Addiction Recovery - Drug and Alcohol - Trends and Statistics

A Guide To Understanding The Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism

A Guide To Understanding The Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcoholism can be a shame-based disease + loved ones may not tell you they're struggling. Click for physical symptoms that indicate a serious disorder

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery

Drug and Alcohol

Trends and Statistics

August 18, 2021

In 2021, nearly 30 million Americans aged 12 and up (10.6% of the population) had Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcoholism is responsible for nearly 100,000 fatalities each year, and it’s currently the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

It can be challenging to distinguish the difference between recreational drinking and problematic drinking. Because alcoholism can be such a shame-based disease, you may not recognize if someone you know is struggling.

That said, the physical symptoms of alcoholism can be telling of a serious disorder. Let’s get into what you need to know.

Early Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Like most addictions, alcohol use is progressive. That means that it gets worse with time. Therefore, it’s common to overlook the initial warning signs associated with alcoholism.

The physical symptoms associated with early phases of alcohol abuse may include:

  • Chronic hangovers

  • Increased tolerance (needing to drink more to feel the desired physical effects)

  • Dramatic weight changes

  • Deficits in normal grooming or hygiene patterns

  • Dull skin or hair (due to malnutrition)

As the individual begins drinking more heavily and chronically, the physical symptoms may become more apparent. Alcohol use affects other areas of physical functioning (such as sleep and appetite), which may start looking more obvious as the individual continues to drink.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

When people become dependent on alcohol, they experience withdrawal symptoms once reducing or abstaining from drinking. These withdrawal symptoms vary in severity, but they can be severe and even fatal.

The physical symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Seizures (including Grand Mal seizures)

  • Heart palpitations

  • Tremors (often known as ‘the shakes’)

  • Vomiting

  • Sweating

  • Fever and fever-like symptoms

Symptoms may emerge within eight hours after the last drink. They typically peak between 1-3 days, but they taper within 5-7 days. That said, severe symptoms can last for several weeks.

The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on several variables including the typical amount of alcohol consumed, history of addiction and withdrawal, medical history, and length of time drinking.

Because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, it is essential for people to seek appropriate medical detox as part of their first step toward sobriety. Detox provides medical stabilization, evaluation, and support during this difficult withdrawal process. Professional staff will work with their clients to ensure comfort from the initial arrival until the completion of care.

Physical Symptoms of Severe, Long-Term Alcohol Abuse

Long-term alcohol addiction can wreak havoc on one’s emotional and physical health. From impairments in work performance to financial difficulties to strained relationships, alcohol addiction can be an insidious- but destructive- force in overall functioning.

The physical symptoms vary, but they can include severe health conditions like:

  • Cardiovascular disease and heart attack

  • Dementia

  • Cirrhosis

  • Cancer

  • Permanent nerve damage

  • Pancreatitis

  • Gout

  • Infectious diseases

  • Seizures

Alcohol addiction can also exacerbate existing conditions. For example, if an individual has diabetes, chronic drinking will make it challenging to manage insulin levels. Thus, he or she may be more susceptible to other medical concerns associated with both diabetes and alcoholism.

Seeking Treatment For Alcohol Addiction

The physical symptoms of alcoholism can be life-threatening. Even if you have not suffered from any severe medical conditions yet, the longer you drink, the more susceptible you are to serious problems emerging.

Fortunately, help and recovery are available. Many people struggling with alcoholism learn to rebuild fulfilling and satisfying lives once getting sober.

We’re here to help you on your journey. Contact us today to get started.

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