Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Someone “abuses” alcohol when they have a pattern of drinking alcohol in an amount – and at a frequency – that may be harmful to themselves or to the people around them. However, alcohol addiction is different.

Alcohol addiction is a chronic and often relapsing brain disease. It causes people to obsessively seek and consume alcohol, regardless of the consequences. Alcohol addiction usually gets worse over time, not better.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction?

Alcohol addiction and abuse involve some of the same signs and symptoms. Addiction is a much more extreme problem, the symptoms are more severe, and physical dependence develops.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

A person who abuses alcohol may display any of several common signs and symptoms, including:

  • Neglecting Responsibilities: school, work, family become less important than drinking
  • Excessive Risk Taking: driving under the influence, engaging in unprotected sex, associating with people and situations that place the person at risk for physical or emotional harm
  • Legal Problems: arrests for driving under influence, domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and theft
  • Relationship Problems: fights with friends, family and loved ones are common; the likelihood of divorce goes up

Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction (alcoholism) involves some of the same symptoms of alcohol abuse, but the symptoms are more severe and physical dependence develops.

A person who has, or is developing, alcohol addiction may display any of several common signs and symptoms, including:

  • Tolerance: larger amounts of alcohol are needed to reach the desired level of intoxication
  • Loss of Control: people struggling with alcoholism may often find themselves drinking more than they planned (or promised)
  • Craving: alcoholics will find themselves obsessively thinking about alcohol, or feeling a strong sense of urgency or “need” to drink
  • Dangerous/Harmful Behavior: continued drinking creates mental and physical health problems (like blackouts, mood swings, and paranoia), but people with alcohol addiction continue to drink regardless of the consequences
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawal symptoms occur if alcohol is denied or unavailable. Signs of withdrawal syndrome can include anxiety, jumpiness, shaking, trembling, sweating, nausea, insomnia, depression, fatigue, loss of appetite, and even seizures. Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly.  If you or someone you love is showing signs of alcohol withdrawal, you should consider seeking medical assistance immediately.

How Does Alcohol Abuse & Addiction Affect The Brain?

There are many factors that influence how alcohol abuse and addiction will impact the brain, including:

  • How much and how often a person drinks
  • The age drinking began
  • The length of time the person has been drinking
  • Family history of alcohol addiction
  • Pre-natal alcohol exposure

Alcohol abuse and addiction can impact the brain of the drinker and result in:

  • Temporary memory impairment (even after only a few drinks)
  • Blackouts
  • Nerve pain
  • Depression
  • Mania
  • Panic disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Emotional impairment
  • Problems with gait and balance
  • Brain damage

As the drinker continues to abuse alcohol (or to sink further into alcohol addiction) the degree of impairment may become more severe, and may become permanent.

How Does Alcohol Abuse & Addiction Affect The Health of the Body?

Separate and apart from the impact on the mind, alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction can increase a person’s risk of:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease (like cirrhosis)