Warning Signs of Drinking too Much

The warning signs of drinking too much aren’t hard to notice…that margarita sure went down smooth, so did the second one. Wait . . . was that the third one or the beer? If you sometimes forget how many alcoholic beverages you drink, you are not alone. U.S. adults consume 35 billion total alcoholic drinks each year — and many of these individuals get fuzzy about their excessive alcohol use. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that annually in the U.S, 140,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, shortening lives by an average of 26 years. The National Institutes of Health cites a 2019 national survey that almost 26% of people age 18 and older engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

Technically, any amount of alcohol has a negative effect on your body because it’s a sedative that interferes with your blood chemistry sip after sip. While you may not be imbibing at college parties anymore or bar hopping and clubbing these days, wherever and however you party and drink alcohol can add up to irreversible damage in your body. This is especially true if you’re now in later life and have been a regular drinker for decades. 

Warning Signs of Drinking 

So let’s take a look at the main facts of alcohol use and how you can maintain better control of your health if you do decide to drink. 

A hangover headache and vomiting are not the only signs your body warns that you’ve been drinking too much. The following are other physical signs your body is not tolerating alcohol well:

1. Skin changes. Too much drinking can mess with your skin complexion and youthful look. Alcohol can leave your skin dehydrated and inflamed with a dull appearance and reduced elasticity. Puffy or swollen eyes and intensified wrinkles and dark circles are other effects of alcohol on your skin. Drinking can also flare skin conditions such as rosacea and psoriasis.

2. Heartburn. Also known as acid reflux, heartburn, causes your stomach acid to travel back up your esophagus toward your throat, which feels like burning in your chest. Alcohol increases stomach acid that can bring on heartburn. Even small amounts of alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and produce bloating, burping, hiccupping and pain in the upper stomach. 

3. Fatigue and low energy. After a night out drinking (or downing too much at home), you can feel sluggish, irritable and unable to focus well. Much of this feeling “off” is because alcohol disrupts your sleep and is a diuretic that invites more trips to the bathroom at night. 

4. Weight gain. You can tip the scales from too much drinking because alcohol prevents your body from burning carbs and fats efficiently. Some alcoholic drinks are packed with calories. (Yes, that Long Island iced tea and piña colada.) Alcohol can also stimulate your appetite. 

5. Tingling or numbness. Overdrinking, especially through the years, can lead to alcoholic neuropathy in which you get tingling and numbness in your feet, legs or hands. 

How else can drinking alcohol affect my health?

Consistent drinking, particularly excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems that affect functions of the body including:

Brain   Alcohol hinders the brain’s communication pathways, which can disrupt mood, behavior, speech and coordination. 

Heart  Drinking too much on a single occasion or over a long time can damage the heart causing an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke or a diseased heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). 

Liver  Heavy drinking can inflame and scar liver tissue and cause a variety of health issues including alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. If these liver conditions advance, they can lead to liver failure and death. 

Pancreas  Because alcohol causes the pancreas to release toxic substances, the pancreas can dangerously inflame and swell blood vessels that disrupt digestion. 

Immune System  Excessive drinking weakens the immune system, and chronic drinkers are more prone to diseases such as pneumonia and other bacterial and viral infections. 

Cancer  The National Cancer Institute reports clear associations of alcohol consumption and an increased risk for certain types of cancer including head, neck, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, liver, esophageal, breast and colorectal. 

Medication Interactions  Several prescription and over-the-counter medicines are known to interact with alcohol including antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, antihistamines, diabetes medications and blood thinners.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) A person with this mild, moderate or severe spectrum disorder displays an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use. Conditions within AUD are sometimes referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependency and alcoholism.

Alcohol also affects the body through injuries such as falls, drowning and motor vehicle accidents. When some people get drunk they commit acts of violence and harm others and themselves. A woman who drinks while pregnant may affect her baby’s development and cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. 

How much is too much alcohol?

So much of alcohol tolerance depends on each individual’s body composition, health history, age and previous drinking patterns. The older you are, the slower your body processes alcohol and the longer it stays in your liver before it moves into your bloodstream. 

The CDC details what they consider binge drinking and heavy drinking, and they list a standard drink size in the United States as:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)

The caution here is people are not often aware of the portion size of their drinks. If I have concerns with a patient’s alcohol consumption, I will ask, “What size is your typical beer or glass of wine or how many ounces of liquor is in your usual drink?” The size of an actual drink can be an eye-opener for people. I encourage individuals who drink to be aware of what is considered a standard drink size.

How can think help someone concerned about drinking too much?

The professional healthcare providers at think understand and empathize with the hesitancies to talk about a struggle with drinking. Openly and honestly discussing alcohol use is an important step in ensuring the person gets the most appropriate advice and treatment.

The conversations a patient has with our think medical staff are completely private and confidential. Our goal is to provide compassionate whole person healthcare that improves our patients’ everyday life. Because think features doctors, specialists, advanced practice providers and skilled medical teams all in one accessible building, every patient receives the best healthcare option in the Omaha metro area. 

If a concern arises about alcohol use and its effect on a person’s health, we can run bloodwork, ultrasounds and other diagnostics right in-house to control costs and quality of care. Our medical providers often will consult with our Behavioral Health professionals, which includes social workers. Think social workers can walk patients and family members through the steps and options for alcohol abuse treatment including local resources such as Alcohol Anonymous, Alateen and Al-Anon and connect patients with outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation programs. We are here to help patients with the tools to reduce or stop drinking, build a solid social support system and improve their health one day at a time.  


Think Whole Person Healthcare is dedicated to keeping you healthy through preventative care and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. From the bothersome stomach upset to the persistent joint pain, our physicians, advanced practice providers and specialists are committed to you and your family’s lifelong health and well-being. 

Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a think patient or do not have a primary care provider currently. To learn more about our comprehensive healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page. 

We help you stay healthy. Give us a call at 402.506.9000. 

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