Binge-drinking, high-intensity drinking, and alcohol use disorder are highly prevalent in the United States. Drinking is commonplace in many social situations, from gatherings with friends to social work gatherings, dates, etc. As a result, it can be easy to get swept up in excessive drinking, and many people see their drinking progress from casual social drinking to extreme long-term alcohol abuse.
If you’re a regular drinker and have intensified your drinking as a form of self-medicating — or know someone who has — you’re likely concerned about the long-term consequences. Long-term heavy drinking has emotional, mental, and physical side effects. Knowing the warning signs can make it easier to spot when casual drinking has progressed into something more concerning.
In this post, we’ll look at some common symptoms of long-term abuse, including the physical signs of alcoholism and why they should raise alarms.
1. Physical Signs of Alcoholism
One of the most common physical signs of alcoholism is something known as the alcoholic face. Wondering how to spot an alcoholic face? Watch for signs that the person’s face is constantly puffy and bloated. Alcohol dehydrates the skin, and our bodies typically respond to dehydration with bloating. Someone who’s recently drunk excessively can look puffy in the face and bloated in the stomach.
Another common sign of a drinking problem is weight gain. Alcohol has a lot of calories, so someone who’s drinking quite regularly will often notice their weight go up. Additionally, it’s easy to consume hundreds of liquid calories without feeling full in comparison to food, so it’s quite easy to overindulge in alcohol.
Alcohol widens the tiny blood vessels in our eyes, which causes more blood to flow through them and leaves them looking bloodshot. Individuals who drink a lot will not only have bloodshot eyes but may have dark under-eye circles from lack of sleep.
Another strong sign that alcohol is taking over someone’s life is their attitude towards their responsibilities. This applies to all substance abuse addictions, not just alcohol. As the addiction takes over, the person prioritizes it above all else. Some common signs are that the person will miss important family and friend events, stop contributing around the household, show up late or miss work frequently and more.
Individuals who drink excessively or have alcohol use disorder are more prone to sleeping problems, including insomnia. One sign that someone is suffering from long-term alcohol abuse is a shift in their schedule. They may seem to keep odd hours, stay up late and have difficulties getting up early. As a result, they’ll often be late or miss work and other important life events.
Excessive drinking often comes with behavioral and personality changes. As they continue to prioritize their drinking above all else, they may lose interest in their hobbies. Passions they once loved no longer matter to them. Additionally, relationships and friendships they used to put a significant effort into now seem unimportant.
Lastly, drinking can sometimes bring out an aggressive streak in some people. Signs of aggression and irritability can also carry over into sober moments as the person deals with withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
It’s probably not too surprising to find out that long-term alcohol abusers tend to see a dip in their performance at work. They may find it challenging to focus on work as they experience withdrawal symptoms and think about when they can start drinking. Additionally, they may begin to show up late for work, overindulge at social work gatherings and even show up to work intoxicated. One study found that heavy drinking increases the probability of an individual experiencing conflict at work or job loss.
6. Financial Impact
As we’ve already established, those with a long-term alcohol abuse problem typically let their day-to-day responsibilities slide. This means keeping up with bills can fall by the wayside. Additionally, if a person has difficulty holding down a job due to their drinking and poor work performance, they’ll struggle to keep up with their financial obligations.
There’s also another side to the financial impact of long-term alcohol abuse that many people don’t think about. One of the frequent arguments brought up as a motivation to quit smoking is the high cost of cigarettes. Well, the same is true for alcohol! Whether you’re drinking at the bar or home, alcohol is expensive, especially when it’s being consumed frequently.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of $579 on alcohol in 2019. However, someone who drinks heavily will see a much higher expenditure. Some estimates suggest that female heavy drinkers can spend up to $3,000 annually, while men can spend $5,000 annually. Over five years, that’s a cost of $15,000-$25,000!
7. General Deteriorating Health
Alcohol may be legal for adults to consume, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Drinking alcohol in large amounts for an extended period of time can have a drastic and long-term impact on a person’s health. Some of the health problems that can come with overdrinking are:
- High blood pressure
- Fatty liver
- Alcohol-related hepatitis
- Pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Fecal and urinary incontinence
- Memory loss
- Cognitive impairment
- Speech impairment
Many of these health problems are extremely serious and can even bring on the risk of death.
Getting Help Is the Next Step
If you or a loved one is showing the common symptoms of long-term alcohol abuse, it’s time to get help. Alcohol abuse disorder is a severe condition that impacts more than 6% of all American adults.
Long-term alcohol abuse can significantly impact your mood, appearance and general health. Discover the most common signs of alcoholism, including the skin.
8. Signs of Alcoholism: Skin
Alcohol dissolves in water and lipids, allowing it to affect every part of your body. Therefore, drinking too much long-term can result in significant skin changes, which often appear early compared to other physical symptoms of alcoholism. Signs of alcoholism on your skin can help doctors detect the disease at an earlier stage and potentially prescribe treatment to reverse the damage and promote recovery.
When you drink too much alcohol over a sustained period, your brain struggles to regulate your cardiovascular system. Dysregulation often causes enlarged blood vessels, leading to facial redness. Furthermore, your body may produce excess histamine when it breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde. Too much histamine can cause temporary flushing, and it’s more likely to affect regular heavy drinkers. However, some people are prone to facial flushing after consuming even small amounts of alcohol. For instance, around 40% of people from Northeast Asia develop flushed skin when they drink alcohol in moderation.
Alcoholism can increase your risk of developing rosacea, an inflammatory condition that causes a red rash. The rash most commonly occurs on the nose and cheeks, but it can affect any part of your body. However, you shouldn’t assume that someone with rosacea drinks too much. Rosacea can also affect people who don’t drink alcohol or who consume it within the recommended guidelines.
You may notice more significant skin changes if you develop liver disease due to alcohol abuse. Liver problems make it harder to break down bilirubin, a substance found in red blood cells. Excess bilirubin can cause jaundice, a condition that makes your skin and the whites of your eyes appear yellow.
Alcohol abuse sometimes causes elevated estrogen levels. Excess estrogen can lead to spider telangiecstasia, also known as spider veins. Spider veins look like small, raised blood vessels radiating from a central vessel like spider legs. If you have too much estrogen in your body, you may also develop red palms (palmar erythema). Both conditions can also affect women who don’t overconsume alcohol and are relatively common during pregnancy.
Other potential skin manifestations of alcoholism include:
- Hyperpigmentation: Dark patches of skin, most commonly on the face and legs
- Psoriasis: Thick, scaly patches of reddened skin
- Pruritis: Itchiness that causes a strong desire to scratch
- Seborrheic dermatitis: Scaly, red and itchy rash, most commonly on the scalp and other oily parts of the body
If left untreated, long-term and excessive drinking can lead to the loss of close relationships, an unstable life, severe health complications and even death. Assistance from professional rehabilitation centers can help individuals navigate their detox and withdrawal, address any co-occurring mental health conditions and learn how to live a happy, sober life.
Sunlight Recovery Can Help
Don’t ignore the warning signs of long-term alcohol abuse, including the emotional, behavioral and physical signs of alcoholism. Sunlight Recovery Center helps people take back control of their lives and their futures. We offer programs for medical detox, residential treatment and continued education for sober living. Call to find out more about how Sunlight Recovery Center can help.