Understanding the Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious and complex disease that affects more than 29 million people in the United States. Also known as alcohol addiction and alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcoholism is a progressive disorder that can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. While it may seem like alcoholism happens overnight, it actually develops in stages. Understanding these stages can help individuals recognize the warning signs and seek early treatment.  

What is Alcoholism?

A medical condition, AUD involves a pattern of heavy or frequent alcohol use. The individual has difficulty controlling their drinking. They continue using alcohol even when it causes them or others problems, such as physical harm or emotional distress. Over time, the person needs more alcohol to attain the same effect. They will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking or rapidly decrease the amount of alcohol they use.

The Early Stage of Alcoholism: Occasional Abuse or Binge Drinking 

The first stage of alcoholism is characterized by experimentation with alcohol and an escalation in drinking habits. The individual may indulge in binge drinking, drink more frequently, or consume larger quantities of alcohol. Although they may try to cut down the amount of alcohol they consume or try to stop completely, they are unsuccessful. During this stage, the person develops a higher resistance to the effects of alcohol, indicating a change in brain activity. Some individuals will experience memory loss or blackouts during drinking sessions.

The Middle Stage: Alcohol Consumption Increases

As people begin to consume alcohol more frequently, they enter the second stage of alcoholism. Rather than restricting their drinking to social events, they begin consuming alcohol regularly. Some turn to alcohol to ease boredom or battle feelings of loneliness, isolation, or sorrow. Others drink to reduce stress or anxiety. They might even use hanging out with friends as an excuse to drink excessively. 

At this point, they may start lying to their loved ones about their alcohol consumption, and thoughts of drinking may become all-consuming. Strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms occur if they stop drinking or reduce the amount of alcohol they drink. The negative consequences of alcohol abuse such as neglecting work or school, losing interest in hobbies, and spending less time with loved ones, start to become apparent.

The Late Stage: Alcohol Dependence and Problem Drinking 

During the late stage of addiction, alcohol begins to consume a significant portion of an individual’s life. They develop a tolerance and dependence on the substance. They cannot control their consumption despite being aware of its negative effects. To achieve the same high feeling, they must drink increasingly larger amounts of alcohol, which causes further harm to their organs. Cravings become intense, and withdrawal symptoms such as an increased heart rate, clamminess, sweating, agitation, and anxiety occur. Nausea and vomiting are also common. Without alcohol in their system, they are unable to function. Drinking becomes necessary to feel normal and get through the day. 

As alcohol abuse becomes more frequent and uncontrolled, problem drinking develops. The individual begins to experience the negative impacts of their habit, including depression, anxiety, and sleep loss. Even when they feel ill from heavy drinking, the call of alcohol is still strong. Additionally, many problem drinkers may engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and driving or experience legal troubles due to their drinking. They may also experience social changes such as relationship issues, decreased social activity, and difficulty communicating with strangers.

End Stage: Alcohol Addiction

As alcoholism progresses, it reaches a point at which drinking is compulsive rather than pleasurable. At this stage, the individual’s psychological and physical dependence on alcohol is severe. The person suffers from insatiable physical cravings and experiences intense discomfort until they can drink alcohol. At this stage, alcohol becomes more important than crucial aspects of their life, such as family, health, and work. They often have severe anxiety and depression,  difficulty maintaining employment, and a lack of concern for personal hygiene and appearance. 

People often develop serious medical conditions, including alcohol-related damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver.

We Can Help

Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a treatable chronic brain disease that can affect anyone. If you or someone you care about struggles with addiction, we can help. Located in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, English Mountain Recovery has skilled professionals to help you regain control of your life. They will guide you along the path to recovery using gender-specific treatment services for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Today is the day to take the first step toward living a sober life. Contact us to learn more.