Telltale Physical Characteristics of a Heavy Alcohol Drinker, Experts Say

Clinical psychologist Geri-Lynn Utter grew up in Kensington, Pennsylvania — one of Philadelphia’s grittier corners — where her family ran a bar that opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 2 a.m. every day.

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As a girl there, Utter would watch the big-bellied factory workers show up to calm their hand tremors before their shifts, come back at 3 p.m. and leave at closing. They came back the next day to rinse and repeat.

Now a clinical psychologist who works with people with addictions, Utter knows that alcohol use disorder falls on a spectrum. While some people who have it look like those bar patrons, many seem completely healthy.

Others fall in between, acquiring undesirable physical traits due to the way alcohol affects every organ in the body. Insider spoke to Utter and other specialists about some tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse or abuse — and how to change your habits for better health and better looks.

You can develop wrinkles earlier in life.

elephant eye skin wrinkles

Old elephants with more wrinkles around the eyes on the skin as they get older. The giant elephant has freckled (discolored) skin.


Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes your body to lose water, which leads to dehydration. And dehydrated skin tends to sag and wrinkle, Dr. Joseph Volpicelli, a psychiatrist and addiction drug researcher at Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, told Insider.

“I have patients who have spent all this time getting botox or plastic surgery, and all this money on lotions, but the real problem is in their wine rack,” he said.

Older-looking skin may also be linked to the way the body detoxifies alcohol: by recruiting certain nutrients and antioxidants to your liver at the expense of your skin, said Lorna Driver-Davies, senior nutritional therapist at Wild Nutrition. , at Refinery 29.

Alcohol also disrupts sleep, and poor sleep robs your face of valuable time to repair.

You have a reddish face.

how to treat rosacea

You should avoid rosacea triggers like spicy foods and

Azman L/Getty Images

Utter remembers the men in his family’s bar — aptly named Utter Nonsense — sporting rosy faces. “It’s almost as if the capillaries around the nose and cheeks are starting to burst,” she said.

It’s common among alcohol drinkers, Volpicelli said, because alcohol is pro-inflammatory.

“When the skin becomes inflamed, it produces a condition called rosacea,” he said. Rosacea is characterized by redness on the face, and sometimes on the ears, back and chest. It can also turn into acne-like bumps.

In people with darker skin, it can manifest as stinging or burning and sensitivity to topical products, as well as “darker or darker brown spots,” dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk told Refinery29.

Although some medications and creams can help treat the condition, in the case of alcohol abuse they act as a band-aid for the underlying trigger.

Your hair and nails can become brittle.

split hair


Dehydration also affects your skin and nails, leaving them brittle and cracked, Volpicelli said. Long-term excessive alcohol consumption can even lead to hair thinning and loss, especially in people who are malnourished due to consuming almost all of their calories from alcohol.

“The right amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates are essential for a healthy scalp and hair,” according to The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab, a network of addiction treatment centers.

You may have stained or yellow teeth.

New Year's Eve can be quite awkward or lonely if you're single.

Drink wine alone.

Andrii Kobrin / Shutterstock

When Annie Grace drank glasses, if not bottles, of wine daily, she woke up with purple stains on her teeth. She was whitening her teeth, but she couldn’t keep up.

“It just wasn’t pretty,” Grace said in one of her videos for The 30-Day Alcohol Experiment, her program that helps people reevaluate their relationship with alcohol.

Even if you’re not a wine drinker, the acid in alcohol eats away at tooth enamel, allowing any color in drinks to stick, Dr. Timothy Chase of SmilesNY told Healthline.

Over time, heavy drinking can lead to more serious oral problems like gum disease, tooth decay, heartburn, and oral cancer.

Your belly is disproportionate to the rest of your body.

a person's chest and stomach

a person’s chest and stomach


Beer drinkers aren’t the only ones with beer bellies. Even diet-friendly alcoholic beverages like vodka sodas can lead to disproportionate belly weight, if you drink enough of them.

This is because alcohol in any form increases estrogen production and decreases testosterone production, which is linked to increased breast tissue and “trunk obesity” – or fat around the middle. – especially in men, Volpicelli said.

Compared to fat just under the skin throughout the body, belly fat surrounds internal organs and is associated with a higher risk of serious diseases such as

heart disease



and liver disease.

You can’t exercise it either, Volpicelli said. “The problem isn’t in the gym, it’s in the fridge.”

As alcohol abuse progresses, the belly may become hard and distended, and fluid buildup called ascites may be a sign of liver damage.

Your skin has a yellow tint.



Jaundice, or sallow skin, is also a sign of liver disease.

This can happen when the substance can no longer filter a yellow-orange substance from the blood, causing it to show up in the skin, reports WebMD. In people with darker skin, it may be more visible in the whites of the eyes.

“When you start seeing that, it’s a really serious problem,” Volpicelli said.

If detected early enough, stopping alcohol consumption and other lifestyle changes can treat liver disease. Otherwise, a liver transplant is the only solution.

Before the alcohol abuse gets to this point, ask for help – it’s okay if vanity leads you there.

refuse alcohol


“I could talk about all the terrible physical effects of alcohol on the liver, the brain and the heart,” Volpicelli said, “but what gets people into treatment is that it makes you look older.”

Medication, psychotherapy, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and even online communities for “grey zone drinkers” can help.

Nonprofits like SMART Recovery are free, expert-approved pathways to sobriety, and organizations like Sunnyside and Alcohol Change UK help people simply cut down on their alcohol intake.

“If you can have programs that get people into treatment at an earlier stage of their addiction, you can prevent a lot of very serious problems later on,” Volpicelli said.