Alcohol Abuse Causes, Statistics, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism can be defined as a physical dependence on alcohol, or a condition in which the body becomes dependent on alcohol to function physically.  As a result of this dependency, alcohol is consumed obsessively and in uncontrolled amounts.  Men and women who suffer from addiction to alcohol cannot exercise control over the amount consumed, regardless if their addiction is damaging to their relationships, ability to work, or finances.  Alcoholism is a devastating disease as it results in detrimental mental, physical, and emotional consequences to the man or woman who may be suffering.

Intervention: Sean’s Alcoholism – A scene from the episode Sean. As posted by: A&E

Alcohol Addiction Statistics

Research studies have confirmed the prevalence and devastation of addiction to alcohol and alcohol abuse.  A recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry estimated that about 30 percent of Americans reported having an alcohol disorder at some point in their lives.  Over half (17.8%) were due to alcohol abuse and the remainder to alcohol dependence (12.5%) [1]. The following are other important statistics to be aware of in regards to alcohol abuse and alcoholism:

  • Alcohol abuse is more common among men, whites, and younger unmarried adults [1].
  • Alcohol abuse developed at an average age of 22.5, while alcohol dependence developed at an average age of 21.9 [1].
  • On average, patients receive treatment 8 years after the age at which they develop the condition [1].
  • Alcohol is a factor in 1/25 deaths worldwide [2].
  • Alcohol consumption more severely affects women than men [3].

Causes of Alcohol Addiction

There are several interconnected factors that can result in alcohol abuse or addiction.  Examples of these causes that can influence the development of alcoholism include biological, psychological, and social/environmental factors.  Biological influences that may attribute to alcohol addiction include a genetic component.  Psychological factors connected with alcoholism include but are not limited to cases of abuse, underlying traumas, feelings of depression, and anxiety.  In situations of unbearable emotions, feelings, or pain, alcohol may be abused as a means of escaping these realities.  Social/environmental factors that can be a factor in alcoholism include similar cases of abuse within family, availability and acceptability of alcohol within a community, and pressure from peer groups. Examples of social/environmental factors that may be related to alcohol addiction are conditions such as poverty, homelessness, or poor housing.  Because of the similarities alcoholism has with other addictive diseases, it can be co-occurring with substance abuse or eating disorders. The nature of addictive diseases is influenced by several factors, and it is likely that the alcoholic may also struggle with other forms of addictions.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

Men and women who are abusing alcohol may exhibit the following signs:

  • Ongoing negligence of responsibilities at work, home, school due to drinking
  • Drinking as a method of coping or de-stressing
  • Increase in legal difficulties as a result of drinking
  • Loss of control over drinking
  • Inability to quit drinking even if desired
  • Loss of interest in other activities once enjoyed.
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and drinking
  • Drinking in isolation
  • Storing alcohol in unlikely places
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol so that greater amounts are needed to feel its effects

Likewise, men and women who are alcoholics may display the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Digestive problems, such as gastritis or heartburn
  • Redness of the nose and cheeks

Alcoholic Male with Head on Table

Alcohol Effects

Addiction to alcohol can result in numerous short and long term consequences for the user.  Men and women struggling with alcoholism can be impacted physically, psychologically / mentally, and socially as a result of their addiction.  The following are ways in which alcohol abusers are affected in their lives: Physical Effects – Abuse of alcohol is detrimental to the normal mechanisms and functions of the human body.  Since alcohol travels to all parts of the body through the blood system when consumed, several systems are impacted.  The following are possible physical effects of alcohol:

  • Alteration in brain function resulting in slurred speech, reduced memory and clumsiness.
  • Inflammation of the liver, scarring of liver tissue and liver disease
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunctions, such as pancreatitis or reduced absorption of nutrients
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Death

Psychological / Mental Effects – Alcoholism can also negatively influence mental health.  The following are some of the potential psychological and mental effects from alcoholism:

  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of anxiety
  • Severe mental illnesses, such as psychosis
  • Phobias
  • Hallucinations, delusions
  • Personality shifts
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion, disorientation

Social Effects – Alcohol addiction may also result in several negative social effects.  These may include the following:

  • Isolation, seclusion from loved ones
  • Damaged relationships with family members, friends
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Inability to be a functioning member of society

Alcohol Withdrawal

Abstaining from alcohol once dependency is created may cause severe symptoms in the alcoholic.  When a man or woman has been drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, severe withdrawal symptoms will occur in the absence of alcohol.  These symptoms can occur within 5-10 hours of the last drink and may worsen over several days.  Some of the common symptoms experienced as a result of withdrawing from alcohol use include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Headaches
  • Clammy Skin
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremes – a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes.

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning will occur if a man or woman has consumed toxic amounts of alcohol, typically over a short period of time.  If blood alcohol levels are dangerously high, this would be considered toxic, or poisonous.  Toxic levels of alcohol in the blood lead to detrimental consequences as this can be life-threatening and usually warrants urgent medical care and treatment. One of the main causes of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking, which is characterized by the rapid consumption of five or more drinks in a row.  Toxic blood alcohol levels can also be caused by the accidental or intentional consumption of household products that contain alcohol. Because of the danger associated with alcohol poisoning, it is important to seek emergency medical help immediately if this is suspected.

Alcoholism Relapse

Reverting back to alcohol use after abstaining is known as alcoholism relapse.  Many factors can contribute to relapse, include underlying psychological/emotional issues, peer pressure, stress, insecurity, inability to cope with difficult situations, etc.  Having the proper resources and a supportive treatment program can help in preventing relapse, ultimately ensuring a successful recovery journey.

Happy Black Male

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism is a devastating addiction that can lead to life-altering consequences.  If you or someone you care for is suffering with an alcohol addiction, the first step towards overcoming this can be taken by recognizing the problem.  Seeking professional help is also an important part of dealing with the complications that may have resulted from alcohol abuse. Serious alcohol addiction should receive treatment at a qualified rehab center. Alcoholism can be a damaging issue to deal with, but there is no need to struggle through this alone.  By having the help of a professional treatment team, treatment program, or interventionist, you will have access to the necessary tools for overcoming this addiction and finding recovery.


[1] Deborah S. Hasin, Frederick S. Stinson, Elizabeth Ogburn, and Bridget F. Grant.  Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence in the United States: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.  Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64:830-842. Vol. 64 No. 7, July 2007

[2] Jürgen Rehm, Colin Mathers, Svetlana Popova, Montarat Thavorncharoensap, Yot Teerawattananon, Jayadeep Patra.  Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders.  The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9682, Pages 2223 – 2233, 27 June 2009 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60746-7


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