Alcohol Related Disorders, Symptoms, Causes & Treatemtnt

Compare Rehab UK | Alcohol Related Disorders, Symptoms, Causes & Treatemtnt

What is an Alcohol-related Disorder?

Alcohol-related disorders are medical conditions that can also be referred to as alcoholism or addiction. It involves drinking a lot and frequently, even when doing so results in issues, mental anguish, or physical harm. You or a loved one may benefit from a combination of medication, behavioural treatment, and counselling in order to heal.

Is alcohol-related disorder a disease?

Alcohol-related disorders are diagnosed as illnesses. It affects brain function and must be treated with both medicinal and psychological methods.

Alcohol-related disorders can range in severity from minor to severe. It may take a while to develop, or it may happen rapidly. Alcohol misuse, dependency, and addiction are other names for it.

How common are alcohol-related disorders?

There were reportedly over 600,000 dependent drinkers in England alone in 2019. Indicators of alcohol dependency are present in one in 12 men (8.7%%) and one in every 30 women (3.3%) in the United Kingdom.

Over 80% of adults in the UK frequently use alcohol, with 4% of men and 3% of women consuming at least 50 and 35 units per week, respectively.

At least 21% of men and 13% of women in the UK who are 65 years or older use alcohol every day.

How can drinking too much affect me?

Alcohol abuse can be harmful to your health. It is related to:

  • Harm to the brain, including dementia
  • Depression, hopelessness, and suicide
  • Cancers of the mouth, liver, breast, and colon
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) – if exposed to alcohol before birth
  • Accidents, injuries, burns, and other incidents (like fractures or drowning)
  • Issues with the liver, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver
  • Assaults, DUIs, homicides, and blackouts

Additionally, heavy or frequent drinking might cause personal issues like:

  • Financial problems
  • Problems with personal relationships
  • Work problems

Quick Facts about chronic heavy drinking

Here are some crucial issues regarding persistent heavy drinking:

  • Heavy drinking is defined as having eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men.
  • Pregnant ladies should not consume any alcohol at all.
  • Violence in crime is correlated with alcohol use.
  • Alcohol dependence is five times more likely to develop in people who start drinking before the age of 15 than in those who start drinking at or after the age of 21.

The Causes of Alcohol-related disorders

Researchers are still investigating the origins of substance abuse disorders. It seems to be a mix of at least a few of the following:

  • Genetic factors
  • Early childhood events
  • Need to relieve emotional pain

People are more likely to develop alcoholism if they:

  • Drink frequently, in large quantities, or start young in life.
  • Are traumatised by abuse, either physical or sexual.
  • Have a history of alcoholism in the family.
  • Have mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, bereavement, anxiety, or depression.
  • Have undergone Roux-en-Y surgery for weight loss to bypass the stomach.

Preventing Alcohol-related Disorders

Avoid high-risk drinking to prevent alcohol problems:

  • For women, no more than four drinks in a single day or eight drinks per week.
  • For guys, no more than five drinks in one day or 15 drinks per week.

Consider reducing or discontinuing your alcohol consumption if you consume more than that. Consult your healthcare practitioner about tried-and-true methods to avoid alcohol addiction.

What are the symptoms of an alcohol-related disorder?

The following are symptoms of an alcohol-related disorder:

  • slipping into a coma or losing all recollection of events
  • using alcohol despite the harm or misery it may bring you or others
  • exceeding your desired drinking time or amount
  • experiencing irritability or grumpiness without alcohol
  • recurring hangovers
  • getting into hazardous situations while intoxicated (for example, driving, having unsafe sex or falling)
  • sacrificing activities to drink
  • feeling the need for alcohol
  • having ongoing issues with the law, your job, your studies, or your relationships because of your drinking
  • drinking more and more to achieve the same result
  • the inability to stop drinking after you’ve begun
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • being unable to cut back despite wanting to
  • alcohol-related obsession

When individuals reduce or quit drinking, someone who is dependent on the substance could also experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • High heart rate
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens
  • Coma and death

What are the stages of alcohol-related disorder?

