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Signs of Alcoholism in the Face

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Alcohol abuse can affect how a person thinks and acts. It can also impact how they look. One of the most obvious appearance-based effects of heavy drinking is known as alcoholic face.

What Is Alcoholic Face?

The term alcoholic face refers to several changes in appearance that can result from chronic, long-term alcohol abuse.

Common signs of alcoholic face include:

  • Bloating or puffiness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Yellowing of the sclera (the white part of the eye)
  • Yellowish skin tone
  • Flushed appearance or reddening of the skin
  • Visible veins (which as sometimes called “spider veins”)

While there is obviously a cosmetic aspect to alcoholic face, it is important to understand that the signs of this condition may be symptoms of serious health problems. We will discuss this aspect of alcoholic face in greater detail in the next section.

What Causes Alcoholic Face?

There’s no single cause that is responsible for all of the symptoms that are associated with alcoholic face. Here are a few of the reasons why someone might begin to exhibit the characteristics that we discussed earlier in this post:

  • Some people develop a reddening of the face virtually every time they drink. This phenomenon, which is often referred to as alcohol flush reaction, results from a genetic variation that disrupts the body’s ability to safely process and eliminate alcohol. 
  • Spider veins occur when a vein becomes weakened to the point that blood begins to flow back toward the heart instead of away from it. Drinking can lead to increased blood pressure, which puts additional strain on veins as well as on the heart. However, heavy alcohol use isn’t always the sole cause of spider veins. Many people who develop this condition have multiple risk factors, such as genetic variations, family history, weight concerns, sedentary lifestyle, and sun damage.
  • The bloating or puffing that is often associated with alcoholic face can also be a symptom of damaged blood vessels. Enlargement of the blood vessels due to alcohol use can lead to fluid retention, which in turn can cause facial bloating.
  • Dark circles under the eyes can be a result of exhaustion, dehydration, and blood vessel damage. While alcohol can cause drowsiness, heavy drinking can disrupt a person’s ability to sleep soundly throughout the night. Insufficient hydration and blood vessel dilation may be more visible near the eyes because the skin there is thinner than in other areas of the body.
  • Yellowing of the eyes and/or the skin may be perhaps the most concerning symptom of alcoholic face. This reaction, which is known as jaundice, can indicate that a person has incurred serious liver damage. The liver is responsible for filtering toxins (such as alcohol) from the bloodstream. Continued exposure to alcohol can lead to three stages of liver damage: steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Jaundice is a symptom of the second stage.

If a person stops drinking, effects such as redness, puffiness, and dark circles under the eyes will often subside. The likelihood of reversing jaundice and other effects of alcohol-induced liver damage depends on how much harm has already been inflicted. 

For example, if a person reaches the third stage (cirrhosis), this means that the liver has experienced permanent scarring. At that point, quitting drinking may prevent further damage, but it will not lead to a healthy, fully functional liver.

Other Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholic face, blood vessel damage, and harm to the liver are by no means the only detrimental effects of alcohol abuse. In addition to other types of physical damage, heavy drinking can also cause myriad psychological, social, and behavioral problems, such as: 

  • Job loss and long-term unemployment
  • Losing professional licensures or certifications
  • Financial problems
  • Physical injuries due to impaired coordination and poor judgement (such as by slipping or falling, getting into fights, or causing an accident while driving under the influence of alcohol) 
  • Being arrested, fined, and/or jailed
  • Ruined relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Onset or worsening of anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders
  • Cognitive decline
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Elevated risk of several types of cancer
  • Impaired immune system
  • Heart damage
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Stroke

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Someone who develops alcoholic face may have alcohol use disorder (which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction or alcoholism). But facial symptoms aren’t included in the criteria for this disorder as established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

According to the DSM-5, someone must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms over a 12-month period to be accurately diagnosed with alcohol addiction:

  • Consuming alcohol in larger quantities or for a longer amount of time than intended
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining and using alcohol, or recovering from its effects
  • Having powerful cravings for alcohol
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, in school, or at work due to alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink even after experiencing social or personal problems as a result of prior alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink after incurring physical or psychological harm as a result of prior alcohol use
  • Ending or reducing participation in important social, work-related, or recreational activities as a result of alcohol use
  • Drinking in situations where it is clearly hazardous to do so (which can include combining alcohol with other drugs or drinking immediately before driving)
  • Needing to consume larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effects (which is also referred to as developing tolerance)
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when trying to end or significantly curtail one’s alcohol use
  • Wanting to quit drinking, attempting to do so, but being unable to stop

Anyone who experiences these types of symptoms should be evaluated by their doctor or another qualified healthcare provider. The professional who conducts this assessment should be someone who can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.   

Find Treatment for Alcohol Addiction in Atlanta

Untreated alcohol addiction can have a devastating impact on virtually every part of your life. But when you get the help you need, you can achieve improved health and build a foundation for a much more hopeful future. When you’re ready to get started, Peachtree Recovery Solutions is here for you.

When you choose our alcohol addiction treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, you can expect to receive life-affirming outpatient care from a team of skilled and compassionate professionals. We will work closely with you to determine the full scope of your needs, identify your immediate and long-term goals, and develop a customized plan just for you.

Your path to a brighter tomorrow may be much closer than you realize. To learn more about how we can help, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.