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4 Signs of Addiction You Can Easily Miss, Experts Warn

The symptoms might not be as obvious as you'd expect.

While some studies have found that drinking in moderation may have certain health benefits, there are a lot of risks associated with alcohol consumption. A recent study has shown that even a small daily amount of the beverage can actually decrease your brain matter. There are also links between alcohol and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

And yet, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that almost 15 million people ages 12 and up had Alcohol Abuse Disorder (AUD) in 2019. There's also been a 21 percent increase in excessive drinking during the ongoing COVID pandemic.

With the prevalence of AUD, and alcohol use on the rise, you may be wondering about the signs of addiction—and it turns out there are some you can easily miss. Read on to find out what they are.

READ THIS NEXT: If This Happens When You Drink Alcohol, It Might Be Time to Stop.

Poor decision-making


Some of the more common signs of AUD include secret drinking, withdrawal symptoms like nausea and sweating, and blackouts, explains Taylor Draughn, LPC and therapist with Drug Helpline. But certain other signs might surprise you.

One of these is poor decision-making. Alcohol can affect how you make decisions in more ways than one. Choosing to engage in a violent confrontation, drive while intoxicated, experiment with drugs, and participate in other risky behaviors can be a sign of alcohol abuse. According to the American Addiction Centers, this may be caused by the various neurological effects of alcohol. Alcohol increases norepinephrine in the brain, which acts as a stimulant, and "can lower your inhibitions and increase impulsivity, making it hard for you to consider potential consequences of your actions."

At the same time, alcohol decreases activity in another part of your brain: "When you drink, alcohol makes it harder for the prefrontal cortex to work as it should, disrupting decision-making and rational thought," their experts explain.

Slowed reflexes

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Alcohol can affect your brain by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). "GABA is considered to be an 'inhibitory' neurotransmitter," reports Forbes. "High levels of GABA cause your body temperature to drop, and your heart rate and blood pressure to come down." Alcohol can also suppress glutamate, another neurotransmitter: "What this means for you is that your thought, speech and movements are slowed down, and the more you drink the more of these effects you'll feel."

According to Michigan Health, "one study pointed to an average decreased reaction time of 120 milliseconds—just over a tenth of a second—associated with a [blood alcohol concentration] level of 0.08, the legal limit in the United States." An example of these delayed reflexes? "When cruising at 70 miles per hour, a drunk driver would travel for an additional 12 feet before reacting to a roadway hazard."

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There are many causes for hands that tremble and shake. Some of them are serious, such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, while other reasons are less alarming (stress, lack of sleep, too much caffeine).

But shaking hands (or tremors in other parts of the body, such as the vocal cords or the legs) can also be a sign of AUD or withdrawal from alcohol. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes a cerebellar tremor as "typically a slow, high-amplitude (easily visible) tremor of the extremities (e.g., arm, leg) that occurs at the end of a purposeful movement such as trying to press a button. It is caused by damage to the cerebellum and its pathways to other brain regions." This damage can be caused by alcoholism.



Depression is another possible warning sign of addiction. Drinking alcohol can elevate dopamine and serotonin—both mood enhancers. This initially results in a feeling of pleasure or a "high," but alcohol also acts as a depressant. Drinking to feel good, then feeling depressed and drinking more to try to feel better can create a cycle of addiction.

There's another way alcohol can lead to depression, as well: "When you drink too much, you're more likely to make bad decisions or act on impulse," according to WebMD. "As a result, you could drain your bank account, lose a job, or ruin a relationship." Events like these can easily lead to depression.

"If you [or someone you know] are struggling with alcoholism, know there's a way out," advises Draughn, who recommends finding a support group or a counselor that best fits your needs.

READ THIS NEXT: Brad Pitt Credits This Huge Star With Helping Him Overcome Addiction.

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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