Alcohol abuse that progresses to a use problem happens over time in the following stages:

  • At-risk stage: This is when you drink for pleasure, to unwind, or to cope with stress. You can begin to grow tolerant of alcohol.
  • Early-stage of alcoholism: At this point, you’ve advanced to having blackouts, drinking by yourself or in secret, and obsessively thinking about alcohol.
  • Mid-stage alcohol-related disorder: Your drinking has gotten out of hand and is causing issues with day-to-day living (work, family, financial, physical and mental health). Lab testing and imaging can reveal organ damage.
  • End-stage alcohol-related disorder: Your life now revolves around drinking instead of food, relationships, health, or happiness. You are now on the verge of despair, organ damage problems, and death.

The Body’s Alcohol-Related Process

People who drink excessively run the danger of developing many harmful health effects, such as alcoholism, liver damage, and other diseases.

Alcohol’s association with many illnesses may be better understood by looking at how the body breaks it down. The alcohol molecule is disassembled by the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). ADH metabolises alcohol into the highly poisonous and carcinogenic compound acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde has the ability to produce major damage while having a short half-life and often only staying in the body for a brief period of time before being further decomposed. It is related to:

  • Disruption and injury to pancreatic and liver tissues
  • Damage to brain tissues and cells
  • Interference with physiological processes like balance, memory, and tiredness

The body can only metabolise a specific volume of alcohol every hour, no matter how much is consumed. The quantity varies greatly from person to person and is influenced by a number of variables, including body mass and liver size.

According to research, certain people are more likely than others to experience these issues. Genetic and environmental factors could bring this on this, including differences in the enzymes that break down alcohol.

Researchers are still looking into why some people drink more than others and why some suffer from significant illnesses as a result of their drinking.

Risks and Dangers of chronic heavy drinking

Regularly consuming too much alcohol is unhealthy. Everyone’s system can be impacted by alcohol, which can have the following effects:

  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Ulcers and gastrointestinal problems
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Brain damage
  • Malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Among others

The health effects of persistent heavy drinking are influenced by a person’s alcohol consumption as well as by genetics, gender, body mass, and overall health.

However, research consistently demonstrates that excessive alcohol intake generally has a negative impact on health and is a primary cause of death that may be avoided.

Alcohol accumulates in the bloodstream when the body consumes more than it can digest. Alcohol in the blood is circulated throughout the body by the heart, altering normal bodily chemistry and processes.

Even one binge drinking event can cause serious bodily harm, death, or incapacity.

Chronic illnesses and other major health issues might develop over time as a result of heavy alcohol usage.

At least 60 distinct medical disorders have been linked to alcohol consumption.

Health Problems Caused by Alcohol

It’s common for people to forget that alcohol is harmful whether it’s used frequently or not. Despite being one of the most addictive drugs around nowadays, alcohol isn’t nearly as hazardous as drugs like heroin or fentanyl. The truth is that compared to other substances that attract headlines, alcohol is significantly associated with higher mortality rates.

Alcohol’s effects are complicated since they not only have negative effects on the body’s organs and interfere with brain functioning, but they are also a major contributor to unintentional fatalities in the UK. Furthermore, experts claim that binge drinking or heavy drinking when intoxicated is linked to a higher chance of violent death and interpersonal violence such as homicide, assault, domestic violence, rape, etc. Furthermore, excessive drinking while trying to cope with your anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues may worsen them. This is often referred to as self-medication.

Alcohol’s toxicity is exacerbated by the fact that it must be converted into acetaldehyde, an even more poisonous chemical, in order to be eliminated from the body. According to experts, acetaldehyde can harm cellular and genetic systems.

