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Addiction of any type carries a stigma, which is why thousands of Americans who suffer from alcohol addiction do not acknowledge their problem or seek treatment. However, alcoholism left untreated can open the door for a wide range of serious problems including organ damage, alcohol poisoning, and loss of jobs and relationships.
Excessive alcohol use is dangerous and can lead to serious physical and psychological harm when practiced regularly for a period of time. Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any alcohol use by people who are pregnant or under the age of 21. Those who drink high amounts of alcohol regularly are at extremely high risk for alcohol addiction and can be safely treated at a recovery center like Dana Point Rehab Campus with detox and behavioral therapy.
Here’s an in-depth look at the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction and where you can find safe, effective, evidence-based alcohol rehab treatment.
Binge Drinking vs Heavy Drinking
Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings the blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08% or higher, according to the CDC. This usually occurs when men consume 5 or more drinks on a single occasion, or when women consume 4 or more drinks on a single occasion within about 2 hours. Binge drinking often occurs during parties and special events such as holidays, birthdays, and concerts.
Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 or more drinks per week for men, and 8 or more drinks per week for women. People who practice heavy drinking are usually more at risk for addiction than binge drinkers given they drink every week, while binge drinkers tend to drink less often and only on certain occasions. However, both drinking behaviors are problematic and can be effectively treated with alcohol rehab.
Physical Symptoms of Excessive Alcohol Use
Excessive alcohol use produces a wide range of physical symptoms that vary from person to person based on their lifestyle and drinking behavior. For instance, some heavy drinkers gain lots of excess weight due to consuming certain alcoholic beverages that are high in calories. The National Institute of Health reports that a single drink of 80-proof vodka contains an average of 97 calories, while a piña colada contains an average of 490 calories. Therefore, those who drink several piña coladas during the week may be heavier than those who drink vodka and other spirits.
Here are other physical symptoms of excessive alcohol use:
- Eyes that appear bloodshot, watery, or glassy
- Droopy eyelids
- Body tremors or shaking
- Flushed face
- Blank stare
- Loud or slurred speech
- Extreme drowsiness or sleepiness
- Rambling train of thought
- Slow responses to questions and comments
- Repetitive statements
- Irrational statements
- Aggressive or belligerent
- Crude, inappropriate speech or gestures
- Mean or obnoxious
- Agitated or anxious
- Overly friendly
- Overly animated
- Stumbling, swaying, or staggering
- Difficulty sitting or standing up
- Depressed, crying, or moody
- Excessive sweating
Excessive alcohol use is also associated with a set of specific behaviors, such as visiting bars and liquor stores frequently, and finding excuses to drink. Drinking alone, drinking early in the day, and frequent memory blackouts are other signs that may indicate you or your loved one is drinking excessively.
Psychological Symptoms of Excessive Alcohol Use
Alcohol acts on certain brain receptors and chemicals to trigger a range of psychological symptoms and changes in mood. Sadness, nervousness, irritability, aggression, and antisocial behaviors are common among those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
In a study published in Alcohol Research, researchers found that people who suffer from alcohol dependence were 3.7 times more likely to also have major depressive order, and 2.8 times more likely to have a long-term form of depression called dysthymia within the previous year. In a separate study published in the same medical journal, researchers found that those with alcohol dependence were between 2 and 3 times more likely to also have an anxiety disorder compared with those not dependent on alcohol.
Other psychological symptoms associated with excessive alcohol use include:
- General discontent
If you suspect a person may be abusing alcohol, take note of whether their overall mood has recently changed or whether they frequently experience mood swings. If you use alcohol and have felt sadder, more anxious, and/or depressed lately, you may need to cut back on your drinking or get help in the form of alcohol detox and rehab.
An average of 6 people die every day in the U.S. as a result of alcohol poisoning, according to the CDC. Adults between the ages of 35 and 64 account for the majority of deaths from alcohol poisoning (76%).
Alcohol poisoning — also known as an alcohol overdose — occurs when alcohol levels in the bloodstream are so high that they cause areas of the brain to shut down, particularly those that control basic life-support functions. Breathing, heart rate, and body temperature can be greatly affected during alcohol poisoning to cause seizures, hospitalization, coma, and death in severe cases.
