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What Are The Physical Signs of Alcoholism?

Posted on July 19, 2022

What Are The Physical Signs of Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a form of addiction that greatly impacts the body, triggering a range of uncomfortable and dangerous physical symptoms.

The most impactful effects of alcoholism manifest in the form of withdrawal symptoms, the body’s violent response to sobriety when it has developed a dependency on alcohol.

Those who develop alcoholism need to seek help and enter addiction rehab as soon as they can, going through physical detox and undergoing several weeks of therapy in order to achieve sobriety and the capacity to rebuild a healthy lifestyle.

What constitutes ‘alcoholism’?

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An individual is said to be an alcoholic when they have developed a dependency on alcohol after frequent or excessive consumption of it over a prolonged period of time.

Those who become dependent have uncontrollable urges to drink alcohol, so strong that they are often unable to resist. They crave the ‘high’ that results from consuming alcohol, and will behave recklessly or dangerously in order to achieve it.

Alcoholism causes individuals to consume increasing quantities of alcohol over time as they become more tolerant to it, and none of the consequences caused by the behaviour compels them to stop or reduce their usage.

Just like other forms of addiction, alcoholism comes with its own set of physical signs and symptoms.

Visible signs

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Reduced care in appearance

When individuals begin prioritising alcohol consumption, they start to care less and less about how they appear to others.

They will dress inappropriately, lose interest in personal hygiene, and let their hair and nails grow out.

Weight loss

Consuming alcohol on a regular basis can seriously impact an individual’s appetite. Not only can they physically feel less hungry, but the obsession with attaining and drinking alcohol can lead them to abandon regular meals.

Individuals can therefore begin losing a lot of weight. In some cases, however, the opposite can occur, with alcohol increasing appetite, and triggering weight gain.


Sustained alcohol use can cause blood vessels to become enlarged, causing redness in the nose and cheeks.

Bodily problems (often invisible)

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Drinking alcohol on a regular basis gradually chips away at the immune system, weakening its ability to combat illness.

As a result, those with alcoholism are much more vulnerable to infections.

In addition, alcohol misuse dries the skin, reducing its ability to protect the immune system from pathogens from the outside world.

Poor coordination

A common sensation of being drunk is having poor coordination, and prolonged alcohol misuse can cause individuals to feel like they have this same sense of clumsiness in everyday life.

They can feel unsteady, have poor balance, and experience accidents and injuries more often than they would otherwise expect to.

Stomach problems

The stomach is a very sensitive organ, meaning that it is very common for those who experience addiction to have problems with it.

Alcoholism can trigger common symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, as well as internal bleeding triggered by the reduced stomach lining.

Liver complications

It is well known that alcohol misuse drastically affects the functionality of organs like the liver.

The liver plays a big role in processing the alcohol in our system, and excessive consumption can cause it to become damaged.

Liver-specific conditions can develop, including fatty liver (caused by fat build-up), cirrhosis (caused by tissue scarring), and hepatitis.


Blood clotting triggered by alcohol misuse often leads to increased bruising of the skin. This also increases the risk of stroke.

Yellow skin

Problems with the liver can also trigger jaundice, a condition which causes the skin to turn yellow in colour.

Withdrawal symptoms

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A large component of being ‘addicted’ to alcohol is the physical dependency that the body develops for it. With regular consumption, the body becomes chemically dependent on the substance to function, reacting aggressively when it is absent [1].

This bodily response triggers withdrawal symptoms, a range of physical problems that result from the body trying to cope with the sudden imbalance in its chemistry.

Different people can experience different symptoms, and potential symptoms include:

  • Intense anxiety or paranoia
  • Poor sleep or insomnia, resulting in restlessness, irritability, and fatigue
  • Mood swings or erratic behaviour
  • Stomach complications, resulting in nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Heart problems, resulting in faster heart rate and increased risk of cardiac arrest
  • High blood pressure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Increased risk of seizures
  • Sensory hallucinations
  • Delirium Tremens, sometimes resulting in sudden death

Withdrawal symptoms tend to increase in severity the more developed an individual’s alcohol dependency is.

How to treat alcoholism

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Anyone who struggles with alcohol dependency is strongly encouraged to seek help in the form of alcohol rehab as soon as they can. The condition is incredibly dangerous and must therefore be handled with professional support and supervision.

Treating alcoholism requires rehab, a two-fold process which focuses on both the physical and psychological aspects of dependency.

Alcohol detox

To begin, treatment involves individuals quitting their alcohol consumption under the supervision of an expert medical team.  This is referred to as detox, and it is a very dangerous part of treatment due to the withdrawal symptoms that it provokes.

As a result of this, those who detox must do it with medical assistance. This is to ensure that they do not come to any harm during the process and can be supported with medications when required.

Benzodiazepines are usually offered to dampen withdrawal and give individuals the relief they need in order to establish sobriety.

Alcohol therapy

Following detox, an individual’s physical stability is capitalised on with several weeks of alcohol therapy. This stage of rehab focuses on the psychological motivations for addiction and helps individuals overcome them [2].

Therapy is a diverse form of treatment, able to tailor its approach to whatever support an individual needs to recognise their addictive triggers, understand them, and practice techniques for reducing the likelihood of them triggering addiction again in the future.

These triggers can be thoughts, feelings, or social situations. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps individuals identify the thought processes that push them towards alcohol misuse and understand what causes them.

Support techniques offered during therapy include mindfulness and breathing exercises.

After rehab

When treatment has concluded, individuals are supported during the period of them readjusting to everyday life. Many are tempted to slip back into old habits at this stage of recovery, so relapse prevention is a pivotal stage of effective treatment.

This usually takes the form of helping individuals reduce the impact of triggers and prepare for the event of a trigger getting the best of them.

For example, HALT is a technique which encourages them to consider if they are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired when cravings strike.

Getting help from Rehab Recovery

Developing alcoholism is very serious, and it is normal to experience intense worry or doubt about the physical implications of the condition and how to get treatment.

Anyone with alcoholism is strongly encouraged to seek help as soon as they notice any of the signs outlined in this article.

At Rehab Recovery, we understand that this is not as simple to do as it sounds, and that’s why we are here to help.

If you need guidance, support, or just want answers to your questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch and call us on 0800 088 66 86.




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