Alcohol Addiction Signs & Symptoms

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Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Signs of Alcoholism

The misuse of alcohol, prescription medication, illicit drugs, and any other substances that alter the way in which the brain and body operate is known as substance abuse. Some of the most common substances abused by youth include alcohol, marijuana, opioids, tobacco, and stimulants. In many cases children and adolescents who abuse substances will continue to do so despite the negative consequences that are recurring as a result. When abused, these substances will affect a young person’s behavior and overall health, and may cause long-term damage.

A young person who is abusing alcohol or another drug will often show a drop in grades, may suddenly develop a new peer group, and may frequently get in trouble at school or home. You may also notice that your child has been much more irritable lately, has been acting out aggressively, or may have completely isolated him or herself from the rest of the family. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available for children or adolescents who are struggling with substance abuse problems. Treatment can help prevent your child from developing life-changing negative effects due to a substance abuse problem and prepare him or her to once again pursue a bright future.


Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Multiple studies have determined that substance abuse is on the rise among children and adolescents in the United States. Statistics show that people age 12 and above account for 9% of the population that have used or abused drugs or alcohol. That percentage represents nearly 24 million Americans.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Most experts in the field agree that there are a number of different factors that can cause a child or adolescent to begin using alcohol or other drugs. Consider the following potential influences on child and adolescent substance abuse:

Genetic: Young people with family members who have problems with drugs and/or alcohol are at an increased risk for developing substance abuse problems. In fact, a genetic predisposition for substance abuse is considered to play a major role in whether or not a young person will develop a substance abuse problem.

Environmental: Environmental factors are also known to contribute to the development of a substance abuse problem. For example, witnessing parents or other caregivers using alcohol or other drugs can cause a young person to believe that this type of behavior is acceptable. Additional environmental factors that can place a young person at an increased risk for development of substance abuse problems may include exposure to abuse or neglect, growing up in a chaotic household, or experiencing a traumatic event.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of substance use or abuse
  • Exposure to the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Low self-esteem
  • Desire to fit in with peers
  • Underdeveloped coping skills
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Presence of emotional or mental health problems

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Ultimately, the signs and symptoms of substance abuse are going to be dependent upon the substance that a young person is using as well as a number of other individual characteristics. Below are a number of behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that are known to be present in young people who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inability to adhere to responsibilities
  • Sudden change in friends
  • Slowed or rapid speech
  • Frequently getting in trouble
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Drop in grades
  • Skipping school
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Lying or omitting
  • Stealing
  • Damaging property

Physical symptoms:

  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Tension in muscles
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor hygiene
  • Dilated or constricted pupils

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Altered state of perception
  • Poor impulse control
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Changes in personality
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Decline in motivation
  • Paranoia

Effects of Alcoholism

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Substance abuse can lead to a myriad of negative consequences in multiple areas of a child or adolescent’s life. Furthermore, if the substance abuse problem is not addressed for a prolonged period of time these consequences can continue to impact a young person’s life long into adulthood. Depending upon a variety of individual factors as well as the substance being abused, the following can potentially occur:

  • Poor academic achievement
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Loss of friends
  • Conflict among family members
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Lasting legal problems
  • Overall decline in mental health
  • Development of certain mental health conditions
  • Increased risk for pregnancy
  • Increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Severe health problems
  • Brain damage
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

It is very common for a young person battling a substance abuse problem to also be struggling with the presence of an additional mental health condition. Some of the most common mental health conditions known to co-occur with substance abuse include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal and Overdose

Withdrawal: Many times when an individual abruptly stops using drugs and/or alcohol they will experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms, also known as withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs after an individual has been abusing substances for a prolonged period of time and has developed a dependence on his or her substance of choice. When a young person is going through withdrawal they may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • Palpitations
  • Muscle tension
  • Tightness in chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations

Overdose: An overdose occurs when a person takes more of a substance than their body is able to metabolize. A substance abuse overdose should be considered an emergency and medical attention should be sought immediately in order to avoid a potentially fatal outcome. Some of the following symptoms may indicate that an individual may have overdosed:

  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Shallow breathing
  • Chest pain or tightening
  • Sweating
  • Slowed pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma
  • Death

The first day I came, all I thought about were my friends at home and the day I’d get out of here. Slowly, I forgot about them and started thinking about myself and the pain my alcohol abuse was causing my family. I learned things about myself that I never knew. I grew to eventually love my time at SUWS and I have an incredible sense of openness and joy.

– Anonymous Patient

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