Common symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Mental confusion
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Inability to remain conscious
- Clammy skin
- Dulled responses
- Low body temperature
- Bluish or pale skin color
People at greatest risk for alcohol poisoning are those who engage in binge drinking. The NIAAA reports that teenagers and college-aged adults tend to binge drink more than other age groups.
If you think someone may be suffering from alcohol poisoning, call 911 or emergency services immediately. Inform dispatch of the type and amount of alcohol the person drank and whether they also took any illicit drugs or prescription medications. If possible, gently place the person on the ground in a partially upright position. If the person is vomiting or about to vomit, lean them forward to prevent choking, or roll them onto their side if they are lying down. Try to keep the person awake and conscious until emergency services arrive and take over.
Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious health problems. Many health problems that stem from alcohol abuse require intensive care and years of treatment and positive lifestyle changes before they can be improved or reversed. Common effects of long-term alcohol abuse include damage to the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system.
Alcohol abuse can interfere with the body’s absorption and use of certain minerals and nutrients, including thiamine (vitamin B1), calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, E, and D, according to the NIAAA. Many who suffer from alcohol addiction are deficient in thiamine, which is essential for healthy brain function. Low thiamine levels affect up to 80% of people with alcohol use disorder and have been linked to brain damage and a serious brain disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Long-term alcohol use can interfere with communication pathways in the brain and also change its function and structure. These changes can affect memory and coordination, and lead to the development of dementia and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Many alcohol and drug rehab centers offer dual diagnosis therapy to treat those who suffer from both alcohol use disorder and a co-occurring mental illness.
Over time, alcohol abuse can weaken the heart muscle and affect its ability to pump blood efficiently. This can result in the organs receiving less blood, and in a range of serious heart-related conditions including cardiomyopathy, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke. Alcohol abuse can also indirectly cause heart damage by contributing to obesity, which forces the heart to work harder at pumping and sending blood throughout the body.
The liver is responsible for metabolizing and breaking down alcohol so it can leave the body. When a person drinks too much alcohol regularly, the liver can become overloaded and overworked, and work less efficiently.
Excessive alcohol use can contribute to liver inflammation problems including alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fibrosis. Alcohol abuse is known to inhibit the body’s use of vitamins A and E, which are essential to optimal liver function. A poorly functioning liver can also affect the brain in the form of hepatic encephalopathy — a brain disorder that can lead to personality changes, mental health disorders, poor sleep, and problems with coordination.
Alcohol use disorder is one of the most common causes of acute and chronic pancreatitis, according to StatPearls Publishing. This is because alcohol causes the pancreas to produce a range of toxic substances and enzymes that contribute to inflammation and swelling of pancreatic blood vessels. Chronic alcohol use is associated with 40% to 70% of all chronic pancreatitis cases and increases a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer 20-fold.
Given how excessive alcohol use can lead to nutritional deficiency and make you feel sick and tired, people who suffer from alcohol abuse and addiction tend to have weakened immune systems. Having poor immunity can make you extremely susceptible to illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and coronavirus (COVID-19). Many of these illnesses can be fatal, especially if the immune system is too weak to facilitate a healthy recovery.
Alcohol abuse and addiction have been linked to a number of different cancers, including that of the breast, liver, esophagus, colon, rectum, mouth, throat, voice box, head, and neck. Alcohol is closely connected to cancer because of the way the body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde — a chemical that damages DNA and prevents the body from repairing itself. The CDC recommends drinking in moderation or not drinking at all to reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Dana Point Rehab Campus
Alcohol addiction can be safely and effectively treated using alcohol detox and behavioral therapy at an alcohol rehab center.
Alcohol detox helps people manage the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and face a reduced risk of potential withdrawal-related complications like seizures and heart failure. FDA-approved medications such as benzodiazepines are often used to reduce symptoms and help patients feel more comfortable as they recover from alcohol dependence.
Dana Point Rehab Campus uses counseling and behavioral therapy to help patients change and improve harmful attitudes and behaviors related to drinking and alcohol abuse. Patients learn how to manage common triggers like stress and are treated for co-occurring disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder.