Causes & Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

At Desert Hills, we believe that understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of alcohol addiction is an important part of the effort to get help for yourself or your loved one. This information can help you identify the problem and begin to explore solutions. Education can be your first step towards recovery from alcohol addiction.

Understanding Alcohol

Learn about alcohol and substance abuse

Alcohol abuse is a chronic disease that is characterized by a pattern of problematic drinking that has the ability to destroy a person’s life. The continued abuse of this toxic substance often results in the inability to fulfill responsibilities at work or at home and often involves drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as driving under the influence. Those who abuse alcohol tend to have recurring alcohol-related legal problems and will continue drinking in spite of the ongoing problems that are popping up all around them. Alcohol abuse is a disease that has the potential to affect anyone at any age. While many parents may not want to acknowledge it, the fact is that many children and adolescents will use alcohol at some point in their lives, oftentimes before they are even legally able to drink. Many parents may simply write this behavior off as experimentation or see this as their child’s attempt to push the boundaries. However, while it may not seem like a big deal right now, if not addressed right away, simple curiosity can have severe implications on a child’s future.


Alcohol addiction statistics

Alcohol is believed to be the most commonly abused substance among children and adolescents. Research has shown that nearly 80% of high school kids have at least tried alcohol, and nearly half of junior high and high school students admit to drinking alcohol at least once each month. Even more shocking is the fact that it is estimated that 11% of the total amount of alcohol consumed in the United States is ingested by adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction

There are a number of reasons why a child or adolescent may choose to use alcohol, which can include anything from simple curiosity to just wanting to fit in with their peers. However, the reason for why certain children go on to develop problems with alcohol while others do not is not as easy to pinpoint. In fact, research suggests that it is a combination of a variety of different factors. Some of the more common conclusions include:

Genetic: Family history can have a significant impact on whether or not a child who uses alcohol will go on to develop an alcohol abuse problem or an addiction. Children of alcoholics have a much higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves. In fact, they are three to four times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves than are those children who do not have similar family histories.

Physical: The brain is extremely malleable, especially in the developing minds of children and adolescents. As such, when alcohol is consumed in excessive amounts, chemical changes will occur that will lead to the development of tolerance and dependence. The longer that a child or adolescent abuses alcohol, the greater the chance that his or her brain will be unable to function appropriately, which can ultimately cause him or her to be unable to control the impulse to drink.

Environmental: Just like family history, environmental factors also play a large part in the development of problematic drinking. Children who spend a significant amount of time in an unstable home environment, where parents themselves have turned to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, are more likely to drink when they experience stress. Other environmental factors that can cause a child to turn to alcohol may include experiencing some type of traumatic experience, such as physical abuse and/or neglect.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Prevalence of familial conflict
  • Family history of alcohol and/or drug abuse and addiction
  • Peer pressure
  • Availability of alcohol
  • Lack of communication
  • Family or personal history of mental health conditions
  • Being faced with consistently high levels of stress
  • Emotional instability
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • Low self-esteem

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

No matter how hard parents work to try to prevent their child from drinking underage, there is always the possibility that he or she will still decide to consume alcohol, leaving parents with the responsibility of correcting this problematic behavior. In some instances, you may have to start by acknowledging the fact that your child has a problem with alcohol and needs additional help outside of what you can provide for him or her. If you suspect that your child or adolescent has an alcohol use problem, here are some common signs and symptoms to look for:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Finding alcohol that has been hidden throughout the house
  • Missing money from your purse or wallet
  • Using excessive amounts of perfume or cologne in an attempt to hide the smell of alcohol
  • Excessive use of mints or mouthwash in an attempt to disguise the smell of alcohol on his or her breath
  • Lying
  • Disregarding the rules
  • Unprovoked aggressive outbursts
  • Decline in grades and school performance
  • Refraining from participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Sudden change in friends
  • Begins skipping school
  • Engagement in secretive behaviors
  • Uncommunicative

Physical symptoms:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased amount of time spent sleeping
  • Lack of concern for hygiene and physical appearance
  • Red, flushed face
  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Excessive nausea
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Distorted vision
  • Is clumsy or stumbles around

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lapses in memory
  • Problems concentrating
  • Impaired decision-making abilities
  • Episodes of “blacking out” after drinking heavily

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Violent mood swings
  • Depression
  • Episodes of anger or irritation
  • Oscillating emotions
  • Anxiety


Effects of alcohol addiction

Not only does alcohol abuse carry a number of different risks for children and adolescents, but it also creates problems for the family and for society as a whole. These associated effects can be both short-term and long-term and, in certain situations, can lead to permanent disability or death. More specific examples of the effects caused by alcohol abuse include the following:

  • Damage of every organ in the body
  • Displaying violent behaviors
  • Poor academic performance
  • Problems with proper brain development
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Inability to reason and/or use sound judgment
  • Alcohol-related car accidents
  • Criminal activity
  • Higher risk of death from drowning, suicide, or homicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who are struggling with alcohol use disorder to also be suffering from another mental health condition. In some instances, a child or adolescent may drink as a way to cope with the distressing symptoms of another mental health disorder that has not been appropriately treated. Some of the most common disorders that are known to occur alongside alcohol abuse may include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Learn about alcohol withdrawal and overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: If a child or adolescent has been abusing alcohol for a long period of time, there is a chance that he or she could experience a number of different withdrawal symptoms when he or she does decide to stop drinking. Since alcohol withdrawal can be potentially life threatening if your child has become chemically dependent, withdrawal should be done under the direct supervision of medical professionals. Examples of the effects of alcohol withdrawal can include, but are not limited to:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Insomnia
  • Shakiness
  • Increased irritability
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Effects of alcohol overdose (or alcohol poisoning): Alcohol poisoning is a serious, very dangerous consequence that occurs after drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time. Someone who is experiencing an alcohol overdose needs medical attention immediately in order to prevent a deadly outcome. Some signs that may indicate that a child or adolescent has overdosed on alcohol may include:

  • Excessive, violent vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • Pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Is unconscious or unresponsive

Recovery Really Is Possible

As a father, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your daughter overcome her struggles with depression.  Thanks to Desert Hills, she is stronger and more confident than ever before.

– Matt K.