Need help now? Call our 24/7 confidential hotline:800-923-9141

Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Want to Help Seniors?

Please help us grow our network by volunteering for support groups.

Elderly man drinking excessive amount of alcohol

Alcohol addiction or alcoholism is a widespread disease that affects people of all demographics. Alcoholism is present if a person heavily relies on alcohol or cannot stay sober for long periods.

Alcohol Overview

Alcohol is a depressant that is acceptable in most cultures. Alcohol addiction can begin at any age and has severe long-term effects associated with it that can affect the lives of others around them and their community. Because alcohol is widely accepted, it can be especially difficult to know if someone is abusing alcohol.

Every year, 88,000 deaths are attributed to excessive alcohol use with alcohol being the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. Over time, people can develop alcohol dependency or addiction also known as alcoholism. This can lead to numerous health problems, diseases, neurological impairments, and social problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Unlike other drugs, alcohol is widely available and accepted in most cultures. Alcohol can be used during celebrations and enjoyment; however, some users develop habits that can drastically affect their lives. It can sometimes be difficult to know if someone’s alcohol consumption is a problem.

A person might be under the influence of alcohol if they have:

  • Poor balance
  • Clumsiness
  • Slowed or delayed reflexes
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blacking out
  • Redness in face
  • Incoherent or slurred speech

A person might be abusing alcohol if they show:

  • Loss of control over how much they drink when they begin drinking
  • Increased quantity or frequency of use
  • Having a higher tolerance or no hangover symptoms
  • Drinking at inappropriate times or places
  • Negligence to family and professional obligations
  • Insomnia that can be followed by oversleeping
  • Wanting to be where alcohol is present and/or avoiding situations where alcohol is not present
  • Changes in friendship (alcoholics will usually be with friends with those who also drink heavily)
  • Showing more emotions of anger or other intense emotions, especially in inappropriate settings
  • Avoiding contact with loved ones and family
  • Dependence on alcohol to function in everyday life
  • Increased behavior of lethargy and depression
  • Legal or professional problems that can include being arrested or job loss
  • Behaviors that can be risky, especially those that carry the risk of legal, financial, or health consequences

What Happens to the Body from Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol is a depressant that slows down vital functions causing most users to have slurred speech and unsteady movement. Alcohol also reduces a person’s ability to think rationally causing unintentional or intentional violence or accidents.

Short-term effects of alcohol can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Impaired judgement
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Anemia
  • Coma
  • Blackouts (memory lapses)
  • Slurred speech

Long-term effects of alcohol can include:

  • Ulcers
  • Diabetes complications
  • Inflammation of liver
  • Sexual problems
  • Birth defects (woman who abuse alcohol while pregnant)
  • Unintentional injuries including car crashes, falls, burns, drowning
  • Intentional injuries such as sexual assault, firearm injuries, and domestic violence
  • Nerve damage
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can cause amnesia, apathy, and disorientation
  • Gastritis
  • Malnutrition
  • Vision problems
  • Bone loss
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Suppressed Immune function
  • Cancer of the liver, mouth, or throat

Drunk driving takes 30 lives every day in the United States. Abuse of alcohol also often increases the incidences of suicide or homicide. These types of instances are just a few reasons that it is important to treat alcohol addiction as early as possible.

Understanding an Alcohol Addiction

Although scientists cannot say for sure why alcoholism develops, there are certain contributing factors that often exist. This includes genetic predisposition, environment, and mental health. Alcohol is a depressant that usually reduces stress. Sometimes alcohol is a result of self-medication that can ease physical or emotional pain.

Alcohol usually is served at social gatherings and can be a normal part of life. Sometimes, alcohol also is used as an isolation tool for people that have poor support networks, limited access to transportation, or decreased mobility.

Peer pressure can also be a problematic reason to start consuming alcohol, especially at a younger age. Because these young people lack self-confidence and refusal skills, many adolescents offered alcohol accept.

For the most part, alcohol users enjoy the psychoactive effects of alcohol for various reasons and can be okay to consume moderately.

An Introduction to the Drug – Alcohol

Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through small blood vessels in the walls of the stomach and small intestine. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream within minutes of being consumed where it travels from the stomach to the brain.

About 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and 80 percent of alcohol is absorbed in the small intestine. Alcohol is also carried to the liver by the bloodstream, which eliminates the alcohol from metabolizing. Metabolizing is the process of converting something ingested to a nontoxic substance.

Since the liver can only metabolize a certain amount at a time, excess alcohol circulates throughout the body. When a certain amount of alcohol has been consumed and alcohol in the blood reaches a certain level, this can cause the person using alcohol to have extremely slow breathing that can cause coma or even death because oxygen is no longer reaching the brain.

What Does It Look Like and Where Does It Come From?

Alcohol, also known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol, is a substance found in beer, wine, and spirits or liquor. Alcohol is formed when yeast ferments the sugars in different food. Alcohol can be derived from food such as grapes, apples, malted barley, corn, potatoes, beets, and many other plants.

Through different processes to make alcohol, these plants can then be made into substances such as wine, cider, vodka, bourbon, whiskey, and beer.

For the most part, alcohol is made in distilleries, wineries, and breweries of all sizes across the world.

Common Drug Combinations

Although alcohol is usually used alone, some alcohol users mix alcohol with prescription and non-prescription drugs. Some alcohol users have been known to mix drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, and amphetamines.

Different drug and alcohol combinations create different effects. For instance, mixing alcohol and marijuana can lead to marijuana having a much stronger effect than it would normally have. Having alcohol in a person’s system while consuming marijuana can cause the body to absorb the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) faster than it would without alcohol.

Mixing alcohol and cocaine can have extreme interactions. When mixed, the alcohol can have depressive effects, making the cocaine reaction stronger. When the two drugs combine in a person’s system, it creates a toxic substance in the liver called cocaethylene. This puts users at risk of heart attacks and even sudden death.

Mixing alcohol and ecstasy can be especially dangerous because alcohol and MDMA both cause dehydration. When mixing these two drugs, people can become dangerously dehydrated. Alcohol also increases ecstasy-related deaths such as those caused by heatstroke.

Amphetamines, or speed, cause an adrenaline rush, and taking these drugs with alcohol, put significant pressure on a user’s heart that can become fatal. This combination is similar to the MDMA combination, where emotions are intensified and the user loses their inhibitions.

The last common drug that alcohol is often mixed with is heroin. Both alcohol and heroin are considered “downers” and slow a person’s heart rate and breathing. This puts the user at risk of overdosing due to doubling up on these “downers” and making it hard for the body to breathe regularly.


Treatment for alcohol addiction can sometimes be complex and challenging. It is usually impossible for someone to stop drinking on their own when they have a problem; however, with rehabilitation programs and support groups, alcohol addiction recovery is possible.