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CCFA’s Expert Guide on How to Spot an Alcoholic Face
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CCFA’s Expert Guide on How to Spot an Alcoholic Face

Written by Seth Fletcher on December 4, 2023
Medically reviewed by Dr. Chintan Shah
Last update: February 28, 2024

Alcoholism is a disease that affects the mind and body in several ways. Individuals struggling with alcohol addiction will likely conceal their problem for as long as possible. This can make it difficult for their loved ones to help them get the support they need. However, alcohol use leaves distinct clues on a person’s face and body. You can recognize the signs of alcohol dependence by examining a person’s physical features. Alcohol addiction is not a choice, and CCFA explains how to spot an alcoholic face so you can help your loved one get the help they need.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholic addiction leaves visible signs on the face and other body areas
  • These signs are known as alcoholic face
  • Being able to recognize the signs of an alcoholic face can help get your loved one the required treatment

Common Alcoholic Face Signs

The physical signs of alcoholism or an alcoholic face differ among individuals. While spotting these signs does not offer a conclusive diagnosis, it can help you understand what may be happening to your loved one. So, what do alcoholics look like, and specifically, what does an alcoholic face look like? The following are the most common alcoholic facial signs and features.

Bloodshot Eyes

Bloodshot eyes are one of the easily identifiable markers of alcohol abuse. Alcohol expands blood vessels, including those in the eyes, giving it a bloodshot look. This effect usually lasts till the effects of alcohol wear off. However, repeated dilation from chronic alcohol abuse will give the eyes a persistently bloodshot appearance.

Dark Circles

Regular alcohol use leads to reduced sleep quality and dehydration, which causes the formation of dark circles under the eyes. The disruption of the sleep cycle causes the skin around the eyes to look hollow, thin, and dark, causing blood vessels to be more visible and giving the appearance of dark circles.

Spider Veins

Spider veins are small thread-like veins around the nose and cheeks that become visible when they dilate. Also known as telangiectasia, spider veins occur due to broken capillaries caused by alcohol use. Long-term heavy drinking can make the appearance of spider veins permanent.  

Puffy Face

A bloated face is one of the distinct markers of alcohol abuse. Alcohol use causes water retention, leading to an alcoholic face swelling and puffiness. Excessive alcohol use can also cause liver inflammation, affecting its ability to eliminate toxins from the body. This loss of efficiency can also cause the buildup of waste products, leading to an alcohol-puffy face.

Jaundice

Jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes caused by too much bilirubin in the blood. Excessive drinking damages the liver and impairs its ability to filter out bilirubin, giving the skin and eyes a yellowish appearance.

Face Redness

Alcohol dilates blood vessels, giving the face a red and flushed appearance. This condition is also known as the alcohol flush reaction due to the accumulation of toxins like acetaldehyde. The body tries to break down the accumulated toxins by expanding blood vessels, leading to the characteristic redness. However, long-term heavy drinking can damage these blood vessels and cause persistent facial redness.

Skin Problems

Alcohol has diuretic properties, meaning that it causes the body to lose significant amounts of water. People who abuse alcohol usually do not drink enough water to rehydrate their bodies, and this loss of fluid causes skin dryness, wrinkles, skin sores, and a dull, unhealthy skin appearance. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause the skin to age prematurely.

Other Physical Signs to Look Out For

Beyond the alcoholic face changes, alcohol addiction can leave other physical signs, like a disheveled look. An individual struggling with alcohol abuse may neglect personal hygiene and grooming practices, leaving them with an unkempt appearance. They may also look exhausted from lack of sleep and dehydration due to excessive alcohol use.

Alcohol use also affects the cerebellum, the area of the brain that regulates balance and coordination. An alcohol user will have an unsteady gait when inebriated and also carry an increased risk of falls and accidents when sober. Unexplained bruises and scrapes may be common, especially as alcohol reduces platelets and blood clotting factors.

Alcohol users may experience persistent stomach problems from the ulcerative action of alcohol on the stomach lining. They may also feel numbness or tingling in their extremities due to alcohol’s damaging effects on nerve tissues.

Long-term alcohol use leads to the buildup of tolerance, a situation where the individual needs to drink more alcohol to get the same effects. Using alcohol in increasing amounts can lead to dependence, a situation where alcohol is required for normal functioning. An alcohol-dependent person will experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop or reduce alcohol use. These symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, tremors, and abdominal pain.

How Does Alcoholism Affect Body Weight?

