What are the Physical Signs of Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a condition when a person loses control over their drinking even though it may be harming their life.

Alcohol acquisition and consumption become a person’s top priorities as they develop dependence, with all other responsibilities falling to the wayside. This frequently results in the person becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol to provide the intended results. Additionally, it leads to physical dependence, which results in withdrawal symptoms when someone tries to reduce or stop drinking. The physical signs of alcoholism might differ from person to person, although some effects are common to all alcoholics.

Next are the physical signs of alcoholism that a person may display, along with the benefits that treatment and support may offer if they are concerned about their own drinking or the drinking of someone close to them.

Alcoholism: the physical warning signs

While indications are external cues that can alert others to a potential issue, symptoms are things we feel or experience.

Particularly in the early stages of the disease, alcoholism can be challenging to spot from the outside. But when the condition worsens, the body is affected in various ways, and many physical symptoms may emerge.

When alcoholism is severe, a person may grow physically dependent on the substance.

Some signs of dependency include being tolerant to some of alcohol’s effects and going through withdrawal when drinking is discontinued. A person physiologically addicted to alcohol may also go through cravings, which are strong urges to drink.

Alcohol abuse manifests physically in a variety of ways, and these ways might vary from person to person. Below are some of the most typical physical signs and symptoms:

  • Untidy look – personal hygiene and grooming may begin to slip down the priority list. Dehydration and sleep deprivation, which are frequently linked to heavy alcohol use, can also result in dull skin and sleepy eyes. They might still smell like alcohol from the night before or have taken an “eye-opener” to stave off physical withdrawal symptoms in the morning.
  • Alcoholism can significantly affect a person’s appetite, causing them to gain weight or lose it. Due to their attention being drawn to alcohol, they may forget their sense of hunger or lose their desire for food. As alcohol creates the hormone melanin, increasing hunger, they may also crave meals heavy in fat.
  • Redness on the face, particularly on the cheeks and nose – There are numerous cosmetic indicators of alcoholism, such as swollen blood vessels that cause facial redness. Long-term overdilation of these arteries can result in spider veins on the skin.
  • Recurring infections and skin sores (abscesses): When alcohol lowers immune function, a person is more susceptible to infections. Alcohol can also cause recurrent skin infections because it dries out the skin, which serves as our body’s natural barrier against microorganisms.
  • Stomach pain or discomfort – Erosive gastritis, in which the stomach lining wears away, can develop in alcoholics. This might result in gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers.
  • Feel tingling and numbness in the hands or feet.
  • Unsteady on their feet: When drinking, the brain region that regulates balance and coordination can decrease. Even while sober, this raises the danger of slips and trips and accidents.
  • Bruises and injuries – unexplained bruises and scrapes may be seen more frequently, and alcoholics may bruise more easily due to low platelet levels and other clotting factors. More gravely, this decreased clotting raises the chance of stroke.
  • Alcoholism can cause liver issues like fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Fat accumulation in liver cells is the primary cause of fatty liver. Alcohol hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, can result from this. Alcohol hepatitis can cause liver failure, cirrhosis, and progressive organ damage. Cirrhosis is a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, impairing the liver’s capacity to function.
  • A yellow skin tone—jaundice, in which the skin develops a yellowish-brown tone because the liver is unable to digest some substances in the body properly—can be a physical indicator of liver disorders.
  • A person may have withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is withheld. These symptoms can include trembling, sweating, nausea, vomiting, shakiness, and even seizures.

Alcoholism Side Effects on the Body

Alcohol misuse substantially impacts people’s bodies and brains as they progress from mild to severe AUD – Alcohol Use Disorder. These effects may manifest suddenly or develop gradually over time as a more long-term effect.

These signs could appear and go if drinking isn’t done regularly enough to harm the body. However, even one night of binge drinking or repeated exposure to the negative effects of alcohol consumption can result in life-threatening health issues.

Short-Term Physical Effects

  • Lack of coordination
  • Decreased body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Lack of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Alcohol poisoning

Using Laboratory Tests as Indicators

Even though there isn’t a single blood test that can be used to diagnose alcohol use disorders, various lab results can indicate ongoing alcohol consumption and potential alcohol addiction.

