Substance Use

Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

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Recognizing alcohol addiction starts by observing a few key signs that show someone’s relationship with drinking might be harmful. One major red flag is if they need to drink more over time just to feel the same effects; this means their body is getting used to having alcohol around, which isn’t good. (1)

Another sign is if they try to stop or cut back on drinking but can’t seem to do it, even when they really want to. This struggle often comes with physical discomfort like shaking or feeling sick, making it harder for them not to reach for a drink.

Sometimes, despite knowing that continuing to drink causes problems (with friends, at home, or even legally), some still can’t resist the urge and stop drinking. These behaviors signal that alcohol isn’t just a casual part of life anymore; it has become something much more serious that needs interventions or attention from healthcare professionals or support groups who can help navigate toward recovery and alcohol treatment for addiction.

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The Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

One in 10 American children lives in a home with at least one alcoholic parent and more than 17 million people over 18 struggle with an alcohol use disorder or drug abuse. In small quantities, alcohol causes no adverse effects. However, if consumed in excess over an extended period, it is considered a poison and can cause alcohol dependence or AUD. (2) (3)

At this quantity, alcohol will cause severe and fatal health consequences. This article will explore the early signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction and its adverse effects on the liver, esophagus, and spleen.

Symptoms of alcohol addiction: (4)

  • Engaging in risky behavior after drinking—e.g., drunk driving, getting into fights or trouble with law enforcement
  • Instability with work and school performance
  • Missing important events
  • Experiencing financial difficulties
  • Strain on relationships
  • Cravings for alcohol and building up a tolerance
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite any negative consequences

Why Is Alcohol Likely To Be Abused?

Alcohol is present everywhere throughout the country, making it extremely easy to obtain for adults and adolescents. It is harder for someone to quit because it is so widely available.

Additionally, it is also cheaper than addictive drugs like cocaine, which leads to alcohol misuse.

Compared to other drugs, alcohol is incredibly addictive, and the chances of relapse are high. Worse yet, the alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more severe than those of other addictive drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and nicotine. (5

To reduce the severity of withdrawal, you should seek help the moment symptoms of alcohol addiction are apparent and see addiction treatment.

What Are the Complications of Alcohol Addiction?

The abuse of alcoholic beverages can be incredibly insidious. Often, people don’t want to admit they have a problem, even though it seems clear to everyone around them.

Because alcohol is legal, the complication of availability presents itself at every party, club, or social gathering.

Complications and symptoms of alcohol addiction abound. Alcohol taken in excess is highly toxic to the human body, affecting nearly every primary system and organ.

Withdrawal from alcohol can also be painful and deadly. Significant complications like acute pancreatitis, esophageal cancer, or stomach cancer sometimes develop more quickly than a person realizes. (6)

That’s not even considering all the trouble a person experiences when trying to drive or complete another task requiring concentration. The latter two can cause serious harm.

If it doesn’t kill you, withdrawal has other evidence-based side effects, such as: (7)

  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Difficulty sleeping (lasting several weeks or even months)

Treating Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction with Alcohol Detox

Many people don’t realize it, but alcohol abuse still reigns as the number one addiction in the United States. Another little-known fact is that alcohol abuse is most common in males between 15 and 25. Given the number of serious consequences of its misuse, this substance can and does ruin lives daily, even in your community. (8

Symptoms of alcohol addiction are often present in people who misuse alcohol, but outward signs are more noticeable.

Some early signs of alcohol addiction may include: (7)

  • Lying about or hiding the drinking
  • Drinking to relax or feel better due to mental health issues
  • Being unable to stop
  • Drinking in risky situations
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • A constant need to use antacids or acid reducers
  • Trouble in relationships
  • Being able to drink more than previously (tolerance)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Going through withdrawals
  • Trying to quit or cut down but not succeeding
  • Drinking to “blackout”
  • Legal issues like DUIs 

Have you noticed any of the above signs or symptoms of alcohol addiction in your drinking or someone you love? It might be a helpful indication that there is a problem at hand and inpatient or outpatient treatment care is needed.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal, and Is It Dangerous?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person with a history of alcohol abuse suddenly stops drinking. This person will experience uncomfortable symptoms like trembling, anxiety, and rapid heart rate. (7) (9)

Alcohol induces a sedation-like relaxation. People who continuously drink are constantly exposed to this effect. When a person withdraws from alcohol, the brain compensates by releasing chemicals like serotonin to provide this effect. (9) However, when a person withdraws from alcohol suddenly, the brain overcompensates, causing delirium tremens, known as DTs.

These warning signs cause the brain to enter a state of confusion. During this confusion, the brain cannot readjust its chemistry. This leads to problems with circulation and breathing. Left unattended, it could lead to unpredictable complications, resulting in a heart attack or stroke and more serious health problems.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawals can start as early as a few hours after the last drink. Usually, withdrawal symptoms will peak between 24 and 48 hours after cessation. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may overlap with symptoms of alcohol addiction or substance use. (10)

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Shaking and trembling
  • High blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Delirium tremens (11)

In excess, alcohol may cause severe side effects called alcohol poisoning and can cause issues with brain function.

Signs may include: (10)

  • Confusion, stupor, or coma
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature, bluish skin tone, or paleness

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning begins with symptoms of alcohol addiction before progressing to serious complications. Alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, is a deadly complication of drinking large amounts of alcohol. (12)

When you are drinking alcohol too much, too fast, and in too short a period, your body cannot remove the excess alcohol from your bloodstream.