Liver disease

Alcohol abuse can have an impact on a variety of physiological systems. The liver is particularly vulnerable to injury because it is the organ that processes alcohol to the greatest extent. The body metabolises alcohol into the poisonous and cancer-causing compound acetaldehyde.

Alcohol usage intensity and duration have an impact on alcoholic liver disease. Drinking heavily and continuously increases the likelihood of it happening. Heavy drinking considerably raises the risk of developing alcoholic fatty liver, an early and treatable side effect of excessive alcohol consumption. Chronic alcohol use changes how the liver processes fats, causing extra fat to build up in the liver.

Long-term inflammation, often known as alcoholic hepatitis, has an additional negative impact on the liver. Scar tissue may result from this.

The liver can become entirely invaded by the scarring over a period of years to decades, becoming hard and nodular. The term for this is cirrhosis.

Multiple organ failure and death will result if the liver is unable to carry out its vital duties. Often, symptoms don’t appear until significant harm has already been done.

Long-term liver damage is probably the effect of alcoholism on the body that is most known. If drinking problems are dealt with at an early stage, abstaining from alcohol can aid the liver in healing itself. However, others may experience irreparable liver damage.

The liver is where alcohol is processed. The liver suffers greatly from heavy drinking because it serves as the main route for the substance. Alcohol usage can cause a variety of liver problems, including:

  • Fatty liver disease: occurs when fat deposits increase the size of the liver, producing pain or discomfort.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: the liver experiences inflammation and cell death, which results in fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and jaundice.
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis: severe liver scarring that can result in the same symptoms, as well as:
  1. the build-up of a lot of fluid
  2. elevated blood pressure
  3. internal bleeding
  4. confusion and behavioural changes
  5. a large spleen
  6. liver dysfunction
  7. death


Alcohol abuse can cause pancreatitis, a painful pancreatic inflammation that frequently necessitates hospitalisation.

The inflammation is probably brought on by alcohol-induced pancreas damage, which also results in persistent exposure to acetaldehyde and premature activation of proenzymes to pancreatic enzymes.

People who frequently consume excessive amounts of alcohol are at risk for pancreatitis in about 70% of instances.


The chance of acquiring several cancers, such as those of the mouth, oesophagus, larynx, stomach, liver, colon, rectum, and breast, can rise with prolonged alcohol use. Acetaldehyde, as well as alcohol itself, are factors in the increased risk.

Smokers and heavy drinkers are more likely to develop upper gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract cancers.

Recent studies have revealed trends linking drinking alcohol to certain cancers, including:


Cancers of the oral cavity (tongue, gums, face, mouth, etc.) and pharynx (throat) are almost two times more common in moderate drinkers. Additionally, the risk of laryngeal (voice box) cancer is 1.4 times higher among moderate drinkers.


Any amount of alcohol consumption has been linked to increased chances of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Risk is increased by 1.3 times with even moderate drinking and by nearly 5 times with severe drinking. Additionally, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma risk has been discovered to be significantly elevated in people who may have inherited a defect in a particular enzyme that breaks down alcohol.


Contrary to liver disease, there are two different forms of liver cancer:

  1. Hepatocellular carcinoma
  2. Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma

The first happens most frequently in people who have cirrhosis or another recognised chronic liver disease. Males are more likely to develop the second type of cancer, which often affects people between the ages of 50 and 70. This lethal kind of cancer can show symptoms including jaundice, stomach pain, fever, weight loss, weakness, and itching. Chemotherapy, liver transplantation, and other forms of treatment are possible.


Overall, the risk of breast cancer is 15% higher for women who consume three alcoholic drinks each week.

Epidemiologic research has consistently indicated that women who regularly drink alcohol have a higher chance of developing breast cancer. Compared to non-drinkers, light drinkers face an elevated risk that is 1.04 times greater. Drinking heavily significantly increases the risk of developing breast cancer(1.6-fold higher). Alcohol can raise levels of oestrogen and other breast cancer-related hormones, according to scientific research. Additionally, alcohol harms DNA cells.


The rectum or colon may be affected by colorectal cancer. They are frequently grouped together since they have a lot of common characteristics. After passing through the small intestine, food is absorbed by the colon in the form of water and salt. After passing through the colon, the leftover waste material enters the rectum and digestive system. Alcohol messes with these organic procedures.

Ulcers and gastrointestinal problems

Heavy drinking can lead to digestive issues such as stomach ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, and gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining. Alcohol starts to have damaging effects as soon as it leaves the digestive tract.

Dangerous internal bleeding from enlarged veins in the oesophagus associated with chronic liver disease can potentially result from damage to the digestive system.

Alcohol causes a significant degree of damage to the digestive system. Alcohol prevents the production of stomach acid. It can hinder bowel movement across the entire body and delay stomach emptying.

Immune system dysfunction

The immune system is weakened by excessive drinking, leaving the body more susceptible to infectious illnesses, including pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets all undergo alterations as a result of alcohol.

Alcoholism can cause the white blood cell count to decline. This occurs as a result of the body’s ability to produce white blood cells being inhibited, which causes the cells to accumulate in the spleen.

Each session of binge drinking lowers the body’s defence against infection. White blood cell formation and function will be negatively impacted over time by exposure to high alcohol concentrations and long-term, heavy alcohol use.

There will be an increased risk of pneumonia, TB, HIV infection, and other illnesses.

Brain damage

Alcohol is linked to problems with walking, memory loss, slurred speech, blurred vision, and reaction time. These all result from its impact on the brain.

It affects brain receptors and neurotransmitters, interfering in a variety of ways with a person’s cognitive ability, moods, emotions, and reactions.

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which makes it challenging to process information and solve simple issues.

A person’s typical fear of the repercussions of their own actions may be reduced as a result of alcohol’s influence on serotonin and GABA receptors, which may result in risk-taking or violent behaviours.

Chronic heavy drinking can hasten the natural ageing process of the brain, leading to early-onset and irreversible dementia. Additionally, alcohol impairs balance and fine motor coordination, which frequently results in falls and accidents. Drinking too much might lead to “blackouts” or the inability to recall past events.

The brain continues to grow up to the age of 24. Young individuals are, therefore, particularly susceptible to the negative effects of drinking.

Malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies

Malnutrition and vitamin deficiency are consequences of dysfunctional drinking.

This may be caused in part by a poor diet, but it may also result from an improper nutritional breakdown. They are not effectively utilised by the body’s cells and are not properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system into the blood.

Additionally, alcohol’s capacity to stop the synthesis of red blood cells in the bone marrow and trigger stomach ulcer bleeding may result in the emergence of iron deficiency anaemia.


A type of dementia that affects memory, learning, and other mental processes can be brought on by long-term heavy drinking.

Chronic heavy drinking, especially in youth and early adulthood, can significantly negatively impact bone health and may raise the chance of developing osteoporosis, which causes the loss of bone mass loss later in life. Fractures are more likely to occur as a result of osteoporosis, particularly in the proximal femur of the hip.

Alcohol alters the way calcium, vitamin D, and cortisol are produced, which increases the risk of bone structure deterioration. A vertebral fracture is more likely to occur in heavy drinkers than in non-users. High alcohol consumption throughout adolescence raises the chance of developing osteoporosis later in life.

Heart disease and cardiovascular health

By causing the release of specific hormones that constrict blood vessels, heavy drinking can raise blood pressure, and the heart may suffer as a result of this.

Drinking too much alcohol has long been associated with a number of cardiovascular issues, such as angina, high blood pressure, and a chance of heart failure.

A potentially fatal side effect of binge drinking is stroke. When the body is recovering from a binge, blood pressure swings and an increase in platelet activation are frequent occurrences. This lethal combo increases the risk of an ischemic stroke.

Overall, drinking can result in heart failure, stroke, and excessive blood pressure.

Red wine may benefit heart health, according to some research. This modest claim is seriously false because even modest drinking can harm the heart. Alcohol can exacerbate obesity in addition to impairing some cardiovascular processes. As a result, the lengthy list of disorders brought on by obesity can grow alongside the vast number of ailments caused by alcohol.

Alcohol abuse can cause blood pressure to rise dangerously. For instance, having more than three beers in a single sitting increases blood pressure. Repeated binge drinking may also result in long-term increases.

Abusing alcohol over a long period of time thins and weakens the heart muscle, which affects how well it pumps blood. All of the body’s major processes are disrupted by a lack of blood flow.

Drinking may contribute to:

  • Enlarged heart
  • Heart murmur from valve damage
  • Congestion in the heart and lungs
  • Neck veins swelling
  • Legs, ankles and feet swelling

Accidents and injuries

Any level of alcohol use has been connected to homicide, suicide, domestic violence, falls and drowning.

Even one drink can impair one’s ability to drive, and a heavy drinker is more likely to suffer more serious injuries in a crash.

Heavy or persistent drinking is extremely harmful to your health. Drinking excessively can cause significant and permanent health damage, whether it happens all at once or over a long period of time.

There is no drinking pattern that is completely risk-free, and there is no accurate way to forecast how or when someone would be damaged as a result of persistent excessive drinking.

Lung Issues

Chronic alcohol consumption compromises numerous vital cellular processes in the lungs. These cellular flaws enhance vulnerability to life-threatening lung disease complications that already exist. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is more common in people with alcohol-related disorders, and people with ARDS die from it at higher rates than people without alcohol problems.


According to specialised research, heavy drinking, or having more than three drinks per day, is linked to a 43% higher risk of developing diabetes than moderate drinking.

Alcohol affects the liver’s ability to control blood sugar levels. According to studies, drinking alcohol leads the liver to eliminate it from the blood rather than control blood sugar. Alcohol can significantly worsen diabetes in people with the condition. Alcohol and diabetes have a complex causal relationship. The phrase “alcohol can contribute to the condition that causes diabetes” is more accurate.

For instance:

  • Drinking too much might make the body less sensitive to insulin, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes is another typical complication of chronic pancreatitis.
  • Alcoholic beverages also have a high-calorie density.
  • Additionally, drinking alcohol is linked to poor dietary habits and a decline in physical activity.


The purpose of the pancreas is to emit insulin to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range and to create the digestive enzymes needed to break down meals. In addition to damaging pancreatic ducts, alcohol’s poisonous by-products cause the digestive system’s regular enzymes to stack up and start digesting the pancreas. Pancreatitis comes in two different forms:

  1. Acute Pancreatitis
  2. Chronic Pancreatitis


The list of illnesses brought on by alcohol includes neurological disorders. Drinking affects how the body works, but what about how the brain works? The initial consequences on the brain, like as slurred speech and memory loss, are more than merely acute symptoms of intoxication. Some people who drink frequently suffer serious, irreversible brain damage. These issues consist of:

  • Epilepsy: according to certain research, alcohol usage is a risk factor for developing epilepsy over time. The way that neurons and brain chemicals function can be altered by alcohol usage. Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause a person’s blood sugar to decrease, which might result in seizures.
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy: a liver-related condition. The liver’s failure to eliminate toxins from the blood is what contributes to the loss of brain activity. Toxin accumulation can cause brain injury. Everything from behaviour, mood, speech, sleep and bodily functions are impacted by it.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS): people with AUD frequently don’t have enough vitamin B1 (thiamine). Alcohol makes the stomach lining swollen, which makes it harder for the body to absorb essential nutrients like thiamine. WKS is a disorder of the brain that can lead to confabulation, hallucinations, amnesia, and problems with cognitive tasks.

