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The Physical Effects of Alcoholism

Long-term alcohol abuse affects nearly every part of the body, including the liver, heart, lungs, nervous system, pancreas, kidneys and muscles. Some of these complications take years to develop, but they can clearly be seen in the changes to your physical appearance.

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If you’ve ever wondered why an alcoholic’s appearance changes over time, here are the answers to your most common questions.


The most frequently asked questions about redness are, “Why does an alcoholic’s nose turn red?” and “Why does an alcoholic’s face turn red?” The answer: enlarged blood vessels. Alcohol causes blood vessels to expand, including those in your face. Some of those vessels eventually break, making the drinker look red even when he or she is sober.

For some drinkers, the cause of redness isn’t alcohol but rosacea, a pre-existing skin condition exacerbated by certain factors, including alcohol. In one study, two out of three rosacea patients notice more redness in their faces after just one drink. As the drinking continues, the flare-ups get worse and the changes in blood vessels may make the redness permanent.


Some alcoholics look red as their addiction progresses, while others look yellow. As you drink, fatty deposits build up on the liver, leading to alcoholic fatty liver disease. Many cases progress to cirrhosis, which not only causes edema in the stomach but also a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. The bilirubin causes a yellowish tone in the eyes and face, also known as jaundice.


Some forms of rosacea are so severe that the patient develops rhinoplyma, or a bulbous nose. In other cases, the bulbous look is caused by expanded sweat glands in the nose. So why does an alcoholic’s nose become bulbous? Drinking long enough and often enough and the swelling can become permanent.

That’s not the only area of the body affected by alcohol. You may wonder why an alcoholic’s face swells. One reason is the expansion of blood vessels in their face. Another has to do with your salivary glands. As you drink, your saliva gets stickier, which blocks salivary ducts and causes the parotid glands in your face to swell and make your face look puffy.

However, this only affects the face. Why does an alcoholic’s stomach swell? The answer is ascites, or fluid retention caused by excessive drinking. Alcohol limits the release of an anti-diuretic hormone, causing kidneys to excrete water but not sodium or other electrolytes from your system. As you retain more fluid, your body swells and the condition worsens as you develop other alcohol-related complications like cirrhosis and kidney disease.

Shaking and Seizures

A classic sign of alcohol withdrawal is shaking. These shakes, or delirium tremors, are the result of years of heavy drinking and its effect on part of the brain that controls muscle movement. So why do an alcoholic’s hands shake? Your body builds up a tolerance to alcohol, so you need more alcohol to get the same effects. Because your body needs more alcohol to achieve equilibrium, your hands – and the rest of your body – start shaking until you take another drink.

Long-term alcohol abuse damages your body from the inside out. However, it’s never too late to begin healing after years of heavy drinking. The team at 12 Keys Rehab is here to put you on the path to sobriety and good health. Call us at 866-657-7230 for a personal, confidential consultation.

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