Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
During the pandemic lockdown, studies showed that Americans increased their alcohol consumption by 60%. Even before the pandemic, alcoholism was a serious issue in the country, with 95,000 people dying annually from the effects of alcohol use and about 7% of drinking adults dealing with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
The signs of alcoholism that people typically think of focus on behaviors, but there are also physical symptoms that can occur from alcohol abuse. Read on to learn about the short-term and long-term physical repercussions of excessive drinking on our health.
Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism
Physical symptoms of alcohol use disorder can vary depending on the individual, but in the early stages, AUD is most often characterized as frequent intoxication or a pattern of heavy drinking. A person may also experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop or decrease their consumption. These symptoms can include irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping, depression, nausea, sweating, and tremors. But there are additional physical signs of alcoholism that get less attention. These include:
- Broken capillaries on the face and nose
- Dehydration due to alcohol, which can cause brittle hair and nails and dry skin
- An increased appearance of aging and wrinkles
- Poor hygiene
- The regular smell of alcohol on the breath, even hours after a drink
- Weight loss from neglecting to eat
- Yellow eyes and skin due to liver damage
There are different levels of alcoholism — mild, moderate, and severe. A person dealing with AUD may not display all the signs listed, depending on their level of alcoholism.
Long-Term Health Consequences of Alcohol Abuse
Over time, alcohol use disorder can result in long-term health consequences. One of the most well-known effects of alcohol abuse is on the liver, including cirrhosis, or the irreversible scarring of liver tissue.
A person’s digestive system can be affected by heavy drinking in multiple ways. In the stomach, inflammation of the stomach lining can occur, as well as ulcers. Alcoholism may also cause inflammation in the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis. Finally, excessive alcohol consumption can hinder the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and nutrients.
There are numerous ramifications from heavy drinking on the heart. Alcoholism can cause high blood pressure, as well as an enlarged heart and atrial fibrillation. A person’s risk of heart failure or stroke increases due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Anyone with diabetes increases their odds of health complications when they drink too much. The risk of low blood sugar is higher due to heavy drinking because alcohol interferes with the body’s release of glucose.
Erectile dysfunction and menstruation may also be impacted by a person’s drinking. Alcoholism causes a range of bone problems, from thinning bones to an increased risk of breaks. People may even bruise more easily because drinking interferes with bone marrow and the body’s production of platelets in the blood.
Drinking can weaken the immune system and increase a person’s risk of developing various forms of cancer. Excessive drinking can also trigger neurological issues ranging from numbness and pain in the hands and feet to dementia and short-term memory loss.
Other Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
A diagnosis of AUD should always be left to a medical or addiction professional. However, family and friends can watch for warning signs in their loved ones. Additional signs that someone may have a drinking problem include:
- The inability to cut down or stop drinking
- Continuing to drink despite experiencing negative impacts at home, school, or work
- Alcohol cravings or strong, uncontrollable urges to drink
- The need to drink more to feel the same effects
- Spending time feeling sick or recovering from the effects of drinking alcohol
- Blackouts, or memory loss due to drinking
- Engaging in physically risky behavior like unsafe sex or drunk driving
Alcoholism is a chronic health concern just like heart disease or high blood pressure. It can be caused by multiple factors including genetic, social, psychological, and environmental risks. While it can’t be cured, AUD can be managed with proper treatment, including detox, counseling, medication, and support groups. Seeking treatment can help a person recover from the physical effects of heavy drinking and can even save their life.
Building on a belief that spiritual development and healthy recovery can bring inner peace to clients overcoming addiction and substance abuse, Into Action Recovery Centers takes a people-centered approach to addiction treatment. We’re conveniently located in Houston, Texas, and our treatment programs are led by experienced master’s level counselors and medical professionals who specialize in personalized treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.