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When used responsibly alcohol can be a wonderful social lubricant that brings people together and offers good times for all. However, all too often alcohol users prove unable to manage and control their consumption, leading many to fall into an addiction that can destroy families, break friendships, cause financial problems and even shorten lives.
If you're concerned that someone you care about may be addicted to alcohol you should watch out for these warning signs. Alcoholism is a serious condition, and without professional help and support an addict may never find the will to heal.
1. Skin Problems
One of the earliest warning signs of alcohol abuse is a condition known as telangiectasia, but more commonly known as enlarged blood vessels. Long term alcohol abuse affects the ability of the brain to control the vascular system, so blood vessels close to the surface of the skin dilate, often permanently. This leaves problems drinkers with flushed cheeks and a red nose, with the lines of blood vessels clearly visible.
2. Beer Belly
While many problem drinkers may have a weight problem (caused by both the calories in their drinks and the poor diet common amongst problem drinkers), excessive alcohol consumption also causes water retention that can result in a 'beer belly', a paunch that seems out of proportion to the rest of the body.
3. Liver Conditions
Prolonged alcohol use puts excessive strain on the liver, and many alcoholics suffer from limited liver function, inflammation of the organ and often jaundice. An inflamed liver, known as alcoholic hepatitis, often leaves the liver visibly bulging at the surface of the skin, and it is usually accompanied by the yellow skin and eyes of jaundice.
When a heavy drinker begins to suffer from the abdominal pains caused by alcoholic hepatitis it marks the final warning sign before cirrhosis develops. Cirrhosis causes permanent scarring of the liver, often reducing its function to the point at which a transplant may be required.
4. Mental Problems
While the argument that alcohol kills brain cells may not be completely accurate, long term abuse certainly takes its toll on the brain. Alcoholics often suffer periods of memory loss, both from the short term effects of alcohol and the long term damage to the cerebral cortex.
Drinkers may also suffer from slurred speech, periods of confusion and even diminished intelligence due to years of alcohol abuse.
5. Digestive Issues
The effect of the constant presence of alcohol in contact with the lining of the stomach can cause severe digestive problems, most commonly gastric ulcers and acid reflux. Heavy drinkers will often complain of stomach pains, nausea, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea or bloody stools. The digestive system is not designed to tolerate the constant presence of alcohol, so long term abuse may cause serious and long lasting stomach and intestinal problems.
6. Other Symptoms
After years of alcohol abuse almost every organ system in the body will show signs of damage. In the brain, damage to the myelin sheath protecting neurons may lead to nerve damage that manifests in numbness and tingling of the extremities, and more serious side effects may be seizures and epilepsy. Damage to the vascular system can also cause erectile dysfunction.
Women who abuse alcohol during pregnancy can pass on health problems to the fetus, including fetal alcohol syndrome.
As well as the physical signs of alcoholism there are also behavioral warning signs that can raise a red flag.
1. Increased Consumption
Long term drinkers develop a tolerance to alcohol that means they must drink increasing volumes to achieve the desired effect. Problem drinkers may begin to start drinking earlier, continue drinking until the early hours or switch to stronger drinks to deliver the effect they seek.
Problem drinkers may also show signs of withdrawal if they cannot gain access to alcohol. They may become nauseous, anxious and begin to sweat excessively. You may notice physical tremors known as delirium tremens (or DTs), a nervous system condition caused by the cessation of drinking after long term abuse.
3. Behavioral Changes
Heavy drinkers will often attempt to disguise their addiction, drinking alone or secretively. They may display signs of guilt when they drink, and may react with anger when confronted about their problem.
Alcoholism can cause serious relationship problems, due both to the physical effects of alcohol and the behavioral changes experienced by alcoholics.
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