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Signs, Symptoms, and Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people or one in every 12 adults are diagnosed with an alcohol abuse disorder and millions of more individuals engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking that can potentially lead to alcohol abuse disorder. Alcohol can affect every organ in the body including the brain, liver, heart, pancreas, and stomach resulting in severe medical complications that can lead to death. Alcoholism can also destroy lives by interfering with interpersonal relationships, occupations and home life resulting in hardships in every aspect of one’s life.

Consequences associated with alcohol addiction

Addiction is a psychological condition affecting the brain that is characterized by compulsive drug and alcohol-seeking behavior. Chronic drug and alcohol use changes the brain chemistry and communication systems by rewiring the reward and pleasure pathways in the brain creating more intense cravings for these illicit substances rather than natural rewards. Addiction results in compulsive and harmful behaviors that can affect every aspect of an individual’s life including their occupation, relationships, and home life. The following are known consequences of alcohol addiction:

  • School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual assault.
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
  • Memory problems.
  • Abuse of other drugs.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  • Death from alcohol poisoning.

Signs and symptoms associated with alcohol addiction

The following are common questions to ask yourself if you think you have an alcohol addiction:

  • Have you ever tried to stop drinking for a week or longer but only lasted a couple of days?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you trouble at home?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you trouble with your job?
  • Have you ever felt the need to have a drink in the morning to curb shakiness?
  • Do you have “blackouts”? A blackout occurs when you have been drinking for a period of time and you cannot recall any events.
  • Do you drink when you are stressed out, disappointed or are in a fight with someone?
  • Have you ever had withdrawal symptoms from alcohol? These can include a racing heart, nausea, vomiting, tremors, or seizures.
  • Have you ever operated a motor vehicle while under the influence?
  • Have you ever tried to hide your drinking habits from your friends or family?
  • Has anyone close to you expressed concern about your drinking?
  • Do you often find yourself in a hurry to have your first drink of the day?
  • Do you ever feel disappointed or uncomfortable if alcohol is not available in a social setting?

Signs and symptoms of acute alcohol intoxication

  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Flushed face
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation
  • Violent or aggressive outbursts
  • Swaying, staggering or stumbling
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Alcohol on breath
  • Blank or dazed look
  • Disorientated

Signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Like benzodiazepines withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal can be deadly and therefore individuals with chronic alcohol disease must be slowly weaned with a long taper of benzodiazepines to prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures. The following are signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diaphoresis (excessive sweating)
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Headache
  • Tremor
  • Seizures
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Alcohol delirium tremors (tachycardia, hypertension, temperature elevation, and delirium)
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