Understanding the Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Over 17 million people in the U.S. — roughly one out of twelve adults — chronically abuse or are addicted to alcohol, and half of all Americans have a family history of alcoholism.1 Alcohol addiction affects your physical and mental health, your relationships, your finances and your family system, and it can lead to legal problems stemming from driving under the influence, domestic disputes, public drunkenness and violence.

Alcohol addiction comes in stages, but is characterized by the inability to curb your drinking habits despite the negative consequences associated with drinking. If you’re addicted to alcohol, you may have tried to quit without success. That’s because the changes in brain function make it extremely difficult to overcome the intense cravings for alcohol and the compulsion to drink. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it almost always takes more than willpower to overcome an alcohol addiction.2

How Alcohol Addiction Affects Your Health

Chronic alcohol abuse takes a serious toll on your health.3 The effects of alcohol addiction change the physical structures and functions of the brain, interfering with communication, changing your mood and behavior and affecting your ability to think clearly. It damages your heart, leading to cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, high blood pressure and stroke.

Liver inflammation and other liver problems are common among chronic alcohol abusers, and alcohol abuse can cause the pancreas to produce toxic chemicals that cause the inflammation of its blood vessels, a condition known as pancreatitis, which inhibits proper digestion.

Alcohol abuse also increases your risk of developing mouth, esophageal, liver, throat and breast cancer, and it weakens the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to tuberculosis, pneumonia and other diseases.

Alcohol addiction also affects your mental health, leading to the onset or worsening of psychiatric problems like depression and anxiety and increasing your risk of suicide.

Other Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Aside from mental and physical health problems, the effects of alcohol addiction touch nearly every aspect of your life. It can cause job loss and result in financial instability, and it increases your risk of being the victim or perpetrator of violence or homicide.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, addiction is a family disease that leads to instability in the home. It impacts the unity of the family and causes dysfunction within the family system. Family members are put under unusual stress due to disrupted routines, upsetting experiences and, in many cases, being manipulated by the person with the addiction.4

Getting Help is Essential for Long-Term Recovery

If you have a loved one who suffers from alcohol addiction or who chronically abuses alcohol, professional help through a high-quality treatment program is essential for successful long-term recovery. During treatment, a variety of traditional and alternative therapies are used to address the complex issues underlying the addiction and help your loved one develop the necessary skills for coping with stress, cravings and other triggers.

Whether your loved one acknowledges he has a problem and is ready to seek help or he’s in denial about his problem drinking, his eventual successful recovery depends in part on family support. Individual therapy for all affected family members as well as joining a support group can help you support your loved one the best possible way.

Doing so will help you restore function to the family system and curb unhealthy enabling or codependent behaviors that you may have developed over the course of the addiction, which are harmful to you and other family members and can perpetuate the cycle of addiction or put your loved one’s recovery at risk.

Hope is the Foundation of Recovery

The most important thing is to never give up hope for a better future for your loved one. Hope is the foundation of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and recovery is always possible, even if it seems like your loved one will never admit to the problem or agree to seek professional help. 5

As long as you continue to educate yourself about your loved one’s addiction and seek support for coping with the uncertainties of living with someone who has an addiction, you’ll be in the right position to eventually convince your loved one that he needs help, and you’ll be able to offer him a high level of support during treatment and beyond.


  1. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol
  2. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction
  3. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
  4. https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
  5. http://www.samhsa.gov/recovery

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