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Announcement: Physical Effects of Alcoholism

Posted in Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious problem in America today. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that about 18 million people in the United States either abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Across all age groups, men are four times as likely as women to be heavy drinkers. But the truth is that alcoholism at any age can cause major health-related problems, and some 100,000 people die each year from alcohol-related problems.

The harmful physical effects of alcoholism are well documented and include liver disease, lung disease, compromised immune system, endocrine disorders, and changes to the brain. In adolescents, particularly those who begin drinking at an early age (at or before age 14) and continue to heavy drinking, harm can result to the liver, bones, endocrine system, and interfere with brain growth. It is important to note that adolescents’ brains are still in the process of developing during the teenage years.

Major Physical Effects of Alcoholism Occur in Late Stages

While alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease, the early symptoms are generally behavioral and not physical. The majority of medical problems typically occur in the later, or chronic, stage of alcoholism. If you are waiting to see if these physical signs to appear to make a determination that your loved one is an alcoholic or has alcoholism, it may already have progressed to a serious debilitating condition.

Fortunately, diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence can be made earlier and treatment can be initiated to get the affected individual on the road to recovery.

Problems Caused by Late-Stage Alcoholism

Following are some of the problems – general symptoms and major body systems – that are involved in late-stage alcoholism:

General Appearance

  • Hand tremors – part of alcohol withdrawal, can begin within hours after stopping drinking
  • Irritability, nervousness, excitability
  • Jaundice – a result of liver damage
  • Dry, red, itchy skin
  • Swelling of parotid gland, resulting in a mumps-like appearance
  • Finger clubbing – the result of alcoholic cardiomyopathy
  • Drinker’s nose

Gastrointestinal Tract

  • Dyspepsia and gastritis
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Recurring abdominal pain – due to inflammation of the stomach and colon from alcohol
  • Acute and chronic pancreatitis – acute pancreatitis is most often seen in men, 25-65 years of age, with a minimum of 5-10 years of active drinking
  • Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia – rapid changes in blood sugar caused by alcohol
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding – destruction of the stomach lining due to an increase in stomach acids; may also result in ulcers, causing additional bleeding
  • Liver problems – fatty liver, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity)


  • Palpitations – irregular heartbeat
  • Cardiomyopathy – one out of every 36 alcoholics develops this medical condition
  • Anemia
  • Blood vessel dilation

Respiratory Systems

  • Chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD)
  • Recurring chest infection and pneumonia

Central Nervous System

  • Damage to brain cells
  • Blackouts
  • Short-term memory impairment
  • Seizures
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve disease)
  • Loss of balance
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) – occurs during late-stage withdrawal


  • Muscle atrophy
  • Muscle cramps and weakness
  • Inflammation of the kidneys
  • Loss of menstruation
  • Impotence


  • Increased urine flow
  • Electrolyte imbalance

In addition, heavy drinking during pregnancy can result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), causing a range of physical, behavioral, and learning effects in the developing fetus.