Examining Alcohol Myths

The idea that there is a safe level of drinking is a persuasive one. It has led to conflicting opinions among medical professionals and given the alcohol business permission to employ a strategy of aggressively marketing a deadly good. The majority of the evidence that supports the safety of moderate drinking is still insufficient. The notion that alcohol is not only safe but also good has led to many of us not thinking twice about having a few drinks. We’ll say, “It’s excellent for the heart.”

Specialists define binge drinking as consuming more than four servings of alcohol for men and five servings of alcohol for women on a single occasion.

Among the unsettling effects of excessive drinking are possible memory loss, accidents, possible comas, strokes, alcohol poisoning, and an elevated chance of alcohol addiction. The crucial links between drinking and disease have continued to be defined by researchers who study how alcohol affects the body and brain. As more information is gathered, the already long list of illnesses linked to alcohol consumption keeps expanding.

Preventing Diseases Caused by Alcohol Abuse

It can be worrisome to look through the diseases that drinking causes. One could question why alcohol is still generally accepted and even seen as casual or enjoyable when there are so many health dangers involved. Safety limits for alcohol intake are adopted as more research is found. Specialists have created a thorough list outlining the distinctions between drinking behaviours that are generally safe and those that are harmful. Still, avoiding alcohol altogether is the key to disease prevention.

It might be challenging to abstain from alcohol since it is a generally accepted social activity, a means of stress relief, and may lessen acute symptoms of insomnia or anxiety. Even modest drinking might make someone feel ill.

Increased drinking is linked to negative health outcomes like:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Digestive problems
  • Memory issues
  • Increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Damaging accidents

Two suggestions are made to help some people stop drinking or cut back on their alcohol intake. These two things are:

  • Establish your true drinking rate. Many individuals forget how much alcohol they consume each day or each week. Monitoring this could reveal whether alcohol use is truly developing into a problem.
  • Consider your drinking motives. Many people drink to numb emotional pain or lessen the stress of conditions brought on by traumatic experiences or poor mental health. The easier it is to cut back on drinking, the healthier alternatives there are for controlling the causes of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Rehab

It can be difficult to control daily worries and anxiety. Additionally, drinking is a commonly accepted activity. It is one of the most widely used substances in the world despite its negative effects. It is one thing to comprehend the issues brought on by drinking but creating the tools necessary to avoid alcohol or consume less beer, wine, or spirits is an entirely new battle.

Different levels of care offer a thorough approach to dealing with risky alcohol use and underlying mental health impacts that could make the problem worse. At any stage of recovery, licenced clinicians can offer assistance. Treatment professionals are skilled at diagnosing alcohol use and offering advice for overcoming alcohol-related disorders and other problematic drinking habits because the severity of alcohol abuse and dependency differs.

Programs for treating alcoholism may include:

Behavioural therapies

You can learn how to alter your behaviour through counselling or talk therapy with a healthcare professional like a psychologist or mental health counsellor. The most popular approaches are contingency, 12-step facilitation, cognitive-behavioural, and motivational.


Acamprosate and naltrexone have been approved for the treatment of problems associated with alcohol consumption. These drugs appear to lessen the tendency to think obsessively about drinking in the background. Some people may see a reduction in cravings after using topiramate with gabapentin. Today, disulfiram, an older drug, is only occasionally used.

Support groups

Attending gatherings with other alcoholics in a group setting can help you stay sober. The most well-known organisation is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Meetings can be found in most towns and are typically free.

Alcohol Addiction

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

Your level of recovery and the severity of your disorder will determine the approach to your therapy. There are both inpatient and outpatient treatments available, and the evaluation team will recommend the best course of action for each case after carefully considering the needs and circumstances of each individual.

Early intervention can help prevent a lot of alcohol abuse and addiction cases. To get help and guidance on the best treatment options to take back control of your life, call us directly on 0800 999 1083 today.

Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 20, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | Alcohol Related Disorders, Symptoms, Causes & Treatemtnt
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.