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Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Signs of alcoholism manifest in many ways, both physically and behaviorally. In the early stages of alcohol abuse, a person may be able to hide problem drinking from loved ones, friends and coworkers. But the powerful pull of addiction eventually will lead to negative physical, behavioral and emotional manifestations. Just like with any chronic disease, alcoholism looks a little different in each person. However, there are problems associated with binge drinking and certain signs that may signal problem drinking or a full-blown alcohol use disorder. In addition, people who drink in excess can suffer from alcohol poisoning, even if they have not been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism

Some physical symptoms such as headache, anxiety, insomnia, nausea or vomiting may occur when a person who abuses alcohol stops drinking. If a person has developed a dependency on alcohol, they may experience additional withdrawal symptoms like  shakiness or trembling, sweating, depression, irritability, fatigue and loss of appetite.1,2

Other physical symptoms include:

  • Neurological: Temporary blackouts, memory loss, trembling hands or slurred speech
  • Digestive: Bloody or black/tarry stools, vomiting blood or chronic diarrhea
  • Flushed skin and broken facial capillaries
  • A hoarse or husky voice1,2

Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism

  • Argumentive, combative behavior that leads to fights with family members, friends or coworkers
  • Inability to control the amount or frequency of drinking
  • Loss of interest in work, school, extracurricular activities or social life
  • Impaired judgment and risky behaviors (e.g. drinking and driving, unprotected sex)
  • Unintentional injuries (e.g. vehicular accidents, falls, burns and drowning)
  • Intentional injuries (e.g. firearm injuries, sexual assault, suicide attempts and domestic violence)
  • Restlessness
  • Erratic behavior
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Using alcohol as a crutch to cope with life’s difficulties, relax, improve one’s mood or feel “normal”
  • Drinking by oneself – secretively or in the morning1,2

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion
  • Stupor
  • Coma
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses (e.g. no gag reflex)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Bluish skin color or paleness4
  1. Signs and Symptoms. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/signs-and-symptoms/signs-and-symptoms Updated July 25 2015. Accessed October 2, 2016.
  2. Alcohol Abuse. Drug Abuse website. http://drugabuse.com/library/alcohol-abuse/ Accessed October 2, 2016.
  3. Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm Updated October 16, 2015. Accessed October 2, 2016.
  4. Vallersnes OM, Jacobsen D, Ekeberg Ø, Brekke M. Outpatient treatment of acute poisoning by substances of abuse: a prospective observational cohort study. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2016;24:76. doi:10.1186/s13049-016-0268-6.
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