Alcohol Addiction Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Effects

Alcohol addiction can rob you of your health, your dignity, and your hope for a better tomorrow. At Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center, you will reconnect with your best self, and begin to build the foundation for a more promising future.

What is Alcohol Abuse

Learn More About Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse refers to problematic consumption of alcohol that leads to significant personal distress, the inability to function normally in day-to-day activities, or meet personal responsibilities. The disorder is often classified by a certain criteria which can include tolerance, withdrawal and craving alcohol when the individual does not have access to it. Alcohol is often used to alleviate the effects of other substances such as cocaine and amphetamines, or to substitute for substances such as hypnotics, anti-anxiety agents, and sedatives when they aren’t available.


Statistics on Alcohol Addiction

Incidence rates of alcoholism in the U.S. have been estimated at 8.5% for those 18 years old and older. The rates differ by gender and are significantly higher in men 12.4% than in women 4.9%. The highest rates of alcohol use disorder are found in individuals ages 18-29 at 16.2% while the rates decrease during middle age and are lowest for individuals age 65 and older to 1.5%.


Causes of Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are numerous theories about what causes alcohol use disorder yet none have been definitively proven. Potential causes include:

Genetic: It has long been observed that alcohol abuse runs in families – individuals who have a first – degree relative with the disorder are more likely to develop addictions than others. It’s believed that alcoholism is caused by the interaction of numerous genes and research suggests that the development of alcohol abuse is related to genetic mutations in at least 51 different chromosomes. Some research suggests there is an inherited tendency for individuals with alcoholism to lack the physiological warning signals that usually causes people to stop drinking.

Brain Structures: The amygdala, which plays a role in controlling cravings for alcohol has been shown to be smaller in individuals with alcohol addiction. Some research suggests that low levels of circulating serotonin, a chemical involved in communication in the brain, is associated with significantly higher tolerances for alcohol.

Environmental: The media portrays alcohol use as glamorous, pleasurable, and the positive effects of light-to-moderate drinking are often mentioned while the negative effects of alcohol use are not nearly as discussed.

Psychological: Alcohol can numb painful emotions. When an individual discovers that using alcohol blocks out negative emotions associated with stressful life events, alcohol use is reinforced. This increases the probability of using alcohol to cope with negative emotions in the future. Over time, the individual uses alcohol even when negative events or interpersonal problems are anticipated but haven’t occurred.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Complexity of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder is rarely found alone. Practically every psychiatric and substance use disorder can co-occur with this condition. The most frequent co-occurring disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Agoraphobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Conduct Problems
  • Insomnia
  • Substance abuse disorders

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:


  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation


  • Alcohol used for a longer period of time or in greater amounts than intended
  • Desire or failed attempts to cut down on alcohol use
  • A great deal of time is spent obtaining, using or recovering from alcohol
  • Alcohol use leads to failure to fulfill major role obligations
  • Continued use despite recognition that alcohol disorder has led to repeated interpersonal or other problems
  • Important activities abandoned due to alcohol use
  • Recurrent use in situations that could be dangerous such as when driving a car
  • Continued use despite recognition that alcohol use disorder is related to chronic psychological or physical illness
  • Violence
  • Extreme aggression
  • Fatigue


  • Slurred speaking
  • Red eyes
  • Liver disease
  • Itching
  • Withdrawal effects if alcohol is not consumed regularly
  • Shaking
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Diminished capabilities to perform actions with large muscles
  • Unsteady gait


  • Alcohol cravings
  • Belief that one is more desirable when drunk
  • Reckless behaviors – driving under the influence
  • Risky behaviors – unprotected sex
  • Poor judgment
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal


Effects of Alcohol Addiction

There are numerous effects of alcohol use and abuse both psychosocially and physically. These include:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Poor coordination
  • Lack of behavioral inhibition
  • Poor judgment
  • Fatigue and feeling tired
  • Angry outbursts
  • Violence
  • Increased ability to feel socially confident
  • Decreased concentration and attention
  • Improved mood
  • Organ damage especially to liver after long term abuse
  • Cirrhosis
  • Kidney disease
  • Interpersonal problems and loss of relationships
  • Marital discord and divorce
  • Ability to fall asleep quickly but poor sleep quality and multiple arousals throughout the night leading to feeling tired the next day
  • Hangover symptoms
  • Loss of days at work or school
  • Decreased occupational productivity
  • Irritability
  • Job loss
  • Financial problems
  • Unintentional injuries, including traffic accidents, falls, burns, drowning, and unintentional firearm or other weapon related injuries and death due to accidents like falling asleep with a lit cigarette
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Malnutrition
  • Risk of beginning other drugs in addition to alcohol
  • Overdose and death due to poly-substance abuse
  • Poor self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Friendships dwindle until social network includes only others you are using alcohol
  • Sexual promiscuity and risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, sex with numerous partners, and increased risk of sexual assault especially date rape
  • Unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Personality changes
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome due to effects of alcohol on an unborn child’s developing brain
  • Increases risk of miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Alcohol poisoning, causing loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, coma, depressed respiration, and possible death.
  • Suicidal Ideation including suicide attempts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor hygiene
  • Neurological impairment
  • Cardiovascular events
  • Overall increase in the risk of developing cancer
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Pancreatitis
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastination and inability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Confabulation
  • Anemia
  • Blackouts
  • Decreased perception
  • Poor coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Intentional injuries caused by self-harm
  • Nerve damage
  • Sexual problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies especially deficiency of vitamin B1
  • Disorientation

At Blue Ridge, we know just how hard it is to stop using alcohol, which you have come to rely on physically and psychologically. Our trained, caring staff are skilled in helping you beat your addiction without judgment. Asking for help indicates strength and courage not weakness. Let us help you stop using alcohol and re-establish a normal, healthy and happy life.


Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

Many people attempt to stop using alcohol and succumb to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms which cause them to continue drinking. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a potentially life-threatening problem that occurs in individuals who engage in heavy drinking for long periods of time. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can appear as early as two hours after the last drink and last for weeks. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Acute liver disease
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Delirium tremens
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Intense sweating
  • Tremors
  • Low-grade fever
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Thank you to the BRMRC team for helping me begin my new, better life!

– Scarlett
Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • PsychArmor
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)