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Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Alcohol’s role as a socially accepted pastime has remained intact since the dawn of civilization. Nowadays, alcohol plays a part in most every celebratory occasion. Having a beer at dinnertime (or even lunchtime) is common and in some circles, to be expected.

With each passing year, an estimated 80,000 people die from alcohol-related conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcoholism ranks as the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States.

While casual or occasional drinking poses minimal health risks, physical signs of alcoholism can quickly develop in cases of overuse. The crossover point between causal and frequent drinking can get blurry, especially when a person starts anticipating that next drink.

Once physical signs of alcoholism take hold, things will only get worse with time unless a determined effort is made to cut back or at least modify drinking behaviors. Like any form of addiction, what starts out as a seemingly harmful indulgence, can quickly turn a person’s life upside-down once control is lost.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Alcohol produces a depressant-like effect, slowing down chemical processes throughout the brain and body. These slowing effects play a major role in how physical signs of alcoholism develop.

On average, a person’s body can metabolize one standard size drink per hour. Any excess amounts remain in the bloodstream for as long as it takes the liver to process the amount consumed.

As alcohol makes its way through the bloodstream, some of it gets absorbed inside the body’s cells and tissues. According to Brown University Health Education, the longer alcohol stays in the bloodstream the more damage done to the body.

Physical signs of alcoholism develop over time as alcohol’s depressant effects start to alter fundamental chemical processes throughout the brain and body. These effects only get worse the longer a person continues to engage in alcohol abuse.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

While physical signs of alcoholism can vary depending on each person’s body chemistry, certain predictable signs will likely develop along the way due to alcohol’s effects on brain function. Initially, physical signs of alcoholism are, for the most part short-lived. Over time, these signs will last longer and appear more often as alcohol’s cumulative effects on brain function take hold.

Consuming Increasingly Larger Amounts

Alcohol’s initial effects on the brain work to alter neurotransmitter production rates. Every time a person has a drink, alcohol triggers neurotransmitter secretions from certain groups of brain cells. With frequent and continued drinking, brain chemical imbalances start to take shape.

In essence, affected brain cells have to work twice as hard as they normally do. These interactions take a steady toll on cell structures, which gradually become less sensitive to alcohol’s effects.

As cells lose their sensitivity, a determined drinker will have to increase his or her consumption amounts in order to experience the desired “buzz” effect. Over time, a person will have to keep consuming increasingly larger amounts as cell structures continue to deteriorate.

Withdrawal Effects

alcoholism effects

Withdrawal effects include depression and anxiety.

By far, the withdrawal effects brought on by excess drinking become the most noticeable physical signs of alcoholism.

According to Perelman School of Medicine, withdrawal effects can be both short-term and long-term in nature depending on the stage of alcoholism. People with a long history of alcoholism will likely experience withdrawal effects on an ongoing basis.

Signs of withdrawal may include –

  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Bouts of anxiety
  • Tremors or shaking in the extremities

These physical signs of alcoholism only worsen in severity the longer a person continues to drink.

Effects on the Heart

Alcohol’s effects on neurotransmitter outputs have a slowing effect on electrical activity throughout the brain. Before long, physical signs of alcoholism start to impair heart function as the brain loses its ability to properly regulate the cardiovascular system.

Over time, a person starts to experience heart and/or circulation problems, some of which include –

  • Increased blood pressure levels
  • Heartbeat irregularities
  • Stroke episodes

Immune System Effects

Someone who drinks heavily or binge drinks on a regular basis has likely absorbed a large amount of alcohol into his or her body tissues. These effects only work to impair cell metabolism processes and essentially poison individual cell structures.

With continued drinking, a person’s immune system weakens to the point where he or she will come down with cold and flu symptoms on a frequent basis. While not life threatening, this physical sign of alcoholism can have long-term health effects over time.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Along with the brain and central nervous system, alcohol also targets cell sites within the body’s gastrointestinal tract. This means, alcohol’s slowing effects have a direct impact on the body’s metabolism processes.

Slowed metabolism functions, coupled with the brain’s weakened ability to regulate digestion processes severely compromise the body’s ability to digest and metabolize food nutrients. Under these conditions, physical signs of alcoholism may take the form of –

  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflex
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Considerable weight loss

Blackout Episodes

Alcohol has a cumulative effect on the body, gradually slowing the chemical processes that regulate bodily functions. The brain suffers the brunt of these effects, as electrical activity levels continue to decline.

Blackout episodes result when the sedating effects of alcohol overpower the brain’s ability to regulate cognitive functions. People with a long history of drinking will likely experience this physical sign of alcoholism on a regular basis.

Alcohol Poisoning

Elevated blood alcohol levels take a toll on the body’s central nervous system functions. After a certain point, alcohol poisoning becomes a factor, which can quickly shut down vital bodily processes.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include –

  • Lowered body temperature
  • Respiratory distress
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unusually low blood pressure levels
  • Comatose state

These physical signs of alcoholism can be life threatening, and will most likely warrant immediate medical attention.

Addiction Considerations

In effect, the physical signs of alcoholism are actually physical signs of an alcohol addiction problem. While the physical signs of alcoholism can inflict serious harm on a person’s overall health, the psychological effects of addiction will destroy a person’s mind in the process. Getting needed treatment help cannot happen too soon once alcoholism takes hold in a person’s life.

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