How to spot and Alcoholic Face

Alcoholism is one of the most common types of mental illness affecting both young and older populations in the United States. Alcohol use disorder not only affects the mental well being of a user, but it can have physical effects as well. In long time, severe users of alcohol, there may be physical signs that appear not only in the body, but on the appearance of the face and skin. Alcoholic face is the non clinical term for someone with a red face and other distinct features due to excessive alcohol use. Oftentimes facial appearances can provide great insight into the health and well being of a person. Alcohol is a substance that can drastically alter a person’s physical appearance starting with their face.

A zoomed in photo of a womans alcoholic face features consisting of textured skin and reddish and purple spider veins in the cheek and nose area of her face.

An alcoholic face is a way to describe the facial changes that are a result of excessive drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Some of the most obvious and common symptoms include facial redness, facial discoloration and puffiness. Fortunately, most of the skin damages caused by AUD are reversible if treated in time and treated properly. The physical signs of chronic alcohol abuse vary from person to person. According to studies, alcohol is one of the worst and most aggressive substances that can destroy your skin.

Infograph illustrating an alcohol detox timeline with common symptoms that occur during each phase.

How to spot an Alcoholic Face. What are the signs?

  • General signs of facial redness are some of the most common signs of an alcoholic face. This includes an alcohol flush reaction that can be a result from dilated blood vessels near the skin surface. This is also a sign you may have an alcohol intolerance or may be allergic. In some people, there is a genetic deficiency in the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) enzyme. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde, a toxic substance produced by the body as it metabolizes alcohol. When the body lacks enough enzymes to break down the toxins, it causes a build up and causes flushing of the skin. These people who experience this redness also experience headaches, nausea, vomiting and rapid heartbeat when drinking. Facial redness can also be caused by the alcohol’s ability to reduce vascular control leading to blood vessels in the face becoming enlarged.
  • Broken blood vessels or spider veins in the face can be signs of alcohol use disorder. Chronic alcohol abusers often develop spider veins around the nose and cheek area. Spider veins (spider telangiectasis) are caused by broken capillaries near the surface of the skin in which alcohol forces blood vessels to expand and contract and often make them break or collapse. It appears as small red or purple lines on the skin. Spider veins can also develop in the eye making the white of the eyes appear red and bloodshot while drinking.
  • Puffiness, swelling or bloat in the face can be signs of dehydration caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a diuretic causing dehydration to the body including the face. This results in the body trying to retain as much water as possible causing a puffy face, bloating and a swollen looking face. Some people have inflammatory responses to alcohol which also causes alcoholic swelling and bloating in the face. It is a good indicator that a person has an alcohol use disorder.
  • Paleness and Jaundice in the skin are also common signs of an alcoholic face. Any type of skin discoloration could be a sign for alcohol use disorder. People with AUD often tend to have a grayish tint to their skin. Chronic alcohol consumption causes a vitamin A deficiency, which makes it difficult for skin to retain a healthy skin tone. This leads to a pale and sallow complexion. Jaundice is another common side effect of alcoholism. Long term alcohol use causes damage to the liver leading to yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
  • Someone with an alcoholic face often has a drinker’s nose. Rhinophyma results in a thick and bumpy nose. This is caused by effects of the blood vessels in the nose. As they expand, contract, collapse or burst, it can cause the skin to thicken and change texture. It is especially prominent in the nose area of the face and often referred to as an alcoholic nose.
  • Acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and other skin texture changing conditions are also signs of an alcoholic face and AUD. According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of rosacea in women. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that causes redness and red bumps on the face. Excessive alcohol consumption reduces the body’s ability to process vital nutrients and vitamins needed for the skin to retain normal health. This can lead to the development of acne, discoid eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis produces inflamed greasy patches of skin that are also dry and flaky. It is most common in heavy alcohol users. Drinking can also worsen those who have psoriasis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition causing thick, scaly patches of irritated skin. Overall changes in skin texture is often caused by alcohol dehydration. Making skin feel dry, flaky and itchy. Since alcohol weakens the immune system, it can also make it more difficult for the body to produce collagen, which is an important component in skin health. Persistent skin sores and infections will be more common and be more difficult to treat in those who have AUD.
  • Generalized pruritus is a type of skin disorder that can contribute to an alcoholic face.  Alcohol makes the body unable to metabolize certain substances such as bile salts, corticosteroids and histamine. When there is a build up of these substances it can cause generalized skin itching and irritation, leading to inflammation and the formation of rashes.
  • Porphyria cutanea tards (PCT) is an indicator of liver disease caused by AUD. The symptoms include fragile skin, blistering, photosensitivity, crusts, milia, scleroderma, erosion and hypertrichosis on the face and other parts of the body.
  • Skin cancer. Studies have shown strong links between alcohol and cancer. Some of the most common types of cancer that can develop from alcohol misuse include liver, breasts, pancreatic, melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.
Infograph showing difference signs to spot an alcoholic face.

What does an Alcoholic face look like?

Heavy drinking is known to cause brain damage, liver damage and heart damage. It can also negatively impact the health of your face and skin. For someone who has AUD or is an alcoholic, there are many ways to spot what an alcoholic face looks like. First off, alcohol can cause premature aging. Alcohol accelerates the aging process that leads to the premature development of wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin.

An alcoholic face is often red, dry, and wrinkly with uneven texture. The combination of inflammation, dehydration and toxin build up causes the face to look this way and is a sign of severe alcohol misuse. Alcohol abuse also leads to poor nutrition and diet, poor personal hygiene and grooming and a high risk for other diseases and illnesses. When taking into consideration all of these factors, an alcoholic face shows many physical signs of damage due to substance addiction.

Check Your Insurance Coverage for FREE

Find out if your insurance covers addiction treatment in minutes. We accept most insurance!

Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder

Even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to an addiction and begin to show physical signs on the user’s face. With the leading indicator of a redness and a sallow looking appearance. Alcohol use disorder can be treated under the care of a professional substance use disorder treatment program such as Hotel California by the Sea. At our specialized alcohol use disorder treatment program, clients will have the resources and care needed to heal from their alcohol addiction.

Through alcohol detox, residential treatment, or PHP and IOP programs, clients will have the opportunity to start a treatment plan that is unique to their needs. We provide evidence-based treatment methods such as EMDR therapy, marriage and family counseling and MAT. Such treatments combined medication therapy along with cognitive therapies to help address every aspect of addiction. Hotel California by the Sea understands what clients need to overcome their addiction and are ready to provide the tools and services needed for a sober journey.

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.