Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Bayside Marin is a premier rehabilitation center dedicated to the treatment of alcohol addiction in California. Bayside Marin blends evidence-based treatments with alternative, holistic modalities to comprehensively treat all aspects of our client’s life.

Understanding Alcohol

Learn about alcohol and substance abuse

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the United States. Though the sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States is limited to adults aged 21 and above, the drug is also the leading substance of abuse among young people.

Alcohol is the product of the fermentation of starches, sugars, and yeast. Though it is a depressant of the central nervous system, alcohol initially functions in a stimulating fashion, triggering the release of dopamine (the hormone associated with pleasure) and leading users to experience improved mood and lessened inhibitions. As the depressant effects set in, though, alcohol slows both heart rate and breathing, impairs motor coordination and speech, and disrupts cognitive abilities.

Alcohol abuse leads to both tolerance and dependence. Individuals who abuse alcohol will need to consume greater quantities or more powerful drinks in order to experience the same effect that was previously easier to achieve. Abusing alcohol long-term could eventually develop into a physical and psychological dependence, commonly referred to as alcoholism.

The difficulties associated with overcoming alcoholism can be attributed both to the addictive properties of the drug and to the widespread social acceptance that makes it difficult to avoid when in situations where alcohol is being consumed. Thankfully, decades of successes have shown that, with proper treatment for alcoholism, individuals who struggle can achieve long-term sobriety.


Alcohol addiction statistics

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that, in the United States, more than 87 percent of adults aged 18 and above have consumed alcohol at least once and more than 70 percent have consumed alcohol in the past year. More than half of all surveyed adults in the United States told NIAAA researchers that they had had at least one drink in the previous 30 days.

Given the prevalence of alcohol use in the United States, it may come as little surprise that alcohol abuse is also a widespread problem. Experts with the NIAA have estimated that about 17 million American adults have an alcohol abuse problem. In one demonstration of the devastating impact of alcohol abuse, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that alcohol is responsible for about 88,000 deaths each year.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes more than 3 million deaths to alcohol abuse.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

No single cause or risk factor can be blamed for all cases of alcoholism. In most cases, the abuse of and eventual dependency upon alcohol is attributable to a combination of several genetic and environmental influences, including the following:

Genetic: Family history is a strong predictor of alcoholism and other forms of addiction. Several studies have shown that individuals who have a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who struggles with alcohol abuse are at increased risk of having a similar problem. In 2014, a study found sets of genes that worked as networks in alcoholics, but did not function in a similar manner in people who were not dependent upon alcohol.

Environmental: Alcoholism within a family can be both a genetic and an environmental precursor to alcoholism in an individual. In addition to inheriting a biological tendency to becoming dependent upon alcohol, children who grow up in households where alcohol is both freely available and commonly abused are more likely to believe that this behavior is acceptable. Also, having alcoholic parents can contribute to a highly stressful or otherwise traumatic childhood, which can put an individual in a higher risk group for experiencing alcohol-related problems later in life. Non-familial stresses, pressures, and traumas can also push an individual into alcohol abuse, which can in turn lead to alcoholism.

Risk Factors:

  • Family members who struggle with alcohol abuse and dependency
  • Family members who have mental health concerns
  • Personal history of mental health concerns
  • Age at which one firsts consumes alcohol (drinking at a younger age is associated with increased risk of alcoholism)
  • Experiencing a great deal of stress and pressure
  • Poor coping skills
  • Unresolved grief/loss
  • Problems forming or sustaining relationships
  • Being bullied or otherwise harassed
  • Experiencing a significant failure, such as the loss of a job

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

Alcoholism is not always easy to detect. Many people are able to be “functional alcoholics” for years by hiding their substance abuse from even close friends and family members. However, many alcoholics exhibit certain signs and symptoms, including the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Giving up hobbies or other activities in order to spend more time drinking
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Using alcohol as a means of both celebrating successes and dealing with failures
  • Drinking alone
  • Secret drinking
  • Everyday drinking (including early in the morning and/or at intervals throughout the day)
  • Inability to stop after one or two drinks
  • Becoming irritable or agitated when not able to drink
  • Hiding alcohol throughout the house or in the workplace
  • Continuing to drink even after experiencing negative consequences (lost job, legal problems, strained relationships, etc.) as a result of drinking alcohol

