Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism


Woman suffering from alcoholism

There is no doubt that alcoholism can cause serious medical complications. Alcoholism is currently listed as one of the leading causes of mortality in the United States. However, a lot of alcohol related deaths are not reported. This leads many medical professionals to conclude that alcoholism is one of America’s number one killers.

Worrying Statistics

This presumption has a strong basis as over 15 million individuals are currently affected by either alcohol abuse or dependency in the U.S. alone. From this figure, only 2.6 million individuals have admitted themselves to alcoholic treatment centers nationwide for rehabilitation.

Alcoholism statistics can be hard to quantify. For instance, liver cirrhosis is a major primary cause of mortality by itself. If the cause of an individual’s demise is body system or organ failure, the role that alcohol has played is not considered. When an individual dies from a cardiac arrest yet consumed alcohol for 45 years of their life, their cause of death is attributed to a heart attack and not alcoholism. This is also supported by a study that shows alcohol is estimated to be the main cause of nearly 20 to 30 percent of the following diseases:

  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Liver Cirrhosis
  • Epilepsy

The study also shows that alcoholism increases the likelihood of obtaining colon cancer by 80 percent, throat cancer by 70 percent, lung cancer by 50 percent and high blood pressure by 100 percent.

Alcohol is a substance that has the ability to cause very serious physical harm to all body systems. Too frequently, treatment and medical professionals wait for the appearance of physical symptoms to diagnose an individual who has a problem with alcoholism. Unfortunately, alcoholism is a progressive and chronic illness, and the early symptoms are usually not physical but behavioral in nature. A lot of medical problems usually only appear in the chronic and late stages of the illness. Waiting for alcoholism physical symptoms to present themselves appears to be a major reason behind the high death rate that is commonly associated with this problem.

The appearance of medical complications is only secondary to alcoholism’s primary issues. With proper diagnosis and evaluation of the problem, a lot of alcoholics can avoid some of the most serious medical complications. This is done by becoming involved in a program of recovery. There are several physical symptoms that an individual may experience if they have a serious problem with the use of alcohol.

General Appearance

Many individuals who have abused alcohol at some point in their lives may have experience hand tremors. This symptom can begin within hours after they cease drinking alcohol. It is also a mild expression of withdrawal. People may also experience irritability, excitability and nervousness. This is caused when the body moves from a stimulation of the central nervous system to depression. It is also considered to be part of the first stage of withdrawal that results from a decrease of alcohol in the blood stream.

People who are abusing alcohol may also show some form of yellowish discoloration in their skin. This is called jaundice. This symptom is the result of damage to their liver due to excessive drinking. At the same time, individuals can experience red, dry and itchy skin. This is caused by a deficiency in nutrients like vitamin B. Individuals may also experience finger clubbing due to poor circulation in their extremities. This can also be caused by alcohol related cardiomyopathy.

Gastrointestinal Tract

Individuals who abuse alcohol may experience dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is a general feeling of discomfort commonly experienced after eating. It is also a sign of gastritis or an inflammation of the stomach. It is the most common gastrointestinal ailment resulting from alcoholism.

Patients may also have a tendency to experience nausea and vomiting that is due to gastritis or the body cleaning itself of alcohol when it is unable to digest it in the stomach. Alcohol affects the intestinal tract’s motility, and people may experience recurrent diarrhea. This is because alcohol prevents the small intestine from absorbing different minerals and nutrients. Failing to absorb these elements causes it to malfunction. After that point, alcohol also causes a significant increase in the rate of food propulsion through the small intestine. The eventual result is diarrhea.

Individuals may also experience recurrent abdominal pain as alcohol is an irritant that causes inflammation of the colon and the stomach. Additionally, people may have bouts of low and high blood sugar. This is because alcohol also affects the secretion of insulin that regulates sugar in the body.

Cardiovascular System

Alcoholics may also experience palpitations. This is due to the heartbeat irregularity that occurs in people who have alcohol-related diseases. At the same time, individuals can experience signs of congestive heart failure and chronic shortness of breath. People with alcohol problems may also experience a low hemoglobin count as it inhibits the bone marrow’s ability to utilize iron in producing red blood cells.

Central Nervous System

People who have been abusing alcohol for many years may experience short-term memory impairment. This is due to the fact that alcohol interferes with proper brain functioning. This single factor alone can cause a loss of memory, and this is especially true for recent events. Additionally, individuals may experience seizures that tend to occur within 48 hours after they stop drinking. Individuals must also remember that chronic alcoholism can result in an unusually elevated seizure threshold that is often followed by a period of a much lower seizure threshold. This factor plus altered electrolyte levels, a decreased blood alcohol level and a decrease in blood sugar can ultimately lead to seizures.

Another physical symptom that individuals may experience is tingling and numbness. This is due to a deficiency in vitamin B. This vitamin is very important in the proper transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body. Individuals who have problems with alcoholism may experience a loss of balance that is also due to vitamin B deficiency.

Musculoskeletal System

Muscle atrophy is one of the physical symptoms alcoholics may experience. This is due to improper nourishment of the muscle tissue. The patient may also have acute pain in their shoulders, upper arms and pelvic area. At the same time, individuals may experience impotence. This is due to the fact that alcohol decreases testosterone while increasing estrogen levels in males. This ultimately results in feminization of features such as breast enlargement and the loss of facial hair. Additionally, alcohol has a detrimental toxic effect on the testes. This can result in a decrease in plasma testosterone, shrunken testes and decreased fertility. Individuals may also experience muscle cramps and weakness that is due to an increased level of serum phosphokinase and creatinine in their blood levels.

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