People who abuse alcohol and cannot obtain it often substitute by drinking household products containing alcohol. These products can also induce alcohol poisoning. (12)

Effects of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion
  • Seizure
  • Slow breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blue-tinged skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Fainting or losing consciousness

Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. If you suspect someone of having alcohol poisoning, call 911 and provide as much information as possible.

If the person is vomiting, sit them up straight to prevent them from choking on their vomit. This could cause asphyxiation, leading to hypoxia or low blood oxygen.

Speaking to a health professional right away could save a lot of time down the road when a medical condition from drinking is caused.

Causes of Blood Alcohol Poisoning

There are many types of alcohol. The one most associated with blood poisoning is ethyl. Ethyl alcohol is in alcoholic drinks and certain household products such as mouthwash and cooking extracts.

Isopropyl alcohol, which is contained in beauty products and rubbing alcohol, as well as methanol, can cause other forms of toxic poisoning and alcohol poisoning.

You are more likely to develop alcohol poisoning if you binge drink. This is because binge drinking follows a pattern of drinking heavily in a short amount of time.

For women, this means consuming at least four drinks within two hours, and for men, it is five drinks within two hours. (13)

What makes alcohol poisoning so dangerous is that it continues to be released into your bloodstream over a period of time. Even after a person has passed out from alcohol poisoning, blood alcohol levels continue to rise. Your size and weight, family history, health, and tolerance levels are just a few considerations when calculating your risk of alcohol poisoning. (13)

Complications of Alcohol Poisoning

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning can quickly lead to severe complications.

It first begins with symptoms of alcohol addiction, then escalates to complications, such as:

  • Choking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Severe dehydration
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Hypothermia
  • Brain damage
  • Death

Alcohol poisoning can cause asphyxiation and death if left untreated. A person may choke on their vomit or become so dehydrated they may experience a seizure.

Acute alcohol poisoning can also cause permanent brain damage. According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol abuse is the first leading preventable cause of death in the United States. (14

What Are the Risks of Liver Disease When Heavy Drinking?

Chronic alcohol abuse and problem drinking puts undue stress on the liver. The liver acts as a filter, cleaning the blood of toxins or waste, and alcohol is a blood toxin.

Alcoholism can cause three types of liver disease:

Fatty Liver

Chronic alcoholism can lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD). This is a severe form of liver disease that typically happens in people who drink excessively and over a long period. (15) The risk factors for developing fatty liver disease increase in those who are obese, are heavy drinkers and have specific genetic mutations.

Women are more likely to develop alcoholic fatty liver disease than men for reasons unknown. However, both men and women share the same symptoms and complications. (15)

Most people who have alcoholic fatty liver disease are not aware that they have the condition. They will go years with no symptoms but soon develop unexplained fatigue and pain in their abdomen.

If treated in a reasonable amount of time, alcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible. Progressive forms of alcoholic fatty liver disease are alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. (15)

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 61% of cases of end-stage liver disease in Western countries are associated with alcoholism. (15

Medical professionals agree that the liver can heal itself from this condition if the person quits drinking.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is the progression of untreated alcoholic fatty liver disease. This condition occurs when the liver is chronically inflamed, leading to liver cell death.

In addition to symptoms of alcohol addiction, alcoholic hepatitis symptoms include: (16) (17)

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to eat
  • General malaise
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Signs of jaundice, such as yellowing of the eyes
  • Unexplained fatigue and weakness
  • Fever

Alcoholic hepatitis isn’t an overnight process. It takes many years of continuous drinking to develop this condition. Alcoholic hepatitis can develop immediately in severe cases, causing liver failure and death.

However, with chronic alcoholic hepatitis, the damage can be reversed if the person quits drinking.


By this stage, a person will have experienced life-altering complications and chronic symptoms of alcohol addiction. The progression of alcoholic hepatitis is cirrhosis of the liver. This condition is marked by advanced scarring and fibrosis of the liver. 

Any time your liver is injured, it develops scar tissue. Excessive alcohol use damages the liver, constantly creating more scar tissue. (18

Excessive scar tissue makes the liver work harder, though it cannot function properly. This stage is called decomposed cirrhosis, and it is life-threatening.

Unfortunately, cirrhosis damage cannot be reversed in most cases. But if a person stops drinking early enough, they can prevent further organ damage.

Symptoms of cirrhosis include: (19)

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea
  • Water retention or swelling in your legs or feet
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchy rashes or itchy skin
  • Symptoms of jaundice
  • Red palms
  • Distended abdomen

Complications of cirrhosis include: (19)

  • Increased pressure in the vein supplying blood to your liver
  • An enlarged spleen
  • Increased infections that are difficult to fight
  • Malnutrition
  • Bone disease
  • Liver cancer

Liver cirrhosis is a potentially fatal disease, but sometimes, the damage can be reversed with treatment and cessation of alcohol use. (20)

A person suspected of having liver cirrhosis will undergo several inpatient laboratory and imaging tests for confirmation. In some cases, a doctor will need a biopsy to determine the extent of alcohol consumption damage and rule out liver cancer complications.

Getting Treatment for Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Although alcohol is a highly addictive and deadly substance, with treatment and support, many users can go on to make a full recovery. Since liver damage can be severe and irreversible in some tragic cases, people experiencing symptoms of alcohol addiction must get the help they need.

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of alcohol addiction, alcohol problems, or a substance use disorder, you are not alone. Unfortunately, you might find it hard to stop or become ill when going through unsupervised withdrawal.

Zinnia Health can help. We offer multiple treatment programs for alcoholism and alcohol abuse for you or your loved one. Call (855) 430-9439 to discuss your concerns with a healthcare provider.


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Ready to get help?
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