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How to Spot an Alcoholic Face

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If you asked a cartoonist to draw a caricature of a heavy drinker, there’s a decent chance that the resultant image would feature someone with bloodshot eyes, discolored skin, and an overall bloated face, also known as an “alcoholic face.” But does the association between these characteristics and chronic alcohol abuse have any basis in reality – or is this simply the result of decades of stereotypical portrayals in films and TV shows? In other words, are there actually certain features that you should look for if you’re trying to discover how to spot an alcoholic face?

How to Spot an Alcoholic Face

Long-term alcohol abuse can have a devastating impact on a person’s health. The potential negative effects of untreated alcoholism include heart disease, hypertension, liver damage, impairments in the gastrointestinal tract, and increased risk of certain types of cancers.

Drinking too much for too long can also change a person’s appearance. Learning about the nature and extent of these changes can help you determine how to spot an alcoholic face. 

The following facial features may indicate that a person has been abusing alcohol for a considerable amount of time:

  • Reddened skin near the cheeks and nose
  • Spider veins (thin red lines) 
  • Yellowed skin and eyes 
  • Greying, wrinkled skin
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dry and flaky skin
  • Swelling and bloating
  • Thin, dry hair

What Causes an Alcoholic Face?

Knowing how to spot an alcoholic face can help you determine if someone that you care about is in crisis. Knowing what may have caused the person to experience these changes can also be valuable, especially if their skin has yellowed or they develop a red face after drinking.

Many of the features that we listed in the previous section are evidence of long-term, heavy drinking. But one feature – a reddening of the cheeks – can sometimes occur in people who drink relatively infrequently. Though this feature doesn’t indicate that the person has developed an addiction to alcohol, it may be a sign that continued drinking could be extremely dangerous.

As described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol flush reaction can cause red face, hives, nausea, and other unpleasant symptoms. People who experience alcohol flush reaction have an enzyme deficiency that disrupts their body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.

  • If a person doesn’t have this deficiency, their body converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, then converts the acetaldehyde into other molecules that can be easily eliminated from the body via breath, sweat, and urine.
  • If a person has this enzyme deficiency, the metabolization process stops after their body has converted alcohol into acetaldehyde. The reason this is problematic is that acetaldehyde is toxic, and it can raise a person’s risk for developing certain types of cancer.

In addition to the enzyme deficiency that can cause alcohol flush reaction, here are possible causes of some of the other features of alcoholic face:

  • If a person’s skin and the whites of their eyes begin to yellow, this can be a sign of alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis results from an inflammation of the liver due to heavy drinking. It can also lead to kidney damage. Continuing to drink after developing alcoholic hepatitis can cause serious liver damage, which can be fatal.
  • Long-term alcohol abuse can also cause the skin of a person’s face to become grey, wrinkled, dry, and flaky. This can be a result of dehydration, malnutrition, and a lack of Vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes skin healing, prevents some types of skin damage, and contributes to overall skin health.
  • Alcohol-related dehydration can also cause bloating or puffiness in the face. This may occur for two reasons. First, alcohol is high in calories. People who drink heavily frequently gain weight. This weight gain is often most apparent around their midsection and in their face. The second reason why alcoholic face may include bloating is because alcohol abuse causes dehydration. As the body fights against the effects of dehydration, it will try to retain as much water as possible. This water retention can result in facial puffiness.
  • The spider veins that can be characteristic of alcoholic face may result from alcohol-related circulation problems and vein wall damage. Alcohol abuse is rarely the sole cause of spider veins, but it can exacerbate the problem and make the damage more noticeable. 

How is Alcohol Addiction Treated?

At Peachtree Recovery Solutions, we provide personalized alcohol addiction treatment at three outpatient levels:

Alcohol addiction is typically treated with a combination of therapy and education. Depending on which level of care a person is in, their alcohol addiction treatment at our center may include elements such as the following:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Recreational therapy
  • 12-Step education and support

Begin Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Atlanta, GA

Peachtree Recovery Solutions offers personalized care and comprehensive support to adults whose lives have been disrupted by alcoholism and certain co-occurring mental health disorders. At our alcohol rehab in Atlanta, you can expect to receive evidence-based services from a team of skilled professionals in a safe and welcoming environment. When you’re ready to stop drinking and start living a healthier life, the Peachtree Recovery Solutions team is here for you. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn more.