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Understanding the Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Moderate and controlled alcohol consumption are both normal and largely harmless for most people. However, a lack of moderation can lead to alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and significant physical damage as a result of both. In no uncertain terms, persistent consumption of excess amounts of alcohol damages the body in numerous ways. Some of this damage can be seen very clearly through the physical signs of alcoholism.

The signs to which we refer occur progressively in the lives of alcohol abusers and alcoholics. In other words, some of the signs and symptoms occur in the early stages of alcohol abuse in such a way that they are easily dismissed as being caused by something else. Other signs and symptoms may not appear until later in the progression of the condition. For the purposes of clarification, we will look at the long list of the physical signs of alcoholism at both the early and advanced stages.

Early Signs and Symptoms

The human body is capable of processing a certain amount of alcohol safely. As a matter of fact, the government's designation of what constitutes one unit of alcohol is based on how much alcohol can be processed by the body in a single hour. These measurements have led the government to recommend that men consume no more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol per day and women limit themselves to 2 to 3 units per day.

You should also understand that the body is better at processing alcohol during the early stages of a drinking problem than it is in the late stages. Therefore, the physical signs of alcoholism in the early stages are not as easily recognisable. The two most common signs are as follows:

  • Unexplained Blackouts – A blackout is defined medically as having no memory of events that happened during a given period in the past. A blackout and passing out are not the same thing. During the early stages of alcoholism, the alcoholic will experience frequent blackouts with no explanation. He or she will have no memory of the night before, for example, after engaging in hours of excessive drinking.
  • Unexplained Injuries or Illnesses – Alcoholics in the earliest stages of the condition will also suffer unexplained injuries or illnesses. For example, an alcoholic may discover a severe laceration or contusion without knowing how it occurred. Another might be suffering unexplained gastric distress with no noticeable link to anything else.

Alongside both of these signs is the reality that alcoholism can make other physical conditions worse. Often, alcoholics fail to link the exacerbation of existing medical conditions with alcohol consumption, assuming that such conditions just grew worse by themselves. Yet more often than not, alcohol is the culprit. The body expends so much effort in processing alcohol that it does not have the resources to continue fighting the other illness.

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Advanced Stage Signs and Symptoms

As alcoholism progresses, the physical damage experienced by the alcoholic becomes more profound and noticeable. In most cases, the physical signs of alcoholism are very apparent to even the casual observer. The only one who does not quite understand what's going on is the alcoholic him/herself. As far as he/she's concerned, any physical damage experienced has been caused by something else – alcohol is the only thing helping him/her cope with that damage.

The most common advanced stage signs and symptoms are:

  • Excessive Weight Loss – Although some alcoholics gain quite a bit of weight, most lose weight excessively because they do not eat properly. Alcoholics are just not hungry most of the time. And when they do eat, they tend to eat poorly because their resources are going toward procuring alcohol.
  • Red Skin Tone – The effect of alcohol on the circulatory system has a very definite effect on skin tone. In fact, one of the more pronounced physical symptoms of alcohol abuse is redness in the cheeks and nose. Redness and swelling can also occur in the palms of the hands. Elsewhere, the skin will take on the very pale and unhealthy tone.
  • Regular Infections – Alcohol abuse creates a problem for the immune system to such a degree that alcoholics in the advanced stages routinely suffer various kinds of infections. For example, it is common to see alcoholics with skin sores and other types of abscesses.
  • Gastric Distress – Alcohol does a number on the stomach and the intestines. Alcoholics frequently complain of daily gastric distress that can take the form of stomach cramps, indigestion, or other types of discomfort. Some alcoholics are prone to stomach ulcers as well.
  • Loss of Sex Drive – Some people believe that alcohol consumption increases libido considerably. It may in a small fraction of the population, but it actually inhibits libido in most people. Chronic alcoholics, therefore, are subject to a significant loss of sex drive. Men can even experience shrinking testicles and impotence.
  • Liver Disease – The final stages of alcoholism usually include severe liver disease, like cirrhosis. There comes a point when the liver can simply not process any more alcohol because it has been overtaxed for so long. A diseased liver will eventually kill the alcoholic if a transplant does not take place.

The physical signs of alcoholism are not random or misplaced. They are a direct result of the damaging effects of alcohol on the body. A person who eventually succumbs to alcoholism will undergo a prolonged period of suffering as a result of all the damage done inside.

Any existence of the physical signs of alcohol dependence in your life should be reason enough for you to contact us. Let us help you determine if you truly have a problem and, if so, get the help you need to overcome it. Do not allow your life to be destroyed by a drinking habit that can be addressed through effective treatment and support.

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