Alcoholism can lead to significant weight loss or gain due to appetite changes. A person struggling with alcohol addiction may experience a diminished appetite as alcohol becomes a priority, making them lose weight. Alcohol can also affect how the body metabolizes nutrients, causing reduced muscle mass and weight loss.

In some individuals, alcohol abuse may lead to the desire for high-fat meals due to the release of ghrelin, a stomach hormone that regulates appetite. Also, alcoholic beverages like wine and beer have a high caloric content, and their consumption can lead to weight gain. Weight changes may not necessarily be due to alcohol consumption, even if the person is a heavy drinker. Only a medical expert can determine whether weight changes are due to alcohol use or an underlying health condition.

Can Facial Features Indicate Any Other Conditions

The face is like a window into the body and can offer helpful insights into one’s health.

Facial features like paleness may indicate anemia, while a bluish coloration (cyanosis) around the lips may be due to a lung or heart issue. Sores around the lips and mouth may point to type of herpes virus, while cracked lips may be due to dehydration or an allergic reaction to specific medication or substances.

The appearance of dark moles on the face may be the early warning signs of cancer, while a butterfly rash on your cheeks may be a sign of lupus, an autoimmune disease. If you observe one or both of your eyelids droop suddenly, you need to see a doctor, as this may be a sign of an issue with your nerves, brain, or eye sockets. Drooping eyelids accompanied by headaches or vision problems are also early indicators of an impending stroke. Yellow spots on the eyelids are known as xanthelasma, and their presence indicates a higher risk of developing heart disease.

A receding chin may point to sleep apnea, a condition that makes a person stop breathing for up to 10 seconds when they sleep. In young women, the appearance of facial hair could point to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can lead to fertility issues.

Alcoholic Face Treatment

Most facial signs of alcoholism can be reversed by treating their underlying cause (excessive alcohol use). Abstaining from alcohol use for at least 30 days can rejuvenate the skin and improve facial appearance. Antihistamines like Oxymetazoline and Brimonidine can reduce alcohol flush reaction (facial redness) when used under professional guidance. It’s crucial to seek medical help if you think your alcohol use has become a problem.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s vital to seek professional alcohol addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one if you notice the following:

  • Continued alcohol use in increasing amounts
  • Trying and failing to stop using alcohol
  • Having intense cravings to drink alcohol
  • Spending a great deal of time drinking and recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Decreased productivity at work or school due to alcohol use
  • Continued alcohol use despite negative consequences on one’s health
  • Needing increased amounts to get the same alcohol effects – tolerance
  • Becoming alcohol-dependent: unable to go about your daily activities without alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon cessation or reduction of alcohol use

Conclusion

Alcohol addiction is a complex condition that leaves clues on the face and other parts of the body. Being able to recognize an alcoholic or drinker’s face can be the first step in helping someone with alcohol addiction get the help they need.The Canadian Centre for Addictions offers alcohol addiction treatment in an environment that inspires lasting change. We help our clients understand their addictions and the healthier coping strategies available by engaging them in one-on-one counselling with certified counsellors, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals. Call 1-855-499-9446 to learn more about how we treat alcohol addiction.

FAQ

Can your face recover from alcohol?

Yes. Most changes to your facial appearance caused by alcohol can be reversed if you stop drinking. Alcohol use cessation allows the body to recover from damage due to drinking. Positive lifestyle changes can also help speed up recovery.

Do non-drinkers look younger?

Yes. Alcohol causes dehydration and can make the skin look older and wrinkled even after a single night of drinking. This effect is compounded with continuous drinking, making the drinker look older. A person who quits drinking will begin to look younger relatively quickly.

How long after quitting drinking do you look better?

Depending on the severity of your alcohol use, you may see improvements in your appearance after a week of sobriety. However, most people will notice significant changes in their looks one to three months after quitting alcohol use.

What is the alcoholic body shape?

The alcoholic body shape occurs due to excessive drinking and takes the form of an apple, where most of the body’s fat is distributed across the abdominal region.

Can I be fit and still drink?

Yes. Alcohol is a huge source of calories, but you can be fit and still drink. However, you may need to follow some rules, like drinking moderately and staying hydrated. According to most experts, you should not consume more than one alcoholic beverage daily if you’re serious about remaining fit.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

Dr. Chintan is a Board Certified Family Physician with an interest in holistic and preventative care as well as healthcare systems. Credentialed Physician with both American & Canadian Board of Family Medicine. Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Telemedicine clinician.

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