What are the Signs of an Alcoholic Person?

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Alcohol abuse and binge drinking have many giveaway signs. Some of them are mild and can serve as early warning signs, while others indicate chronic alcohol use and can be life-threatening.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a method of diagnosing people with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). For that, the person in question has to see a professional who uses the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a reference point.

This guide explains the physical and mental signs of an alcoholic, as well as withdrawal symptoms and potential treatment methods.

Physical Signs of an Alcoholic

Here are the physical signs that someone’s drinking is getting problematic:

1. Nausea and Vomiting

Drinking too much alcohol can irritate the stomach lining, causing inflammation which often leads to nausea and vomiting.

Another cause is that people who abuse alcohol usually develop higher alcohol tolerance for alcohol over time. This tolerance can drop if they stop drinking for some time. When they get back to consuming the same large amounts of alcohol, it can overwhelm their system, leading to vomiting.

2. Shifty Eyes

Uncontrolled, fast eye movement, known as Nystagmus, is a condition that alcoholics may exhibit.

This condition happens because of alcohol’s effect on the cerebellum, which is the brain region responsible for balance, coordination, and smooth eye movement.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it inhibits the cerebellum’s ability to maintain its functions properly, including controlled eye movement.

3. Impaired Attention and Memory Blackouts

The neurotransmitter Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) contributes to inhibiting brain activity. Alcohol acts as a GABA agonist, mimicking its effects.

This constant inhibition disrupts the normal communication between neurons, hindering the brain’s ability to process and retain information efficiently, leading to attention and memory issues.

Further, alcohol inhibits glutamate, a neurotransmitter needed to maintain optimal levels within the brain cells’ extracellular space, making it even harder to maintain focus and leading to alcoholic blackouts.  

4. Excessive Perspiration

Alcohol consumption causes the widening of blood vessels (alcohol-induced vasodilatation).

Vasodilation causes increased blood flow in blood vessels which, when happens near the skin surface, leads to a feeling of warmth. The body responds by triggering its cooling mechanism; sweat.

Alcohol also causes night sweats because it interferes with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature effectively, leading to fluctuations in core body temperature.

These fluctuations can cause the body to overreact and attempt to cool down when the person starts to feel slightly warm at night.

5. An Unsteady Gait

Alcohol’s effect on the cerebellum can disrupt the body’s sense of position during movement, leading to loss of balance while standing and walking.

Additionally, alcohol can disrupt sensory information processing and reaction time, making it difficult for the person to register changes in balance on uneven surfaces.

This can lead to stumbling and difficulty in recovering from unexpected movements.

6. Tachycardia

Tachycardia, or increased heart rate, is a condition caused by the sympathetic nervous system  (SNS) when the body is responding to a dangerous or exciting situation.

Alcohol can disrupt the balance between the SNS and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that promotes relaxation, leading to an increased heart rate when the person is at rest.

Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, increasing urine production, which can lead to dehydration. This loss of fluids thickens the blood and makes it harder to pump, which the heart compensates for by increasing its rate.

7. Erectile Dysfunction

Alcohol can cause ED by affecting the central nervous system, blood flow, and hormonal production in males.

By depressing the CNS and impairing nerve signals, alcohol can lead to difficulty in achieving or maintaining an erection.

The vasodilation associated with alcohol can also divert blood flow away from the male reproductive organs, making it more difficult to maintain arousal.

8. Diarrhea

Gastroenteritis caused by alcohol consumption disrupts the bacterial biome in your gut, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial ones.

The digestive tract responds to the irritation by increased enzyme secretion and faster muscle contraction, which quickly pushes the stool through the digestive system before the fluids get absorbed. This eventually ends in alcohol-induced diarrhea.

9. Jaundice

Alcohol can impair the liver’s ability to break down bilirubin, which is a yellowish pigment released from red blood cells when their lifespan ends. This could be due to liver cell damage, which is a sign of alcoholic hepatitis; a serious condition.

The constant inflammation caused by alcohol in the liver leads to alcoholic jaundice, a condition where there’s significant yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (conjunctiva).

Mental and Behavioral Signs of an Alcoholic

Alcohol addiction can impact the brain and cause loss of function depending on how advanced the condition is. Here are some of the ways alcohol abuse mentally affects people:

1. Loss of Control

Alcohol disrupts the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for planning, impulse control, and judgment. It also impairs the ability to self-monitor and assess one’s own behavior.

This makes alcoholics prone to poor decision-making and decreased awareness of how their actions affect them and others.

