10 Physical & Psychological Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Physical & Psychological Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Are you wondering about your relationship with alcohol? Maybe you’ve had moments of concern, questioning whether your drinking habits are normal or leaning towards something more serious. 

It’s a valid concern, and let’s dive into it.

When it comes to drinking, there are generally three categories:

Light or Moderate Drinkers: These individuals typically have a drink at social events or with a meal. They can easily choose to drink or abstain without feeling compelled.

Heavy Drinkers: This group might occasionally binge drink, but they have control. They recognize when they’ve had enough and can dial it back.

Alcohol Addiction: This is where it gets tricky. People with alcohol addiction can’t stop, even when facing negative consequences. It’s like an unstoppable urge.

Statistics show that about 4.2% of Canadians (roughly 1.3 million people) struggle with alcohol addiction or face severe alcohol-related problems. (1)

So, if you’re worried about your drinking habits and wondering if they’re more than just normal social drinking, it’s crucial to pay attention to warning signs. 

Recognizing them and seeking the right treatment can make a world of difference on your path to recovery.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?

When you drink alcohol: (2)

  • It gets into your bloodstream through your stomach and intestines.
  • The liver breaks it down
  • Travels throughout your body, including your brain.
  • Slows down your brain and affects how you think, feel, and act.

If you drink alcohol regularly, your brain gets used to it. This is because alcohol affects the balance of chemicals in your brain, particularly neurotransmitters.

At first, alcohol might make you feel stimulated or more relaxed (sedated). These effects happen because alcohol changes how neurotransmitters work. For example, it can boost the release of certain neurotransmitters that make you feel good.

However, your brain tries to adapt to these changes. Over time, it adjusts its sensitivity to alcohol, so the same amount has less effect. This is what’s known as tolerance. So, you might need to drink more to achieve the same feelings you used to get with less alcohol.

When you suddenly stop drinking, your brain goes a bit haywire. The neurotransmitters that were previously suppressed by alcohol become more active. 

This can lead to withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, sweating, intense cravings, and, in severe cases, even seizures or hallucinations. (2)

This is why addiction can develop, as people may drink more to chase those initial pleasurable feelings and avoid withdrawal discomfort. 

If you’re wondering what quantity or frequency of alcohol can be troublesome, here’s a breakdown for you: (3)

  • For men: consuming more than 14 drinks a week or 4 drinks a day
  • For women: consuming more than 7 drinks a week or 3 drinks a day.

The Signs of Alcohol Addiction: Physical & Psychological 

Here are a few signs that you or someone you know is developing alcohol addiction:


Physical Signs

#1. Changes In Appearance 

Here are some changes in appearance that could suggest alcohol addiction: (4)

  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • A slow or unsteady walk
  • Trouble sleeping or staying awake
  • Mysterious bruises or marks
  • Glazed or red eyes
  • Cold, sweaty palms or shaky hands
  • A puffy face, blushing, or looking pale
  • Nausea, vomiting, or excessive sweating
  • Low energy levels
  • Neglecting personal appearance and hygiene


#2. Changes In Personality 

People dealing with an alcohol issue might experience personality changes when they’re under the influence. For example, reserved individuals might become loud and boisterous. Or usually closed-off people might become more open and talkative.

Some common indicators include: (5)

  • Low conscientiousness
  • Low agreeableness
  • Difficulty controlling urges or emotions in the moment
  • Low emotional stability

Personality shifts can be particularly concerning if someone with an alcohol dependence becomes aggressive or violent while drinking.

#3. Increase In Tolerance 

Individuals with alcohol addiction often develop a significant tolerance for alcohol. While others may start feeling the effects of alcohol after just one shot, someone with alcohol dependence may not. (6)

They can consume multiple drinks without feeling intoxicated. 

Over time, their tolerance continues to increase. This means they may require more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect as they continue drinking.

#4. Withdrawal Symptoms

When an individual with alcohol addiction abruptly halts their alcohol intake, they can encounter intense withdrawal symptoms, including: (2,4)

  • Racing heart
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Shaky hands
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever

#5. Physical Consequences

Short-term consequences of alcohol addiction include: (2,4)

  • Accidental injuries 
  • Involvement in road accidents
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviour
  • Deliberate harm 
  • Incidents of family, domestic, and sexual violence
  • Experiencing alcohol poisoning
  • Suffering from severe hangovers

Psychological Signs

#6. Social Consequences

For those with alcohol use disorder, social events revolve around drinking. They eagerly attend any gathering that involves alcohol, making it a centrepiece of their social life. Even family occasions lose significance if alcohol isn’t part of the equation.

Common social consequences of alcohol dependence include: (7)

  • Losing friends due to the behaviour when intoxicated
  • Decreased work performance
  • Neglecting work and relationships
  • Having a limited circle of friends because of frequent socializing with heavy drinkers

#7. Drinking as Stress Relief 

Someone with alcohol dependence often turns to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress. 

When faced with frustration or anxiety, their immediate response is to reach for a drink. 

While they may have once enjoyed healthy pastimes such as exercise, reading, or painting, alcohol has become their primary hobby and a means of escaping daily pressures. (8)

#8. Defensiveness About Drinking

When confronted about their drinking habits, individuals struggling with alcoholism frequently react defensively. (9)

  • Being hostile toward loved ones who express concerns about their drinking 
  • Become quite angry when their excessive consumption is raised in conversation.
  • Making excuses for their drinking or downplaying the severity of their problem

#9. Lack of Alcohol Limits

An unmistakable sign of alcoholism is an inability to control one’s drinking. They might attempt to impose limits on themselves, aiming to cap their alcohol intake at just two drinks for the evening. 

However, they often find themselves unable to stick to these boundaries. Two drinks quickly escalate into seven in a single night. Even when others are ready to call it a night and head home, they’re inclined to order another round. (10)

#10. Psychological Signs

Here are some mental and behavioural indicators of alcohol addiction: (2,4)

  • Depression
  • Neglecting work, relationships, or self-care
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Abandoning once-enjoyed activities in favour of drinking
  • Struggling to quit despite attempts

Often, these changes in behaviour and mental functioning are observed by those around you. Concerned friends and family members may pinpoint these emotional issues as reasons to encourage seeking help for alcohol use disorder.

Recognize any of the signs mentioned above, or are you uncertain if you’re facing a drinking problem? Congratulations on taking this crucial step. 

Acknowledging addiction and seeking professional assistance is the first stride toward a rewarding, healthy, and joyful life.

Whether you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or are concerned about a loved one, don’t hesitate to contact us for a discussion about the available treatment options.

At Centres for Health and Healing, we offer a strategic approach, a blend of therapeutic techniques, and a team of experienced professionals with decades of expertise. We provide the environment, resources, and tools necessary for profound, transformative healing and a complete recovery.

Our addiction therapy and rehabilitation programs boast a remarkable success rate, and we’re more than willing to furnish any additional information you might require.

Now is the perfect moment to embark on the path to addiction recovery and start living the life you’ve always envisioned. We are here, fully prepared and eager to assist you.

References:

  1. Family Outreach Ontario. Statistics About Alcohol Abuse. Available from: https://familyoutreachontario.com/statistics-about-alcohol-abuse/ Accessed on Sept 18, 2023.
  2. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Alcohol-Use Disorders: Diagnosis, Assessment and Management of Harmful Drinking and Alcohol Dependence. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society (UK); 2011. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 115.) 2, ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE AND HARMFUL ALCOHOL USE. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65500/
  3. Centres for Disease Control And Prevention. What Is Excessive Alcohol Use? Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/onlinemedia/infographics/excessive-alcohol-use.html Accessed on Sept 18, 2023.
  4. Nehring SM, Chen RJ, Freeman AM. Alcohol Use Disorder. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436003/
  5. Luchetti M, Terracciano A, Stephan Y, Sutin AR. Alcohol use and personality change in middle and older adulthood: Findings from the Health and Retirement Study. J Pers. 2018 Dec;86(6):1003-1016. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12371. Epub 2018 Feb 14. PMID: 29357105; PMCID: PMC6054906.
  6. Elvig SK, McGinn MA, Smith C, Arends MA, Koob GF, Vendruscolo LF. Tolerance to alcohol: A critical yet understudied factor in alcohol addiction. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2021 May;204:173155. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2021.173155. Epub 2021 Feb 23. PMID: 33631255; PMCID: PMC8917511.
  7. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Alcohol-Use Disorders: Diagnosis, Assessment and Management of Harmful Drinking and Alcohol Dependence. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society (UK); 2011. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 115.) 2, ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE AND HARMFUL ALCOHOL USE. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65500/ 
  8. Miller WR, Meyers RJ, Hiller-Sturmhöfel S. The community-reinforcement approach. Alcohol Res Health. 1999;23(2):116-21. PMID: 10890805; PMCID: PMC6760430.
  9. Bradford DE, Motschman CA, Starr MJ, Curtin JJ. Alcohol’s effects on emotionally motivated attention, defensive reactivity and subjective anxiety during uncertain threats. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Nov 1;12(11):1823-1832. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx095. PMID: 28985425; PMCID: PMC5714195. 
  10. Wackernah RC, Minnick MJ, Clapp P. Alcohol use disorder: pathophysiology, effects, and pharmacologic options for treatment. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2014 Jan 23;5:1-12. doi: 10.2147/SAR.S37907. PMID: 24648792; PMCID: PMC3931699.
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