Alcoholism: Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Alcoholism: Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol resulting in harmful effects on the individual’s body, strained relationships, professional and financial burdens and family discordances. Overtime, alcohol rewires the brain requiring the individual to drink more in order to experience the same intoxicating effects. Brain damage can occur from chronic alcoholism overtime but other organs such as the heart, liver and gastrointestinal tract can be affected immediately in heavy drinkers.

Stages of alcohol abuse

Early alcohol abuse: Characterized by occasional binge drinking with women’s daily intake of 3 drinks or 7 drinks per week and men’s daily intake of 4 or 14 drinks per week. These individuals usually display two to three symptoms of alcohol abuse and this stage can easily be reversible without professional alcohol treatment.

Problematic alcohol abuse: Years of daily drinking resulting in alcohol withdrawal effects in the absence of alcohol. These individuals will have four to five symptoms of alcohol abuse and should undergo a supervised detoxification program.

End stage alcohol abuse: Years of heavy drinking resulting in chronic severe health effects. Individuals have undergone withdrawal symptoms in the past and require an intensive level of care professional alcohol treatment center.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication

  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Flushed face
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation

  • Violent or aggressive outbursts
  • Swaying, staggering or stumbling
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Alcohol on breath
  • Blank or dazed look
  • Disorientated

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Behavioral complications associated with alcohol abuse

Addiction results in compulsive and harmful behaviors that can affect every aspect of an individual’s life including their occupation, relationships and home life. The following are known consequences from alcohol addiction:

  • School/work problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades/work performance.
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Financial problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lying, cheating and stealing
  • Relations turmoil
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual assault.
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
  • Abuse of other drugs.
  • Death from alcohol poisoning.

Medical complications associated with alcohol abuse

Alcohol can affect every organ system in the body including the brain, heart, gastrointestinal system, liver, bones and kidneys and many people die from medical conditions associated with chronic alcohol abuse. Alcohol is also associated with many cancers including liver, breast, esophageal, oral, and pancreatic cancers and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in mothers who consume alcohol while pregnant. The following are known medical complications directly related to chronic alcohol consumption:

  • Acute and chronic pancreatitis: Large inflamed pancreas resulting in severe abdominal pain, back pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
  • Esophageal tears (Boerhavve’s syndrome): A tear in the esophagus resulting in coughing and vomiting up blood, a drop in blood pressure and potential death if resuscitation is prolonged.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver: Shrinkage of the liver due to long-term fibrosis and scar tissue resulting in liver failure which can present as abdominal and leg swelling, dilated veins, jaundice, and unintentional bruising and bleeding.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: A large floppy heart with a weakened muscle resulting heart failure.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: A reversible change to the liver but can progress to fibrosis overtime.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Lack of feeling, numbness and tingling or zingers in feet and hands.
  • Gastritis: Inflamed stomach lining resulting in ulcers that can cause stomach pain, bleeding, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting.
  • Osteoporosis: Low bone density which can cause wrist, femoral, hip and vertebral fractures.
  • Wernicke encephalopathy: Loss of coordination and repetitive uncontrolled eye movements.
  • Korsakoff psychosis: Loss of memory, hallucinations and delusions.
  • Dementia: Long-term memory loss
  • Gout: A large painful inflamed joint, most commonly the big toe.
  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia

Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a serious, and sometimes deadly, consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Alcohol poisoning can affect anyone regardless of his or her age, gender, weight, or alcohol tolerance. When alcohol is consumed, it has a very quick and aggressive effect on the body. In fact, it takes roughly one hour for the body to metabolize 0.25 ounces of alcohol. Because of this, alcohol can be absorbed into the bloodstream in as little as 30 minutes after drinking and multiple drinks can build up creating an overwhelming blood alcohol content (BAC). Since each individual is different, there is no way to determine how much an individual can drink before they are at risk of alcohol poisoning. When you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, your body is unable to process the alcohol contents fast enough. The following are signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Profound mental confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed, shallow breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Pale or bluish skin color
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Seizures

Alcohol poisoning requires immediate emergency medicine intervention and therefore if any individual is exhibiting the above signs and symptoms after ingesting alcohol, they should immediately be rushed to the hospital by ambulance to undergo medical care.

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