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What Are the Physical Signs of an Alcoholic?

author image Lia Stannard
Lia Stannard has been writing about women’s health since 2006. She has her Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and is pursuing a doctorate in clinical health psychology.
What Are the Physical Signs of an Alcoholic?
Alcoholics go through withdrawal when they do not drink.

The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library points out that more than 10 percent of people in the U.S. abuse or have a dependency on alcohol. When a person is an alcoholic, his body becomes dependent on the alcohol. People who are alcoholics can show physical signs of their problem, both when they drink and when they are sober.

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Drinking Habits explains that tolerance is the first big sign of alcoholism, in which the alcoholic's body gets used to the alcohol. As a result, the alcoholic increases the amount of alcohol consumed to get the same feelings as she did before. The notes that alcoholics cannot control the amount of alcohol they consume and can have noticeable drinking habits. For example, alcoholics can make it a ritual of drinking at certain times. They may drink quickly and order stronger or more drinks. Drinking alone may also occur.

Withdrawal Symptoms

When an alcoholic stops drinking, he goes through withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms result from the physical dependency on the alcohol. Alcoholics going through withdrawal can have headaches and anxiety. They may sweat and shake. Depression and irritability can occur. Alcoholics can suffer from insomnia and fatigue during withdrawal. They can also experience a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. points out that some alcoholics can have severe symptoms during withdrawal, such as a fever and seizures. Some alcoholics may have hallucinations, in which they perceive something that is not really there. Other severe withdrawal symptoms include agitation and confusion.

Liver Damage Signs

Alcoholism can damage the liver, leading to fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis. If left untreated, alcoholic liver disease can result in liver failure. One sign of liver damage is jaundice, or yellowing of the skin. Jaundice results from a build up of bilirubin in the body, which is a component of bile. Alcoholics may also develop abdominal pain as the damage progresses. Other signs include internal bleeding and nail deformation.

Other Physical Signs

Oregon Counseling published an online article “Biological Impacts of Alcohol Use: An Overview,” that explains that alcohol can cause blood capillaries to break, resulting in red blotchy skin and bloodshot eyes. Alcoholics can have a loss of coordination and an irregular heartbeat when they drink. Some alcoholics develop peripheral neuropathy, a condition that affects the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral neuropathy symptoms include a loss of sensation or tingling.

Merck Manuals notes that male alcoholics can develop hypogonadism and more feminine characteristics, such as decreased body hair and enlarged breasts. Alcoholism can also lead to nutritional deficits, which can cause white nails and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder that results in severe memory loss.

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