Recognizing the
Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism

Although the presence of one or two physical symptoms of alcoholism may be easy to overlook or ignore, as drinking progresses, the symptoms will mount and this is an indication that your health is being seriously affected.

Alcohol is poison to the human body, therefore the consumption of alcohol has a powerful negative impact on pretty much all of the bodies organs, systems and functions, and with long-term use will result in deterioration and damage that puts the individual at high risk of developing a variety of serious health conditions and can ultimately lead to death. The effects of alcoholism touch all aspects of the alcoholic's life and those around them.

While there are many symptoms of alcohol addiction, including behavioral and emotional, the physical symptoms of alcoholism are often the easiest to recognize and can be categorized by the way the symptoms manifest.

Categories of Physical Symptoms

  • Skin
  • Liver and kidneys
  • Digestion
  • Neurological
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Miscellaneous

Alcoholism kills the cells in the liver.  This causes jaundice and a yellowing of the skin and eyes. It also affects your immune system, which results in a number of skin issues like psoriasis. Additionally the blood vessels dilate and many alcoholics will have broken capillaries on their nose and thin skin on their face. 

Symptoms which affect the skin include:

  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin - caused by jaundice
  • Red palms, flushed face, broken capillaries around the nose
  • Spider veins on the face
  • Easy bruising
  • Red eyes
  • Puffiness and water retention
  • Psoriasis
  • Swollen eyelids

It is the job of the liver and kidneys to pull toxins from your body and low and behold, alcohol is a toxin. Unfortunately, there are very few functions which serve to pull toxins from your liver and kidneys which mean the alcohol is left to do its damage in these areas. The result is a liver and kidneys which are compromised.  Cells die and the end result can be cirrhosis and kidney disease.

Symptoms which affect the Liver and kidneys include:

  • Jaundice
  • Swelling and inflammation of the liver
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain in upper right quadrant under rib cage
  • Loss of appetite

It’s no surprise that alcoholism affects digestion since your digestive system is the first stop on its way through your body. 

The physical symptoms of alcoholism which affect digestion include:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Malnutrition
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Ulcers
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent indigestion

Neurological Symptoms

Neurological symptoms of alcoholism are often forgotten, ignored, or pushed aside.  However the neurological symptoms of alcoholism can be quite severe and include:

  • Shakiness
  • Tremors
  • Memory loss
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Delirium Tremens

Sexual Dysfunction symptoms include:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Shrunken testicles
  • Amenorrhea
  • Reduced sex drive

Miscellaneous physical symptoms of alcoholism are abundant and include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hangovers
  • Bed wetting
  • Blackouts
  • Anxiety
  • Strong cravings or urges for alcohol
  • Pot belly - often caused by malnutrition

Some of these symptoms, such as cravings, shaking, Delirium Tremens, irritability and headaches are experienced as a result of alcoholism withdrawal when the individual tries to abstain from drinking for a period of time. If withdrawal symptoms are experienced, this is a sure fire sign of alcohol dependence.

As alcoholism progresses, there can be long term physical damage to the brain, heart, nerves and esophagus and an increased risk of cancer, as well as type II diabetes, stroke and heart attack.

While many of these symptoms as an isolated incident may be attributed to other conditions, and one or two physical symptoms of alcoholism alone may not catch your attention, the presence of a number of these symptoms when combined with behavioral and emotional cues like increased tolerance, depression, mood swings, lying about drinking patterns, hiding drinking, anger, guilt about drinking or drinking earlier in the day may be a sign that you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction. 

Alcoholism is a brain disorder that impacts every area of the individual's life. The physical arena is only one area, there will be indistinguishable signs in their emotional, social, relational and employment arenas as well. Becoming aware and recognizing all the symptoms of alcoholism is the first step in diagnosis.

It's important to note, that symptoms will vary depending on what stage of alcoholism the alcoholic is in.  In the early stages of alcoholism, physical symptoms will be less serious like red eyes, cravings and hangovers, but as the addiction progresses, the symptoms become more serious and severe and someone in a more advanced stage of alcoholism will be exhibiting symptoms like jaundice, pancreatitis, tremors and bed wetting. If you're finding yourself in this list, or still have questions, you may also want to take a look at the ten warning signs of alcoholism for further clarification.

Furthermore, you should be aware that you can overcome addiction to alcohol and achieve life-long sobriety without any cravings, by addressing the true roots of addiction, which are disrupted or depleted neurotransmitters in the brain, and reverse many of the symptoms associated with alcoholism.

Behavioral and emotional symptoms are the first to present and the fact that physical symptoms are being exhibited is a sign that the condition has already progressed to a more advanced stage and significant damage has already occurred, and if drinking continues, will only get worse.  It's important not to ignore them, because some health conditions can not be reversed and the more damage that is done on the physiological level the harder and longer the road in recovery will be.