What Are The Physical Signs Of Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is characterised by the uncontrollable urge to drink alcohol despite the potentially negative consequences associated with consuming this substance.

An addiction to alcohol can destroy lives, with many people prioritising drinking over everything else including work, relationships and family. [1]

While not everyone who drinks is addicted to alcohol, it is a highly addictive substance that can cause a physical or psychological dependency over a period of time.

What are the physical signs of alcoholism?

While addiction, in general, is often an extremely secretive disorder, there are a number of physical symptoms that can signal a potential alcohol dependency or addiction.

Not every person with an alcohol addiction will display all or even some of these signs, but it’s important to be aware of the indications within your friends, family and even your own behaviours.

1. Noticeable weight gain or weight loss

A person struggling with an alcohol addiction may experience sudden and noticeable weight fluctuations.

Some types of alcohol are extremely high in calories, and when paired with an alcohol-induced increase in the hunger hormone which can cause cravings for high-fat foods this can result in weight gain.

Alternatively, the individual may replace food with alcohol and instead lose weight, often appearing gaunt and undernourished.

2. Red nose and cheeks

Alcohol can enlarge the blood vessels in the face causing red patches on the skin, particularly around the nose and cheek area. These blood vessels often burst or over-dilate, resulting in spider veins and noticeable red spots across the face.

3. Frequent, unexplained injuries and bruises

As alcohol affects our coordination and balance, making us unsteady on our feet, this can lead to an increase in scrapes and bruises. If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with alcoholism you may notice that they frequently experience broken bones, head injuries and other physical accidents.

People who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol are also more likely to bruise easily due to reduced platelet counts.

4. A diagnosis of cirrhosis

The liver is extremely affected by alcohol use, and over time fat can build up in this vital organ causing inflammation and potentially liver failure.

Cirrhosis is often diagnosed in long-term alcoholics and is characterised by the replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue, crippling the liver and reducing its ability to function. [2]

Cirrhosis can be life-threatening and requires complete abstinence from alcohol in order to heal.

5. Presence of alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If the individual is unable to consume their regular frequency and quantity of alcohol, they may begin to exhibit alcohol withdrawal symptoms including tremors, nausea and excessive perspiration.

This occurs as the body attempts to rebalance and function without the usual amount of alcohol in the system and can be life-threatening if not properly treated.

6. Yellow skin and eyes

Over time the liver may struggle to process the large amounts of alcohol consumed each day and can begin to fail, causing the skin and eyes of the affected individual to take on a yellow hue. This is known as jaundice and can be a sign of alcoholic hepatitis, in which the liver becomes inflamed and unable to work properly.

7. Brittle hair and nails

Excessive alcohol consumption can result in dry skin along with brittle hair and nails due to the dehydrating effects of this substance. An alcoholic may exhibit cracked or peeling nails, frizzy hair and dry patches of skin across their body.

8. Lack of coordination and balance

Many alcoholics will build up a tolerance to alcohol, requiring larger quantities in order to experience the same effects and as a result, they may not appear to be intoxicated even after consuming multiple drinks in one sitting.

However, they will likely be unsteady on their feet and struggle to balance even when they have no alcohol in their system, as repeated alcohol use can affect the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination.

9. Gastrointestinal problems

Alcohol use disorder can cause a number of stomachs and digestive problems including nausea, vomiting, bloating and diarrhoea, with some people even vomiting blood on occasion. This is primarily due to the lining of the stomach becoming irritated and damaged.

10. Poor hygiene and lack of grooming

It’s common for hygiene and grooming standards to begin to deteriorate as a person falls further down the path of alcoholism.

They may be physically unable to care for themselves due to depression or mental health problems caused by alcohol or simply be too preoccupied with obtaining and consuming alcohol to consider their physical appearance.

Unwashed hair, body odour and stained clothing are some of the more noticeable signs of alcoholism.

11. Stomach pains

Alcohol can damage the lining of the stomach, wearing it away over time and causing irritation, bleeding and ulcers. This causes a lot of pain for the individual, and they may frequently complain of stomach problems and severe pain.

12. Frequent infections and illness

Due to malnutrition and other physical health problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption, many people struggling with an alcohol addiction may suffer from repeated illnesses and infections as the body becomes too weak to fight off viruses and bacteria. In this situation, a simple cold could become life-threatening.

Seeking help for alcoholism

The most effective treatment for alcoholism involves a stay at a rehabilitation centre or specialised treatment programme, either as an inpatient or outpatient.

Residents will experience 24/7 medical supervision, particularly during the detoxification progress, and a wide range of therapy treatments that can help to increase the chances of long-term recovery from an alcohol use disorder. [3]

If you are concerned that you or someone you know is dealing with an alcohol use disorder, seek help by getting in touch with our team here at OK Rehab.

We have the experience, knowledge and resources required to source a treatment method that suits your lifestyle and budget and help you start your recovery journey within a supportive and non-judgemental environment.


[1] https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcoholism

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513682/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887506/