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Understanding the Symptoms of Alcoholism

As far as addictions go, alcoholism is relatively common. Because alcohol is a substance that is so readily available and accepted in most societies, alcoholism is more often the butt of jokes than a subject of concern. Few people are unaware of alcoholism, but few are able to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism before it’s too late. This is made more complicated by the rise of functional alcoholics, who hide their addiction. However, educating yourself on the symptoms of alcoholism and even functional alcoholic symptoms can help you recognize when a loved one needs help.

5 Minute Read | Published Sep 28 2023 | Updated Feb 27 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Dr. Ash Bhatt
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Dr. Ash Bhatt
Reviewed by

Learn more about the symptoms of alcoholism and even functional alcoholic symptoms

Alcoholism is a physical and mental dependency upon alcohol that negatively affects virtually all aspects of an alcoholic’s life. There are physical symptoms that crop up in alcoholics of all sorts, and are also functional alcoholic symptoms. Looking for signs of addiction in a functional alcoholic can be difficult because of their layers of deception used to appear normal and healthy in their every day life, but the physical toll that alcohol takes on an individual be difficult to hide.  Physical symptoms of alcoholism can include:

  • Redness in the face, which can be splotchy or even across the face and especially visible on the nose and cheeks
  • Spider veins, or spider anigomas, which look red lines on the alcoholic’s face
  • Weight changes – either weight loss from loss of appetite or weight gain from the high sugar content of most alcoholic drinks and food cravings that some experience
  • Dry, dull looking skin and hair that can also appear flaky
  • Hyperpigmentation or dark spots on their face, arms, or other parts of the body
  • Tooth decay or yellowing caused by alcohol’s damage to their enamel and poor care due to drinking and failing to brush their teeth after drinking or before sleeping
  • Bad breath from poor oral hygiene, damage to salivary glands, and the dehydrating effect of alcohol

These symptoms can be obscured with makeup or gum, but observing several in someone who drinks regularly or has recently become dismissive or secretive about their drinking habits is a red flag. All of these outwardly physical symptoms of alcoholism are caused by underlying health problems that their alcohol abuse has brought about.  These are much more serious than their purely aesthetic impact, and can include

  • Cirrhosis of the liver Cirrhosis is a progressive disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue and can lead to a buildup of toxins in the blood.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Brain damage due to lack of the B vitamin, thiamine, in the brain which can result in exhaustion, memory and learning problems, and even death. The lack of thiamine is caused by liver damage that impairs the liver’s ability to absorb and process nutrients.

  • Heart disease Increased blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, and risk of stroke are associated with excessive drinking.
  • Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD) Brain shrinkage is a common result of alcoholism and leads to chronic memory loss, emotional changes, and general decline in mental faculties. There is also a strong connection between alcoholism, brain shrinkage, and dementia related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This is a small overview of just a handful of the diseases that are a consequence of alcoholism- many more diseases and conditions are risked with each sip taken by alcoholics. Whether or not an alcoholic meets the loose definition of “functional,” the health risks of alcoholism remain the same. Alcoholics rarely recognize the dire health consequences of their drinking, even when the can see that symptoms are present. This is why learning about symptoms of alcoholism and functional alcoholic symptoms can be an important step for loved ones to take before approaching someone they are worried about. Physical symptoms of alcoholism can be readily apparent, but educating yourself on behavioral symptoms is also important.

For more information or for assistance finding addiction treatment centers, call (800) 429-7690 and someone would be more than happy to answer your questions.


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