Alcohol Addiction Causes and Effects

Sunrise Ranch provides alcohol addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Learn about alcohol and substance abuse

Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused addictive substance in the United States. As the intoxicating ingredient in beer, wine, and liquor, alcohol is virtually omnipresent in American society, and although this drug is illegal for individuals under the age of 21, it is regularly abused by adolescents and adults. Though many adults are able to consume alcohol without experiencing serious negative effects, millions of others suffer significant damage, including the development of alcohol use disorder, or AUD.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, alcohol use disorder may be present if a person’s alcohol abuse progresses to the point that he or she suffers significant impairment or distress, including experiencing two or more of the following within a discrete 12-month period:

  • Drinking greater quantities or for longer periods of time than one intended
  • Persistent desire and unsuccessful attempts to exert control over one’s alcohol use
  • Spending considerable time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or at home as a result of alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink after experiencing social or interpersonal problems because of one’s alcohol use
  • Reducing or abandoning important activities because of one’s alcohol use
  • Continuing to use alcohol in situations where doing so is physically dangerous
  • Using alcohol despite realizing that this behavior has caused or exacerbated a physical or psychological problem
  • Needing to ingest increased amounts of alcohol to become intoxicated
  • Experiencing withdrawal in the absence of alcohol
  • Overcoming alcohol use disorder can be difficult, but it is not impossible. With effective treatment, countless individuals have ended their dependence upon alcohol, regained control over their behavior, and resumed living healthier drug-free lives.

Statistics

Alcohol addiction statistics

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 86% of adults aged 18 and above in the United State have consumed alcohol at least once, and more than 56% have done so in the past month. Alcohol abuse is associated with more than 88,000 deaths every year in the United States, making it the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death. The American Psychological Association reports that about 8.5% of U.S. adults will develop alcohol use disorder in a given 12-month period. AUD is more common among men (12.4%) than among women (4.9%). From an age demographic perspective, the highest rate of AUD (16.2%) is found in adults aged 18 to 29, and the lowest (1.5%) occurs among adults aged 65 and above.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

The following are among the several factors that can influence whether or not a person will abuse alcohol, and whether or not that behavior will lead to the development of alcohol use disorder.

Genetic: There appears to be a strong genetic component to alcohol use disorder, as individuals who have a close relative with alcohol use disorder are three to four times more likely to develop a similar condition than are members of the general population. Also, the risk for developing alcohol use disorder increases among people who have multiple relatives with AUD, or whose relatives have more severe alcohol-related problems. Studies involving adopted children indicate that those whose birth parents had AUD, but who were adopted at birth and raised by parents who did not have this disorder, are still at increased risk for developing AUD themselves.

Environmental: Family use of alcohol can also be an environmental influence, as the availability of alcohol and cultural acceptability of drinking and becoming intoxicated can influence the likelihood that a person will abuse and potentially become dependent upon alcohol. Associating with peers who abuse alcohol and experiencing stress may also increase a person’s risk for alcohol abuse, which can lead to an alcohol use disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder
  • Schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
  • Low sensitivity to alcohol
  • High levels of impulsivity
  • Poor coping skills
  • Peer use of alcohol
  • Cultural acceptability of alcohol abuse
  • Prior alcohol use

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence can prompt a variety of symptoms, depending upon factors such as the amount that the person has consumed and the length of time that he or she has been dependent upon alcohol. The following are common symptoms that may indicate the presence of alcohol use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Abandoning or reducing participation in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Spending significant amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Unexplained absences from work
  • Neglect of childcare and other household responsibilities
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol even after experiencing negative physical, psychological, social, interpersonal, or occupational consequences related to prior alcohol use
  • Using alcohol is situations where such behavior is physically hazardous

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Involuntary repetitive eye movements
  • Blackouts, or alcohol-related amnesia
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paresthesia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Strong cravings for alcohol
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Impaired judgment
  • Memory impairments

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects

Effects of alcohol addiction

The chronic abuse of alcohol is associated with a wide range of negative effects, including the following:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Gastritis
  • Ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Increased risk for certain cancers
  • Diminished performance in school or at work
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Strained or ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Legal problems
  • Financial distress
  • Homelessness
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who develop alcohol use disorder may be at increased risk for experiencing several additional mental health disorders, including the following:

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

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal & overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Individuals whose bodies have become dependent upon alcohol may experience painful and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms in the absence of this drug. Exhibiting two or more of the following symptoms in the immediate aftermath of an attempt to stop or reduce alcohol intake may indicate that a person is experiencing alcohol withdrawal:

  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Elevated pulse rate
  • Tremors
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations
  • Seizure

Effects of alcohol overdose: Also occasionally referred to as alcohol poisoning, alcohol overdose is extremely dangerous and potentially lethal. An individual who demonstrates the following symptoms after consuming alcohol may be in need of immediate medical attention:

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Significantly impaired coordination and balance
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hypothermia
  • Clammy and/or bluish skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure

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I let alcohol destroy and ruin my personal life. I'd had enough, so I went to Sunrise. Thanks to the caring and compassionate staff at Sunrise, I'm now sober!

– Steve H.
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  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
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