Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism


Alcoholism is a disease that preys on both the mind and the body. Some of the physical symptoms of alcoholism are intertwined with the psychological symptoms of dependency. According to the National Institutes of Health, the disease of alcoholism has the following symptoms:

  1. Craving: a strong need or urge, to drink
  2. Loss of Control: not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun
  3. Physical Dependence: withdrawal symptoms including nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking
  4. Tolerance: the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high”




Numbers 1 and 2 on the list have psychological as well as physical symptoms of alcoholism. The second two are clearly physical. As the disease progresses, the physical symptoms become more pronounced and can include:

  • Liver Inflammation and cirrhosis of the liver. In cirrhosis, liver cells die, which causes scarring and leads to inhibited blood flow through the liver. The liver’s main job is cleansing the body’s blood of toxins and poisons. When this cleansing can’t take place, the result can be coma and death.
  • Malnutrition, which can compromise the immune system, making the alcoholic more susceptible to other diseases.
  • High blood pressure, which makes the alcoholic more vulnerable to heart attacks and other heart-related problems.
  • Acute pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to lung and kidney failure.
  • Erectile dysfunction.

Physical symptoms also occur when someone who has been drinking heavily for quite a while (weeks or months) decides to stop drinking suddenly. These symptoms range from the mild (see #3 on the NIH list above) to the severe (DTs, or delirium tremens).

Unfortunately, the more times a heavy drinker tries to quit, the worse the physical symptoms can become each time. Medical experts recommend that drinkers stop drinking under the supervision of a doctor, who can prescribe medicine to help control the shakiness and anxiety that often accompany withdrawal.

One of the most tragic physical symptoms of alcoholism is one that alcoholic mothers pass along to their babies during pregnancy: fetal alcohol syndrome.

Babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome are usually underweight and can have birth defects and mental retardation.







More than symptoms of alcoholism on our alcoholism signs page

Alcoholism home page