The Physical Signs of Alcohol Addiction

How To Spot an Alcoholic Face


If you grew up with alcoholism, struggled with it yourself, or have been surrounded by it at any point; you’ve probably noticed that it has a look.

I didn’t notice this much growing up.. I knew the people around me were alcoholics because unfortunately there’s a lot more to alcoholism than just a face. 

Fast forward to my first job as a cashier in a gas station. The occasional customer would walk in & at a glance, I knew; That person drinks a lot of alcohol.

It was usually verified by them coming up to the register with a 30 pack about 45 seconds later. 

4 or 5 years later as a nurse I would get the occasional patient and knew,

That’s an alcoholic.

How To Spot an Alcoholic Face

There must be some distinct features, because I was never wrong.

Somewhere I picked up the term “pickled” for this look…

But, it got me thinking. What is it exactly that makes someone look “pickled”?

So as a nurse, child of alcoholics & mental health professional; I’m going to put together 5 dead giveaways for spotting the alcoholic face. 


How To Spot an Alcoholic Face

1 | Flushed Face

Alcohol is a vasodilator, widening and relaxing blood vessels. After having a few drinks we generally feel warmer and we wear a flushed face. 

People that drink often and have for a long time eventually develop that signature red bulbous bumpy face that is sometimes called the drinkers nose.

Alcohol also contains acetaldehyde which again, creates a flushed face.

Our body has to break down the acetaldehyde, and some of us break it down better than others. 

how to spot an alcoholic face


2 | Dilated Blood Vessels

We know that alcohol makes our blood vessels wider, allowing more blood to flow into them. 

Over years and years and years of widening and carrying more volume, the blood vessels weaken, burst and are permanently damaged. 

It is most obvious in the face.

Not only will you see the redness but also the spider veins.

Aside from the face, they are also seen in the arms and chest.


How To Spot an Alcoholic Face


The medical term for the long term effects of this is called telangiectasia. 

(we usually call them “spider veins”.)


3 | Bloodshot Eyes

A lot comes back to alcohol being a vasodilator.. Again, alcohol widens blood vessels & this includes the ones in our eyes. 

How To Spot an Alcoholic Face


I’ll be honest, these aren’t quite alcoholic eyes to me. I’m talking about 10, 20, 30 years or more into alcohol addiction.. 

Not So Fun Fact; 3/4 of my grandparents died as alcoholics.

I don’t have enough info on the last one to say one way or another for certain but I’ve heard she really liked the bar… which would point to 4/4 of my grandparents as alcoholics.. 

2/2 of my parents were/are alcoholics.  

My mom died from alcoholism/drugs when I was 12.

Dad is still an alcoholic.

So, when I say alcoholic eyes.. I mean the ones that clearly show the liver is struggling. 

The additional yellow haze is usually from years of drinking that’s damaged the liver and leads to jaundice. 



4 | Dry Brittle Hair

It’s kind of a given that drinking dehydrates us (it’s a diuretic).

Do you ever notice how many times you have to pee after drinking for a while?

It’s hard enough trying to stay hydrated

But drinkers are frequently consuming something that forces more water out; it takes it’s toll on the body.

On top of that alcohol provides very little nutritional value.

Between the nutritional deficiencies and constant dehydration, hair takes a hit. 


5 | Advanced Aging

We’ve established that alcohol isn’t good for our skin.. But, it also changes our sleep cycles, and not in a good way. 

On top of chronic sleep deprivation and dehydration, alcoholism isn’t good for our memory either. 

Alcohol wears us out and leads to

  • Less Collagen
  • Dehydration 
  • Poor Sleep
  • Vitamin Deficiencies
  • & Impaired Memory

All signs point to aging

Well, those are the 5 things that I notice for how to spot an alcoholic face.

Aside from just the face here are some other signs of alcoholism.


Physical Signs of Alcoholism

  • Slurred speech 
  • Frequent falls, bruises, scratches
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Weight changes
  • Tremors
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting



Warning Signs of Alcoholism

  • Risky behavior
  • Lapses in memory
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor performance
  • Choosing alcohol over other activities
  • Drinking regardless of negative consequences
  • Emotional liability



List of Diseases Caused by Alcoholism

  • Cirrhosis
  • Stomach or other ulcers
  • Gastritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Esophageal varices
  • Nerve damage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hemorrhoids


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4 Dysfunctional Family Roles of Alcoholism No One Talks About

The 5 Popular Alcoholic Family Roles


Here are just a couple resources for anyone who has dealt with alcoholism

Hope Recovery

A non profit organization that has free support.

They have individualized therapy and support groups for

  • Eating disorders
  • Abuse
  • PTSD
  • Dissociation
  • Sexual trauma
  • Grief and loss
  • Self esteem
  • Self care
  • Men’s support groups
  • Substance abuse


Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families  | ACOA

ACOA changed my life. I know that a lot others feel the same admiration for this program.

They have guidelines to make sure you feel safe. Plus, it’s all free.

Don’t be worried if you’re not from a home with alcoholism; alcohol aside; there are tons of people that are just as welcome as anyone else. 

I prefer the in-person groups personally, but there are tons of virtual groups too.


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