2. Aggressiveness

Alcohol affects a region in the brain called the amygdala, which contributes to emotion and aggression processing.

Once shut down, the threshold for aggressive behavior becomes lower, making it more likely for the struggling person to lose their temper over seemingly small triggers.

Alcohol can also amplify negative emotions, which further contributes to aggressive behavior.

3. Prioritizing Drinking

Alcohol triggers surges of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.

That leads to a subconscious association between drinking alcohol and positive emotions. This renders just the thought of drinking pleasurable and causing drinking to override other responsibilities.

4. Failing to See Reason

Alcoholics often struggle to consider the future consequences of their actions or see from other perspectives.

This is due to alcohol’s effect on various cognitive functions, including problem-solving, reasoning, and logical thinking.

Excessive drinking also leads to confirmation bias, where affected individuals focus only on information that supports their claim, making them difficult to reason with.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The signs mentioned above are present when the person is actively drinking. When they try to stop, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

The severity of such symptoms increases over the three days of alcohol abstinence. Here they are:

The First Stage

These symptoms appear within the first six hours after the last drink.

1. Anxiety

Anxiety appears within the first few hours after the calming effects of alcohol wear off, and the body starts overreacting.

2. Insomnia

Once the calming effects fade, the person fails to get a good night’s sleep. That’s why alcoholics often get up at night to drink.

3. Sweating

Sympathetic nervous system activity increases after the last drink. The changes in body chemistry can stimulate sweat glands to engage in cooling mechanisms.

4. Headaches

Alcohol withdrawal headaches arise because of the release of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) stress hormone from a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

The CRF then goes through peripheral blood vessels and causes an alcohol-withdrawal headache.

5. Nausea & Vomiting

Early withdrawal often induces nausea and vomiting because of irritation in the gastrointestinal system that was used to alcohol’s presence.

With alcohol gone, neurotransmitters in the gut begin to shift, leading to nausea and vomiting.

The Second Stage

12-48 hours after stopping alcohol, the severity of the previous symptoms will increase.

Uncommon symptoms, like alcohol-induced auditory hallucinations, may also appear during this period. In rare cases, alcohol-induced seizures can also occur.

The Third Stage

48-72 hours after stopping alcohol, the symptoms intensify and manifest as:

  • Confusion
  • Heart palpitations
  • High fever
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heavy sweating

5% of individuals may experience delusions and vivid hallucinations, a condition known as delirium tremens. This is an extremely dangerous condition that requires immediate hospitalization to prevent the collapse of the cardiovascular system.

How to Diagnose and Treat Alcohol Use Disorder

The signs mentioned above aren’t definitive, as many diseases can overlap and cause similar signs and symptoms.

Once a person is diagnosed with AUD, they may be treated at alcohol addiction treatment centers or online via telehealth services, depending on the severity of the condition.

Addiction Treatment Centers

Alcohol treatment centers utilize various methods and evidence-based approaches to help people recover from alcoholism without experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.

The idea is to gradually reduce the consumed alcohol to minimize the symptoms (detoxification).

Once the withdrawal symptoms are manageable, medication-assisted treatment using drugs like naltrexone begins. These medications are used to bind to opioid receptors in the brain, minimizing the euphoric effect that alcohol induces or cause unpleasant side effects when used with alcohol or other substances.

This discourages the recovering person from consuming alcohol as it helps them break the link between drinking alcohol and achieving pleasure.

Online Alcohol Treatment

Telehealth services are more suitable for people who are not too deep into the alcohol addiction scale. It’s also exceptionally useful for those who need privacy, as they are often completely anonymous, or for people who have mobility issues but still need help.

Through telehealth, you get access to:

  • A mental health professional.
  • Peer support groups.
  • Valuable resources with all the information you need to quit drinking.
  • Ease of accessibility, as you can utilize them from anywhere in the world.

Licensed Telehealth providers like CuredNation can also provide electronic prescriptions that can be sent to the pharmacy you prefer.

Final Words

Alcohol use is common and, with preexisting mental disorders and substance abuse, can lead to fully-blown alcoholism.

It’s important to understand the signs of alcoholism to know where to draw the line. This can help you avoid slipping into alcohol dependence or potentially help someone else through it.

If you or a loved one suffers from alcohol use disorder, consider booking an appointment with CuredNation; a safe space for recovery that will provide you with all the resources and help you need to overcome the negative consequences of alcohol abuse.

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