Increased liver enzymes

By measuring your liver’s levels of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT), your doctor can determine how effectively your liver is working. In 80% of individuals with alcoholic liver disease, the AST level is double the ALT level, and the liver functions are increased. Gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT) elevations can potentially be a sign of binge drinking.

Anaemia (Low Red Blood Cell Count)

Red blood cell counts that are below average can occur in alcoholics because they frequently have damaged red blood cells that prematurely expire. Both iron deficiency and gastrointestinal bleeding, a sign of alcoholism, can result in anaemia.

Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Levels)

A low level of platelets in the blood, known as thrombocytopenia, affects 3 to 43% of alcoholics. Low platelet counts impact the body’s capacity to clot blood in order to halt bleeding.

High Levels of Transferrin Deficient in Carbohydrates (CDT)

Recent, sustained, and heavy drinking is linked to elevated blood levels of the CDT protein. High CDT values accurately indicate alcoholism in between 85 and 90% of cases when combined with higher GGT levels.

High Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV).

The MCV refers to the haemoglobin content of a red blood cell on average. MCV levels increase a month or two after binge drinking. About 50 to 60% of chronic heavy drinkers have elevated MCV. Within two to four months after quitting drinking, a person’s MCV levels usually recover to normal. According to expert studies, increased MCV levels and elevated GGT levels have a 90% sensitivity for identifying alcohol abuse.

In the end, the stages of alcoholism and the type of drinker may affect the signs and symptoms of alcoholism. But when something in a person’s life is “out of whack,” that is a good sign that they might have an alcohol addiction.

Treatment for alcoholism

Alcohol misuse and addiction treatment should be administered in a proper setting under the constant supervision of certified addiction treatment specialists. Self-help or unsupervised treatment attempts can have the opposite effect of what is intended. This is why a treatment programme is designed to handle the uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms that can appear during the alcohol detox period.

Your chances of achieving long-term recovery can be improved by receiving treatment in a recognised recovery programme with the assistance of rehab professionals. These professionals can help you navigate the various phases of treatment and suggest alcohol misuse counsellors and support groups that can keep you sober. Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are two frequently suggested support groups where you can meet other recovering addicts and get helpful advice for rehabilitation. Ask recovery experts to connect you with a treatment programme that will meet your needs. The time to regain control of your life is never too late. You can get assistance to resume leading a sober and healthy lifestyle.

Detox and Withdrawal from Alcohol

The first stage in recovery is alcohol detox, or the elimination of all typical symptoms of the drug. Your body might not be able to function normally without alcohol if you’ve used alcohol for a long time and developed a dependence on it. Alcohol is one chemical associated with possibly lethal withdrawal symptoms, making alcohol detox a very risky process. The frequency, duration, and intensity of your alcohol misuse: your age, your prior experience with withdrawal symptoms and whether you have mixed alcohol use with other drugs all affect how severe these withdrawal symptoms are. When a person is withdrawing from alcohol, they may experience several unpleasant symptoms.

These symptoms might be moderate, severe, or even life-threatening in some circumstances. These are some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that are frequently experienced (that commonly occur in the first 48 hours):

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • nightmares
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • tremors (across the entire body or parts of the body)
  • nausea
  • craving
  • agitation
  • headaches
  • fear
  • sweating
  • quick mood changes
  • hallucinations
  • heart palpitations
  • seizures

Co-Occurring Disorders: Mental Health & Alcohol Addiction

Multiple biological, psychological, and environmental factors can contribute to mental disorders. When two or more conditions coexist within the same person (in this case, substance abuse and mental health disorders), it is known as co-occurring disorders. When this occurs, the treatment for alcohol abuse is generally more complex, taking more time, because both conditions should be addressed to prevent each of them from negatively impacting the other.

Common mental health problems that occur in people with alcohol problems include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Major Depressive Disorder

Alcohol Addiction

Get Help Today!

It’s time to get treatment if you’re concerned about the physical effects of alcohol or how alcohol is affecting your life or the lives of someone you care about.

Every patient receives the attention they require to heal properly thanks to our individualised treatments. Whether a person needs detoxification, inpatient rehabilitation, or outpatient counselling, we’ll ensure they get the support they need. Compare Rehab UK can help you get the assistance required to begin the path to a life free of alcohol. Call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 22, 2022
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.