alcoholism stages

What are the Stages of Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that has been described by various stages and steps. The number may vary depending on the source referenced. In addition, since no two people are alike, progression through one phase may take more or less time depending on the person. One individual may exhibit different physical symptoms or emotional responses than another. 

Although there may be slight variations, most who are involved with the care and treatment  of those who suffer from alcohol abuse agree that alcoholism progresses in relatively predictable stages. It may begin with what seems to be nothing more than socializing and proceed through middle stages where symptoms and problems become more obvious. The end stages of alcoholism are marked by physiological dependence, debilitation, and loss of control.

Some of the main stages of alcoholism include:

  • The Beginning/Early Stage
  • Problematic Alcohol Abuse
  • Severe Alcohol Abuse
  • End-Stage of Alcohol Abuse

Beginning Stages: Early Signs of Alcoholism

In the beginning stage, people who are developing an alcohol use problem will likely show very small, hard-to-notice signs of alcoholism. In fact, these signs may be so seemingly insignificant that people may completely overlook them. Both the individual who is struggling and those around him or her may think nothing of the signs. Yet, these symptoms are often indications of what could progress into alcoholism.

The signs and symptoms that characterize the early stage of alcoholism are more behavioral than they are physical. An individual who is in the beginning stage of alcoholism may:

  • Tend to drink more than he or she intends
  • Occasionally drink alcohol in a way that concerns others
  • Often mention that he or she wants to stop drinking

Many of the individuals who regularly drink alcohol have expressed a desire to drink less. But, although this is not exactly uncommon, it’s important to pay attention to your loved one who constantly struggles to quit drinking.

People who are in the early stage of alcohol abuse may struggle to stop drinking or may sometimes consume far more alcohol than he or she plans to drink. Even if this only happens from time to time, it’s certainly worth noting as it could be indicating the development of a serious alcohol use problem.

Problematic Drinking

It is usually during this stage of alcoholism when family members and friends truly begin to recognize that there is a problem. Regular alcohol consumption could eventually become problematic and cause real issues in the lives of individuals who are developing alcoholism. Individuals may begin to experience the negative effects of their drinking.

During this phase of alcoholism, many people build tolerance for alcohol. This means that individuals who use alcohol frequently may become used to the substance’s effects on their bodies. As a result, they may feel the need to drink more and more alcohol in order to get the desired effects, or “buzz”, although one or two drinks may have done the trick in the past.

As people become tolerant of alcohol, their bodies get used to operating under the influence of the substance. Individuals who are in this situation are considered to be physically dependent on alcohol because their bodies will begin to feel “abnormal” without alcohol.

This feeling of abnormality is actually what is called “withdrawal”. People who tend to drink often may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms whenever there has been a long period of time since the last drink. They may become anxious, have nausea, and experience vomiting and headaches. 

People who have entered the problematic drinking stage of alcoholism may begin to:

  • Miss work
  • Become violent 
  • Experience various health-related issues
  • Develop impairments of liver functionality (after long-term use)
  • Engage in risky behaviors (unprotected sexual activity, driving under the influence, etc.)

People who have problematic alcohol use may experience legal problems as a result of the dangerous activities that alcohol sometimes causes people to do. For example, individuals may be charged for driving under the influence of alcohol. 

Sometimes, individuals who are suffering from problematic alcohol use may develop sexually transmitted diseases. 

Individuals may begin to have feelings of guilt about drinking. They will generally begin to hide their drinking and may spend time alone in order to avoid being seen by loved ones. Sometimes, individuals may change locations where they drink to avoid people they know.

Severe Alcohol Use: The Progression of Alcoholism

During the next stages of alcoholism, individuals develop a more severe dependency on alcohol and have cravings that are out of control. They may drink regularly in order to escape from stress and other pressures of life. Behavioral problems might continue to grow worse. 

People who suffer from alcoholism may begin to experience memory blackouts. Abstaining from alcohol use at this point typically leads to severe withdrawal symptoms. People who are struggling with alcohol abuse might be unwilling to discuss their problem and may be dishonest about what they are dealing with. 

As alcoholism progresses, people typically undergo severe mood and behavioral changes and begin to avoid friends and family. In many cases, individuals may refrain from socializing with non-drinkers. Later stage alcoholics often fail to follow through on commitments and have trouble holding down a job.

The Final Stages: Obsessive Alcoholism

During end-stage alcoholism, people become obsessed with drinking; they remain under the influence of alcohol for extended periods of time. The end-stage alcoholic becomes highly resentful of anything or anyone that interferes with their drinking.

Behavioral problems often continue; individuals might exhibit amoral behavior, become irritable, have violent outbursts, and experience a host of other negative behaviors and actions.

The end stages of alcoholism are the deteriorating phase. Some of the symptoms people might experience include: 

  • Confusion 
  • Tremors
  • Hepatitis
  • Malnutrition
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart disease
  • Brain damage
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Damaged vital organs
  • Respiratory infections

Many of the debilitating effects of alcoholism are reversible if the individual receives treatment. Otherwise, alcoholism can result in death. But this doesn’t have to be the case for you.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

An alcoholic can opt to change the course of their life at any stage, and Northbound Treatment Services is here to help. They offer a comfortable environment and specialized treatment programs to help patients on their way to recovery. So, if you or someone you know needs help overcoming alcohol abuse, please contact us today by calling (855) 858-6803.

References:

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcoholism-stages#2 

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/stages 

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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