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Alcohol Abuse Symptoms and Treatment

by Landmark Recovery

June 17, 2019

Excessive alcohol use and dependency can lead to a number of alcohol abuse symptoms that can impact a person’s day-to-day life. There are quite a few symptoms that point to someone suffering from some type of alcohol use disorder. For example, drinking more or longer than intended and drinking through depressive symptoms are both common symptoms of someone dealing with alcohol dependency and abuse.

Meanwhile, those dependent on alcohol can suffer from many physical symptoms that are associated with ingesting the drug. Alcohol use affects nearly every organ in the body and can lead to issues such as liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular issues, and many different types of cancer.

Millions of Americans suffer from issues related to alcohol and many deal with alcohol dependency specifically. The more you learn about alcohol addiction, how to identify it, and how to get treatment, the more successful you will be in helping yourself or your loved one deal with these problems.


Alcohol Abuse Symptoms

There are a few mild symptoms and trouble signs that point to the start of a drinking problem. These signs, if identified early on, can be the difference between sobriety and alcohol use disorder.

Some common symptoms that point to alcohol use disorder include:

  • Drinking more or longer than you intended
  • Trying to cut down or stop drinking but not being able to
  • Getting into situations because of drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the desired effect
  • Drinking even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious
  • Spending a lot of time drinking
  • Drinking that caused trouble with friends or family
  • Giving up or stopping activities that were once interesting to you, in order to drink

If the heavy drinking continues, over time, the number and severity of these symptoms grow and add up to alcohol use disorder.


How Does Alcohol Affect The Body

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient that is found in multiple types of alcohol including beer, wine, and liquor. It is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. Alcohol impacts every organ of the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestines into the bloodstream. Alcohol is then metabolized in the liver by enzymes. The liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at one time which leaves the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effects of alcohol on the body is directly attributed to the amount consumed.

Physical Symptoms

There are a number of serious health problems that can occur from drinking too much. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking over time or even just on a single occasion can lead to many issues.

Brain — The use of alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can interfere and affect the way the brain looks and works. Disruptions in brain communication can lead to mood changes, behavioral problems, cognitive dysfunction, and clumsiness.

Heart — Drinking a lot over a period of time can damage the heart and lead to a number of cardiovascular issues such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, high blood pressure, and more.

Liver — Heavy drinking obviously takes a major toll on the liver as the liver is the cite of metabolization in the body. It can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammation including steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Alcohol-related liver disease is a major problem among heavy drinkers. Alcohol-related cirrhosis is the most serious type of alcohol-related liver disease. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis, usually after 10 or more years of drinking.

Immune System — It is clear that drinking too much can effectively weaken your immune system, making the body a much easier target for disease. In fact, chronic drinkers are more liable to deal with diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion is known to slow your body’s ability to ward off infections.


There have been extensive studies and there is a strong scientific consensus between drinking alcohol and several types of cancer. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. Moreover, there is research that suggests that the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk of developing alcohol-associated cancer. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States were alcohol-related.

Head and Neck Cancer — Alcohol use generally is a major risk factor for some head and neck cancers, particularly those in the oral cavity. People who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day have at least a two to three times greater risk of developing these cancers than nondrinkers.

Esophageal Cancer — Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma is one specific form of cancer that is increased from alcohol consumption.

Liver Cancer — Alcohol consumption is a primary cause of liver cancer.

Breast Cancer — Studies have consistently found that there’s an increased risk of breast cancer associated with increasing alcohol intake. The risk of breast cancer was higher across all levels of alcohol intake.

Colorectal Cancer — Alcohol intake is associated with a moderately increased risk of cancers in the colon and rectum.


Alcohol Dependence

Continued excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the development of dependence that is associated with withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is stopped or reduced significantly. Alcohol addiction is a serious and complex process. Prolonged excessive alcohol use can lead to a number of neuroadaptive changes in the brain’s reward and stress systems.

Alcohol dependence represents a state in which an individual is unable to maintain appropriate control over their alcohol use. Eventually, these problems can lead to functional changes in the brain.



When an alcohol-dependent individual abruptly stops their alcohol consumption, they will likely experience symptoms and characteristics associated with a withdrawal syndrome. Unfortunately, when drinking is terminated, the physical symptoms of withdrawal syndrome can be potentially life-threatening and lead to a persistent negative emotional state.

