time. Usually 10g of alcohol is processed per hour with the remaining amount still existing in the blood. Measuring blood concentration of alcohol is a common way to determine intoxication levels of a person.

Long term heavy use of alcohol can cause permanent damage to the liver. As the liver has to process high amounts of alcohol, its cells becomes swollen with alcohol and the resulted condition is referred to as alcoholic hepatitis or alcoholic steatoheaptitis. The condition can further progress to liver fibrosis which is formation of scar tissues within liver. As the scar tissues take over the whole organ, the condition is termed as liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis may progress into liver cancer, liver failure and eventually death. Consuming more than 20 drinks per week is considered heavy drinking for men. While for women, 16 drinks per week is the limit.

A diseased liver produces its effects on the other parts of the body as well. A brain disorder, named hepatic encephalopathy is caused by liver dysfunction. It is associated with changes in basic brain function such as disturbed sleep patterns, mood swings and even anxiety and depression. In more serious cases, even death is resulted.

Brain damage caused by alcohol: Alcohol produces both long term and short term effects on brain. The short term effects of alcohol include cognitive impairment, loss of memory, loss of coordination etc. Long term effects of alcohol on brain are even more serious. Studies revealed that alcoholic men and women exhibit brain shrinkage that is a symptom of brain damage.

Alcohol consumption is associated with the development of deficiency of vitamin B1 or thiamine. Its deficiency can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome produces a number of symptoms such as mental confusion, inability to coordinate muscles to perform even simplest of tasks, problems learning and retaining information.

Heart damage due to alcohol: Excessive consumption of alcohol causes a number of cardiovascular problems such as development of hypertension, atrial fibrillation, hemorrhage and stroke.

Alcohol overdoes/alcohol poisoning:

Consuming high amounts of alcohol at once can lead to an overdose also known as alcohol poisoning. It usually occurs at a BAC of 0.45. If immediate care is not provided, even death is possible. Some of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Very slow heart rate
  • Hypothermia
  • Irresponsiveness
  • Confusion
  • Blueness of lips and face
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If a person is spotted with these symptoms, immediate medical care should be provided to avoid serious consequences.