Physical symptoms:

  • Tolerance (needing to drink more in order to get drunk)
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Shaking, sweating, or experiencing other withdrawal symptoms when not able to drink
  • Gaining weight and/or becoming bloated
  • Losing weight due to malnutrition
  • Developing a red or ruddy complexion, especially near the nose and cheeks

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Constantly thinking about drinking
  • Having trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Experiencing memory loss or blackouts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling guilty after drinking to excess
  • Needing alcohol to enjoy oneself
  • Somber feelings


Effects of alcohol addiction

Alcoholism can have a negative impact on virtually all areas of a person’s life, including one’s physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as social and financial statuses. The following are among the ways that alcohol abuse can impact a person’s body, mind, personal life, and career:

  • Blackouts
  • Strained or failed relationships
  • Injuries due to alcohol-related accidents
  • Job loss
  • Legal problems
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Certain cancers (including mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, colon, and liver)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Liver damage (including cirrhosis of the liver)
  • Tremors
  • Jaundice
  • Rhinophyma (reddened and bulbous “drinker’s nose”)
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Malnutrition

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

Alcoholism rarely occurs in a vacuum. The following are among the several co-occurring disorders that may have contributed to or been exacerbated by a person’s alcohol abuse:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Alcohol withdrawal can be a profoundly unpleasant experience and people who have developed severe dependence on alcohol should not attempt to stop drinking without professional guidance and supervision. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Clammy skin
  • Severe confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Depression, panic, and anxiety
  • Shakiness, tremors, and seizure
  • Extreme perspiration
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Fever

Effects of an alcohol overdose: Alcohol poisoning can be much more serious than just getting extremely drunk. The following are among the possible effects of alcohol overdose:

  • Irregular breathing (gaps of 10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature)
  • Pale or blue-tinged skin
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Death

How to Quit

How to stop drinking alcohol

The struggle that one faces when battling alcohol abuse is one of the most difficult experiences in the realm of addiction. Whether you or someone you care about has fallen victim to this heartbreaking disease, you likely understand firsthand just how difficult it might seem to imagine a life free from alcohol. In spite of the many damaging effects that drinking has caused, many fear leaving behind the coping tool they have held onto for so long.

At Bayside Marin, we have a deep understanding of the way alcohol abuse affects the mind, body, and spirit, and we use our knowledge of the latest in therapeutic modalities and the science of addiction to help our guests overcome this damaging disease. The men and women in our care have access to the types of support that allow them to build hope for a brighter, alcohol-free future, and to begin reclaiming the healthy, vibrant lives they deserve.

If you are contemplating change, know that help is available. As you begin readying yourself to seek help and quit drinking once and for all, consider the following:

  • Remember that alcohol abuse is a disease, and in order to achieve sustained sobriety, professional help is often needed. Seeking help should never be viewed with shame; rather, individuals who make this choice should be applauded for their bravery.
  • Prioritize your health and well-being above all else. This is not a selfish act, but a necessary part of the recovery journey that will ultimately lead you back to a place from which you can once again be of service to the ones you love.
  • Consider options for treatment that fit your own personal goals for recovery, innate strengths, and specific challenges or barriers. There are many types of programs available to help you stop drinking, but no two are alike. By taking the time to find a proper fit, you will begin your recovery journey with a solid foundation.
  • Accept that there will be pitfalls to your success, especially in the early days of recovery. Know that a relapse does not mean that you are a failure, and be kind to yourself if this should occur. Rather than dwell on your mistake, recommit to your goals for the life you desire.

The treatment team here went above and beyond to address issues with my alcoholism that others would overlook. Thank you, Bayside!

– Anonymous Client
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