Alcohol Addiction Symptoms & Warning Signs

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol addiction & abuse

Alcohol, the intoxicating ingredient found in liquor, beer, and wine, is abused frequently throughout the United States. While often referred to as alcohol, the substance found in these liquids is actually ethyl alcohol or ethanol. It results from the fermentation of starches, sugars, and yeast.

The use of alcohol is widely accepted throughout the country and is a part of many customs and practices, including celebrations, social gatherings, and religious services. Many individuals are able to responsibly consume alcohol without suffering damaging effects; however millions of others are unable to do the same. When these individuals use alcohol, this use leads to serious damage and potentially the development of alcohol use disorder, or AUD.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder is based upon the following criteria. If a person has serious impairment or distress as a result of his or her abuse of alcohol, including two or more of these symptoms within a 12-month period, he or she might have AUD:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when one is unable to consume alcohol
  • Consuming larger amounts of alcohol, or drinking for a longer period of time than planned
  • Needing to consume more alcohol to achieve the same effect
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol even though the individual knows that his or her abuse has led to or exacerbated physical or psychological issues
  • Using alcohol in situations where the individual knows that doing so is physically dangerous
  • Limiting or ceasing one’s participation in activities because of alcohol use
  • Persistently desiring and unsuccessfully attempting to limit or control alcohol use
  • Spending great amounts of time to obtain, use, and recover from alcohol
  • Experiencing alcohol cravings
  • Continuing to drink despite having social or interpersonal issues as a result
  • Being unable to meet obligations at work, school, or home because of alcohol abuse

The use of alcohol can lead to a number of issues in all areas of an individual’s life, and defeating AUD can be exceptionally challenging. With the proper treatment, however, people with alcohol use disorder can end their use of alcohol, reclaim control within their lives, and make the changes needed to establish long-term recovery.


Statistics about alcohol addiction

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) states that more than eight out of 10 adults within the United States have drank alcohol at least one time in his or her life, and that more than 50% of all adults within the country have drunk at least one alcoholic beverage within the past 30 days. The American Psychological Association (APA) also states that roughly 12% of adult men and 5% of adult women will show symptoms in line with a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder each year. Serving as the third most common cause of preventable death in the United States, alcohol abuse contributes 90,000 deaths each year.

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for alcohol abuse

There are a number of factors that can impact an individual’s vulnerability to abuse alcohol and develop AUD, including:

Genetic: Those with a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or a parent, with AUD have a much higher risk of developing the very same disorder themselves. Experts approximate that genetics impact 40-60% of the risk associated with alcohol use disorder. Studies with adopted individuals show that an individual whose birth parents struggle with AUD is 400% more likely to develop this same disorder than someone within the general population, even if that individual’s adoptive parents did not have AUD. Experts have also stated that certain genes can all to an individual’s likelihood of developing this disorder.

Environmental: Alcohol is often accepted and prevalent within an individual’s culture, which is often a common environmental cause of alcohol use disorder development. Other environmental influences can include hanging out with individuals who abuse alcohol and having an inability to cope with stress.

Risk Factors:

  • High levels of impulsivity
  • Poor coping skills
  • Peer abuse of alcohol
  • Cultural acceptability of alcohol abuse
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse disorder

Below are some of the most common symptoms that an individual will exhibit if he or she is struggling with alcohol use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Secretiveness regarding one’s whereabouts and/or activities
  • Reckless, risky, and otherwise dangerous behaviors
  • Declining performance in school or work
  • Unexplained absences from work or school
  • Needing alcohol to celebrate successes or cope with setbacks
  • Neglecting personal or household responsibilities
  • Abandoning or reducing participation in significant activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Tingling or “pins and needles” feeling in toes and fingers
  • Slurring speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor coordination
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Strong cravings for alcohol
  • Impaired cognition
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Alcohol-related amnesia (also known as blackouts)

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anger and aggressiveness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Drastic mood swings


Effects of alcohol abuse

Continuing to abuse alcohol can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including:

  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Family discord
  • Physical injury due to impaired coordination and/or recklessness
  • Heightened risk for certain cancers
  • Damage to the liver, pancreas, and heart
  • Gastritis
  • Ulcers
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Depression
  • Homelessness
  • Financial problems
  • Lowered performance in school or at work
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Social isolation or ostracization
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When an individual has grown dependent on heroin and attempts to stop or curb his or her use, withdrawal and its unpleasant symptoms can develop. These symptoms can make it challenging for individuals to overcome heroin use disorder without the help of professional support, and symptoms can kick in within a few short hours after one’s last use. Below are some of the most common symptoms of heroin withdrawal:

  • Anhedonia
  • Dysphoria
  • Strong cravings for heroin disrupted sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Other flu-like symptoms

Effects of heroin overdose: When an individual abuses heroin, he or she puts himself or herself at risk for overdosing, which can be fatal. An individual who displays the following symptoms after abusing heroin likely requires immediate medical attention:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Blue tinge around mouth or fingertips
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Irregular breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Significant drop in blood pressure