7 Health Signs of Chronic Alcoholism

Changes may begin when people really understand what alcohol does to their bodies

January 8, 2022
Woman sitting with a glass of water

Since the pandemic started, alcohol consumption has increased dramatically. According to a study in Sept. 2020, alcohol consumption rose by 14% among adults over 30 years old. Also, heavy alcohol use rose by 41% among adult women. The study also discovered many people who had quit drinking but then relapsed during the pandemic.

Suffice it to say, there will be many more adults showing health signs of chronic alcoholism. Although this was already a factor before the pandemic, it will be an even more significant issue moving forward.

People need to understand how chronic alcoholism shows up in the body. Many changes occur in our physical health when we consume large and frequent amounts of alcohol. However, most people aren’t aware of these changes or confuse the differences with other health issues. The symptoms are often downplayed and overlooked, especially among people who drink heavily and suffer from alcohol addiction.

The more the general population is educated about alcohol abuse and the health issues that accompany it, the more that people can make informed decisions. Also, more education means preventing the most severe problems of chronic alcoholism.

As a former nurse and a recovering alcoholic, I’m determined to provide this information for the general public so they can learn the facts. The truth is, alcohol education doesn’t get widely distributed in our society. Unfortunately, the consequences are far-reaching. Alcoholism causes serious health issues, accidents, injuries, violence and mental health problems, and can traumatize family members.

Below are some health signs of chronic alcoholism. Knowing these signs can help people understand how alcoholism affects them, providing a starting ground for health promotion and change. If you or someone you know has some of these signs, it’s essential to seek medical attention. But more so, it’s important to tell the doctor about the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption.

Tremors

Frequent and large amounts of alcohol consumption can cause the hands and parts of the body to tremor. Alcohol causes the nervous system to become overexcited, especially once a person stops drinking after consuming a lot of alcohol.

Most people who drink frequently and heavily have some kind of tremor after they stop drinking and before they begin drinking again. This is a sign that alcohol is seriously affecting the nervous system, which can be dangerous over time. This nervous system disruption can also affect one’s balance. The mildest sign of tremors is shaky hands, but these symptoms can escalate into serious alcohol withdrawal with a risk of delirium tremens. Frequent alcohol withdrawals can cause serious damage to the nervous system and make it more likely to have severe complications during the withdrawal process in the future.

Redness in the Face and Hands

Alcohol can cause temporary flushing in the face and hands after a person begins drinking. However, with chronic alcoholism, this redness can become more permanent. The redness is caused by an inflammatory process under the skin and dilated blood vessels. However, the redness can also be due to an actual allergy to alcohol.

Lastly, with prolonged and heavy alcohol use, the liver can become affected by the toxic quality of alcohol. This causes the liver to struggle, which has many complications once the liver begins to break down. One sign of liver issues is a red face with tiny visible capillaries called spider angiomas. Once this sign becomes visible, it’s essential to have a complete liver check-up with scans and extensive blood work.

Digestive Problems

Alcohol, being the toxin it is, can be very hard on the stomach and digestive tract. Heavy alcohol use can cause digestive issues almost immediately after one episode of heavy drinking. However, with chronic alcohol use, the digestive tract is constantly bombarded, which means the digestive issues are frequent and ongoing.

Also, alcohol can contribute to metabolic issues, liver damage and vitamin deficiencies which can manifest into digestive symptoms like heartburn, decreased ability to digest fats and protein, bowel issues, upset stomach, and anorexia.

Vitamin Deficiencies/Malnutrition

Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is an essential vitamin for the functioning of our nervous system, heart and digestive system. Almost all chronic alcohol users are deficient in thiamine, which causes issues with balance, decreased mental capacity, heart problems, nervous system dysfunction and digestive issues. The symptoms are usually mild initially, but over time they can become more serious and even life-threatening.

Other vitamins are also affected by alcohol abuse, which can cause various issues like anemia, skin problems, immune dysfunction, and nerve issues. Many chronic alcoholics are often malnourished, as they have less capacity to eat full nutritious meals. Also, alcohol can eventually decrease the appetite or diminish the “buzz” from alcohol, making people eat less.

Feeling Sick in the Morning

Most people are pretty familiar with the hangover, making mornings very difficult. However, chronic alcohol users often don’t get hangovers, as they have built a tolerance for alcohol and have figured out how to avoid hangovers. However, the health-related issues mentioned above can also cause a feeling of illness in the mornings. Headaches, upset stomach, brain fog and dehydration can make mornings miserable in chronic alcoholism.

Rising Mental Health Issues

Research is beginning to show how brutal alcohol is for mental health. There’s no doubt that alcohol makes mental health issues worse, but more so, chronic alcoholism can actually cause mental health issues. Those who never had a mental illness previously can develop things like anxiety and depression just by consuming large and frequent amounts of alcohol.

This issue can be really confusing because some people drink to soothe mental health symptoms, and in the beginning, it may seem to work. However, over time, alcohol causes changes in the nervous system that can manifest as mental illness symptoms. In particular, anxiety is the No. 1 symptom of alcohol withdrawal. So with increased alcohol use comes increased problems with anxiety.

Metabolic Issues

This issue can be confusing because many factors lead to metabolic problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. Some studies showed that light drinking might decrease metabolic problems in the past. However, new studies show that heavy chronic alcohol use can contribute to metabolic issues. Also, continuous alcohol use can worsen metabolic issues once they start.

These are seven health signs of chronic alcoholism that the general public should know about. The more people are educated about the truth, the more they can be armed with the knowledge to make better decisions.

The best way to prevent these problems is by quitting drinking or sticking to the CDC’s safe drinking guidelines, which is one drink for a woman per day and two drinks for a man per day. However, chronic alcoholism is a highly complex issue that requires multiple approaches to treat. Education is just the beginning.

More Help & Information

Auguste Rodin, The Thinker

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