Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, affects a large segment of the population – 17 million people in 2012 – according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 11.2 million of those were men while 5.7 million were women. Additionally, one in eight adults currently has an alcohol addiction.
Alcoholism in many cases goes untreated since individuals either remain in denial or they are aware they have a problem but have limited strength or means to seek appropriate help. While physical signs can be a good indicator of an alcohol use disorder, understanding the full picture is key. It is a true disease that heavily affects an individual personally, professionally, mentally and physically.
Symptoms and Physical Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder
Someone with an alcohol use disorder can exhibit both psychological/behavioral and physical symptoms.
Some behavioral symptoms include:
- Loss of control
- Ignoring responsibilities
- Prioritizing drinking over everything else
- Drinking continues even with detrimental consequences
When an addiction is present, an individual has likely developed a physical dependence on alcohol. This means more alcohol is needed to achieve the desired effects and withdrawal symptoms occur when alcohol is not present in the body.
An individual will constantly crave alcohol and feel as though they need to drink incessantly. It is also common for an alcoholic to alter their drink of choice to something stronger in order to consume a higher concentration of alcohol in a shorter period of time.
Additionally, alcohol’s damage can be seen across the entire body. Some common physical signs of alcoholism include:
- Sleeping problems/insomnia
- Appetite changes
- Erectile dysfunction
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- An array of stomach problems including but not limited to vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea
- Poor balance
- Memory loss
- Burning and tingling in appendages
- Concentration issues
- Itching related to liver damage
The above covers what individuals who are alcoholics might feel or experience. However, the body also goes through physical changes when dependent on alcohol. Some physical signs of alcoholism to look out for include:
- Reddening of palms and hands
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Flushed appearance
- Bloodshot eyes
- Broken capillaries on the face
- General poor physical appearance
Individuals are also at risk of developing or experiencing worsening symptoms associated with the following health problems:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
- Infectious diseases
Cirrhosis is a common side effect of heavy alcohol use. It occurs when the liver is no longer producing healthy tissue and begins to produce scar tissue, preventing the proper flow of blood. The liver also becomes unable to rid the body of toxins, effectively limit infections, and process nutrients.
DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder Criteria
There are 11 factors used to determine the severity of an alcohol use diagnosis. In an effort to create universal diagnostic tools, factors have been established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5). Here are the factors or questions that can be asked if you suspect you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism:
In the past year, have you:
- Experienced situations where you consumed more alcohol have been drinking for longer than intended?
- Attempted to stop drinking more than once but were unable to?
- Spent a lot of time drinking or dealing with the after-effects of drinking (hangover, etc.)?
- Felt like you could not focus on anything else other than wanting to drink?
- Drinking or the after-effects of drinking interfered with any personal or professional responsibilities?
- Continued to drink despite the fact that alcohol was causing problems in your personal life?
- Eliminated activities you used to enjoy from your life in order to make more time for drinking?
- Put yourself in danger as a result of drinking or the after-effects of drinking (including driving, swimming, or unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it heightened anxiety, depression, or any other health problem?
- Needed to consume more alcohol in order to achieve the same desired effects?
- Exhibited withdrawal symptoms when alcohol was not present in the body?
Here are the criteria to determine the severity of the disorder:
- 2-3 factors – mild disorder
- 4-5 factors – moderate disorder
- More than 6 – severe disorder
For those who exhibit more than 6 of the above factors, it is still possible that they continue to be high functioning individuals making it difficult to determine that an alcohol addiction is present.
If you believe you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism, do not wait to get help. Achieving sobriety is never out of reach. At Dignity Healing, we know exactly what you’re going through. Call us today to speak with an experienced addiction specialist.
Break free from the struggle of addiction. We’re here to help you or a loved one. Reach out to us any time, day or night. Confidential. Call: (844) 978-1524