Physical Signs of Alcoholism

What is Alcoholism

Alcoholism is the non-medical word for people suffering from symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease causing compulsive alcohol consumption despite negative social, work or health consequences.

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Here are physical signs and symptoms of AUD.

Physical Symptoms

These signs and symptoms can be visible to those with or surrounding heavy drinkers, and are sometimes kept private, or hidden by heavy drinkers. 

Experiencing blackouts, having no memory of the time you were drinking alcohol, is a symptom of alcohol abuse. Mood changes like depression, anxiety or panic attacks can develop when abusing alcohol. For some people, heavy drinking can cause changes in behavior patterns, such as becoming more aggressive or taking risks that they would not take if they were not under the influence. 

Those suffering from AUD can develop sleeping problems such as difficulty in falling or staying asleep, and chronic tiredness. Headaches and loss of memory or concentration can occur. Changes in appetite, falls, dizziness or poor balance are common. Tolerance can develop, meaning that it takes more alcohol to reach the same effects as a lower level of intake once provided.

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Physical symptoms may include the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex and an overall decrease in desire for sex. These sexual problems can reduce self esteem, sexual satisfaction, and result in increased stress and anxiety. Upset stomach, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting or vomiting blood can occur.

Itching, a sign of liver damage due to heavy and regular drinking, as well as burning, tingling or numbness in the arms, legs or feet. These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and can act as sources of shame or embarrassment. However, these symptoms can be managed when alcohol use is reduced or stopped.

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Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal occurs after stopping, or significantly reducing, the intake of alcohol.  

Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can begin anywhere from eight hours after your last drink to days later. The symptoms can range from mildly distressing to life-threatening. The discomfort of  alcohol withdrawal can lead a person with an alcohol use disorder back to drinking again, because alcohol temporarily relieves these symptoms.

During withdrawal you may feel sweaty, restless, sick to your stomach, and have trouble sleeping. Psychological symptoms include anxiety and irritability. Because of these symptoms, and the lack of alcohol in your body, you may experience an increase in craving for alcohol.



Craving alcohol means experiencing a “strong need or urge to drink.” Craving can develop as a chemical reaction in your brain. Drinking alcohol causes our brains to release endorphins that  make us feel good and lessen physical pain. Heavy drinkers often experience higher levels of feelings of drunkenness despite having consumed the same amount of alcohol as the people they are with. These feel-good effects create a cycle of drinking. 


Physical and Visible Signs

Visible symptoms of alcoholism can be noticed by others. Such signs include red splotches or obvious red veins on the nose and face, bloodshot eyes, reddening of the palms and hands, and flushed appearance. 

Jaundice, the yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin, can develop from alcohol-related liver damage caused by heavy drinking. Uncontrolled shaking or an unsteady step in their walk may also be visible. 

Those suffering from alcoholism may also frequently have a smell of alcohol on the breath, notable weight loss or weight gain and may show an overall deterioration in appearance as an effect of lack of nutrition or personal neglect.

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Next Steps

AUD can lead to very dangerous short and long term consequences that affect the person’s life, and those around them. 

Become a research volunteer to help Scripps Scientists discover new medications to reduce the urge to drink in people suffering from AUD. If you are a frequent drinker with no intention of quitting alcohol, call to find out if you’re eligible to volunteer for a 5-week, paid research study. 

Call us at (858) 784-7867.