Causes & Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Since 1957, Azure Acres Treatment Center has given hope to individuals struggling with alcohol addiction and its lasting effects. Azure Acres provides residents high-quality alcohol and drug abuse treatment near Santa Rosa, California.

Understanding Alcohol

Learn about alcohol and substance abuse

Alcohol, which results from the fermentation of starches, yeast, and sugars, is the most commonly abused substance in the United States and in many other nations. It can be found in wine, liquor, and beer. While typically referred to just as “alcohol”, it is actually ethyl alcohol, or ethanol.

The use of alcohol is included into a number of practices and customs in America, including social gatherings, religious services, and celebrations. Many individuals are able to consume alcohol without any negative effects occurring, however millions of others battle with damage that results from their drinking. For those individuals, the development of alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is possible and most of the time, inevitable.

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the following criteria is used to diagnose alcohol use disorder. If an individual has serious impairment and/or distress as a response to his or her alcohol abuse, including two or more of the below listed criteria for more than 12 months, he or she might have AUD:

  • Going through withdrawal symptoms when one is incapable of consuming alcohol
  • Consuming greater amounts of alcohol, or drinking for a longer period of time, than intended
  • Needing to consume larger amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the desired effect
  • Persistently desiring and unsuccessfully attempting to limit or manage one’s alcohol use
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol even though the individual knows that his or her alcohol use has caused or exacerbated a physical or mental health problem
  • Spending large amounts of time to obtain, use, and recover from alcohol use
  • Using alcohol in situations where the individual knows that doing so is physically dangerous
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Limiting or ceasing participation in significant activities because of one’s alcohol use
  • Being incapable of meeting obligations at work, school, or home because of one’s alcohol abuse
  • Continuing to drink even after experiencing social or interpersonal problems that resulted from one’s abuse of alcohol

The abuse of alcohol can lead to a number of issues in all areas of an individual’s life, and battling with AUD can be incredibly challenging. With the appropriate treatment, however, individuals can end their alcohol abuse and reclaim control within their lives so they can begin living happy, healthy lives once and for all.


Alcohol addiction statistics

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), more than eight out of every 10 Americans have ingested alcohol at least one time in his or her life, and more than 50% of all American adults had consumed at least one alcoholic beverage within the past 30 days. The American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that roughly 12% of adult men and 5% of women show symptoms in line with an AUD diagnosis each year. Alcohol abuse is considered the third most common preventable cause of death within the country, with researchers estimating that nearly 90,000 fatalities are due to the misuse of this substance.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

Numerous factors can play a role in an individual’s likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder or abusing alcohol, including:

Genetic: Those with a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or a parent, with alcohol use disorder have a much greater risk of developing the disorder themselves. Experts suggest that genetics make up between 40% and 60% of the risk variance for AUD. Studies that followed adopted individuals show that an individual who has birth parents who had AUD are 400% more likely to struggle with the disorder than the rest of the population, even if that individual is raised by adoptive parents who do not have AUD. Researchers also note that specific genes can increase or decrease an individual’s chances of developing alcohol use disorder.

Environmental: The prevalence and acceptability of alcohol use within an individual’s culture can have an affect on his or her vulnerability in developing alcohol use disorder. Other environmental factors can include hanging out with individuals who abuse this substance and having poor coping skills for handling stress.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Cultural acceptability of alcohol abuse
  • Peer abuse of alcohol
  • Poor coping skills
  • High levels of impulsivity

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

Below are some of the most common symptoms that an individual might exhibit if he or she is suffering from AUD:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unexplained absences from school or work
  • Reckless, risky, and otherwise dangerous behaviors
  • Declining performance in school or at work
  • Secretiveness regarding one’s whereabouts and/or activities
  • Neglecting personal or household responsibilities
  • Abandoning or limiting participation in significant activities
  • Requiring alcohol to celebrate successes or cope with setbacks

Physical symptoms:

  • Tingling or “pins and needles” feeling in fingers and toes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurring speech

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired cognition
  • Strong cravings for alcohol
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Alcohol-related amnesia (also commonly referred to as blackouts)

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anger and aggressiveness
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of alcohol addiction

The continued abuse of alcohol can cause a number of dangerous outcomes to develop, including the following:

  • Lowered performance in school or at work
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Social isolation or ostracization
  • Homelessness
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Financial problems
  • Damage to the liver, pancreas, and heart
  • Gastritis
  • Family discord
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Heightened risk for certain cancers
  • Ulcers
  • Physical injury related to impaired coordination and/or recklessness

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

Those who have alcohol use disorder can also experience a number of other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Conduct disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: The long-term abuse of alcohol can lead to numerous uncomfortable and possibly dangerous symptoms if an individual suddenly stops or curbs his or her intake of alcohol. Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Tremors
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Seizures
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety

Effects of alcohol overdose: Alcohol overdose, which is also known as alcohol poisoning, can be tremendously dangerous and possibly deadly. Anyone who shows the following symptoms after ingesting alcohol should obtain immediate medical help:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Clammy and/or bluish skin
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Impaired coordination and balance
  • Slowed breathing

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I have been in and out of treatment for years and could not remain sober for more than a couple years sometimes no more than 60 days. I attended groups and one on one therapy with my counselor there and this time something magical happened for me there. Azure Acres saved my life -- check this place out if you are looking for treatment!

– Former Patient