Alcohol withdrawal generally begins within 24 to 48 hours after the blood alcohol level drops and can continue for up to a week.

Typical features of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Heightened respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Shaking
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens

In addition to physical signs of withdrawal, patients will also experience distress and psychological discomfort. Symptoms that can lead to emotional changes include irritability, agitation, anxiety, and dysphoria, sleep disturbances. Symptoms can also lead to emotional changes and an inability to experience pleasure.

Many withdrawal symptoms will subside after a few days but some of these problems such as psychological distress and dysphoria may linger on for a period of time. Unfortunately, some of these remaining effects can lead to relapses.

While alcohol dependency can be incredibly dangerous and hazardous to health and the symptoms associated with withdrawal syndrome can be life-threatening, there is hope.


Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol-related problems are one of the most significant public health issues in the United States. Many people across the nation struggle with controlling drinking at some point in their lives and according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says that about 17 million American adults have an alcohol use disorder and one in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem.

Despite how common and prevalent the problem is, there are solutions and treatment options available for those suffering from alcohol dependency. There are a number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities available to those suffering from substance abuse-related problems.

Alcohol withdrawal can be severe and even fatal, because of this, it is particularly important to understand and assess the need for medically managed withdrawal. Because of how dangerous getting free from alcohol can be if you or a loved one is suffering from the problem, it is best to seek the help of a drug and alcohol treatment center that can offer them the type of care that they need.

Generally, patients that go through drug and alcohol treatment will go through recovery steps such as detoxification, inpatient, and outpatient services.

When patients go through medically supervised detox, they will be surrounded by medical professionals as they go through the dangerous withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol dependency.

During inpatient services, patients will be exposed to many different types of behavioral therapies, both individual and in a group setting. One of the most common and effective forms of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy which is used to help identify triggers and causes that lead to someone using. Upon identifying these triggers, patients will learn different ways to overcome these problems.

Group therapy and counseling sessions give patients the opportunity to meet other people who are dealing with similar substance abuse issues. Group programs allow you to build up your sober support network which can help promote long-term sobriety.

Following discharge from a facility, most treatment centers will have a discharge plan in place. Generally, this means that patients will go to an outpatient facility to help them adjust to post-rehabilitation life while also continuing treatment.


Medication-Assisted Treatment

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, current evidence shows that medications aren’t used enough when it comes to treating alcohol use disorder, such as alcohol abuse and dependence. This is a major concern due to the high prevalence of alcohol problems in the general population. Despite the 17 to 18 million people who met the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse in 2013, only a small percentage of them, 7.7 percent, received any type of formal treatment.

Medication-assisted treatment is an effective option for helping patients get sober safely. And there are a number of different options for those struggling with withdrawal symptoms and other issues related to an alcohol use disorder. One of the most common forms of medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use is naltrexone or Vivitrol.


Vivitrol — Vivitrol is a is a non-addictive, once-monthly treatment proven to help people reduce drinking in alcohol-dependent patients when used with counseling. In a six-month study that explored the effectiveness of the medication, Vivitrol and counseling demonstrated a 25 percent greater reduction in days of heavy drinking than those treated with a placebo and counseling. Moreover, patients who abstained from drinking the week before taking Vivitrol experienced more abstinent days and more successful continuous abstinence.



Alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder, in general, are lifelong issues that something that someone will deal with throughout their life. In fact, many patients who go through the recovery process at a treatment facility suffer from relapses to their respective substances.

Overall, alcohol abuse and dependence is a serious issue that affects millions of Americans across the country. If you or a loved one is struggling with issues related to alcohol use and you have noticed that alcohol use may be affecting other parts of your life, it may be best to learn more about alcohol dependence and seek the help of a treatment facility if the situation calls for it.


Next Steps

With how prevalent alcohol abuse is in the United States, it is important to understand the details related to alcohol dependence and the methods for seeking treatment. This is especially true given the fact that alcohol withdrawal can be a life-threatening problem.

Luckily, there are many treatment facilities that can offer patients a safe step forward. Landmark Recovery is one drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Lexington that is dedicated to offering patients the quality care that they deserve. Landmark offers patients access to medically supervised detoxification which can help you conquer alcohol abuse symptoms, behavioral therapy services, and access to intensive outpatient and an alumni program. If you are interested in learning more about what Landmark can offer and a personal recovery plan, please visit our website and reach out to our admissions team today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.