Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Understanding Alcohol Abuse

Understanding alcohol abuse

Many people in this country drink alcohol socially or use it as a means of relaxing on a semi-regular basis. Most people can manage a few drinks now and again, and if they’re unable to have a drink, they still manage to go about their day. People who have a problem with alcohol however, panic when they are deprived of it, and engage in frantic efforts to obtain alcohol, fearing withdrawal symptoms. When a person believes it is impossible for them to function without alcohol or experiences withdrawal symptoms if they cut down or quit drinking, they have an alcohol use disorder.

An alcohol use disorder, sometimes referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, is a chronic, often progressive illness. It is diagnosed when someone’s use of alcohol leads to distress that prevents them from functioning normally. In the U.S. alone, over 20 million people struggle with alcohol use disorders. Those who abuse alcohol suffer from four primary symptoms:

  • Cravings for alcohol that result in alcohol-seeking behaviors
  • Loss of ability to control drinking
  • Physical dependence on alcohol, causing reduction of alcohol consumption to lead to withdrawal symptoms
  • Tolerance – the need to increase the amount consumed in order to achieve desired effects

If you feel like your life is out of control or that you are in the midst of uncontrollable chaos due to your alcohol problems, know that you are not alone. Alcohol abuse is a treatable problem and the trained staff at Cascade can help you start down the road to recovery.


Statistics of alcohol abuse

The 12 month prevalence rates for alcohol addiction for adults in the U.S. have been estimated at 8.5%. These rates differ by gender and surveys indicate that men suffer from alcohol related disorders at far higher rates (12.4%) than women (4.9%). The highest rate of the disorder is found in individuals between the ages of 18 to 29 (16.2%). From early adulthood through middle age, the rates of alcohol abuse decease consistently. Estimates suggest that as many as 10% of seniors in this country may suffer from alcohol-related problems.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring disorders

Almost every type of mental health or other substance abuse disorder can co-occur with alcohol use disorders. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Insomnia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder


Causes of alcohol abuse

Factors that contribute to the development of the disorder include:

Genetic: Alcohol abuse runs in families. Those with a first-degree relative who struggles with addiction are at greater risk for developing the disorder than those without family histories.

Brain Structures: Cravings for alcohol have been linked to specific brain structures. Imaging studies have shown that these structures are smaller in individuals with alcohol use disorders compared with those who don’t have these disorders. Low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, appears to be related to increased tolerance for alcohol.

Environmental: Some individuals exposed to chronic, unpredictable life stress may begin to feel desperate to numb their emotions. They may use alcohol in the absence of other more adaptive, coping mechanisms. Over time, the individual may start using alcohol when anticipating negative events.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse

  • Joy or depressed mood
  • Emotional numbing
  • Psychological cravings
  • Fear of being unable to function normally without alcohol
  • Continued use despite negative consequences
  • A greater amount of alcohol is used for longer periods than intended
  • Failed attempts to cut down or quit using alcohol
  • Physical cravings when alcohol consumption is decreased
  • Great deal of time is spent procuring, using, or recuperating from alcohol
  • Major obligations and responsibilities are neglected
  • Decreased participation in enjoyed activities related to alcohol use
  • Use in situations that could be dangerous
  • Larger amounts needed to achieve the desired sensations (tolerance)
  • Withdrawal symptoms when amount used is decreased
  • Drinking alcohol to stave off withdrawal symptoms

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Effects of alcohol abuse

The effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Memory difficulties
  • Blackouts
  • Impaired decision making and judgment
  • Divorce
  • Anger outbursts
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Decreased inhibition
  • Decreased concentration and attention
  • Social withdrawal and rejection
  • Lowered productivity at work or school
  • Irritability and low frustration tolerance
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Decreased inhibition, resulting in risk taking behaviors
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased motivation
  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Accidental injuries
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcohol poisoning leading to loss of consciousness, decreased respiration, and possibly death
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Sexual problems
  • Long term effects can include neurological impairment, cardiovascular events, and organ damage, especially to liver

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms of alcohol abuse

There can be a number of withdrawal symptoms related to the cessation of alcohol use which include:

  • Psychological and physical cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Delirium
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Chills
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