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The Four Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism, Four Stages of Alcoholism 

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a serious and often misunderstood issue that affects millions of individuals in the United States. Understanding the stages of alcohol addiction can help individuals recognize the warning signs early and seek the necessary help and support.

What is Alcoholism?   

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative health, social, or occupational consequences. It involves an intense craving for alcohol, loss of control over how much is consumed, and a high tolerance that requires more alcohol to achieve the same effect. This disorder can lead to physical dependence, where the body experiences withdrawal symptoms without alcohol, and can significantly impair a person’s quality of life. 

Alcoholism is a complex condition that can vary in severity from mild to severe based on the number of symptoms experienced. Alcohol use disorders are influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

The Four Stages of Alcoholism 

It is essential to understand that the stages of alcoholism can overlap, and not every individual will experience every stage in the same way.

1. The Early or Pre-Alcoholic Stage: Experimentation and Social Drinking

The initial phase of alcoholism often begins as experimentation or casual social drinking. The person consumes alcohol as a way to connect with others at parties and gatherings, or to relax at home. Many people are able to keep their alcohol use at this level without ever developing an addiction. 

Alcohol use starts to become a problem when the amount of alcohol used and the frequency of use increases. The person may start to turn to alcohol to relieve stress or escape from problems. They might start to binge drink. As their tolerance for alcohol increases, the person needs to drink more of it to achieve the desired effects. They may start to drink in secret in an attempt to hide how much they drink. They might get defensive when confronted about their drinking patterns. 

2. The Middle or Early Alcoholic Stage: Increased Drinking and Developing Dependence

In this stage of alcoholism, individuals find themselves drinking with greater regularity and in more significant amounts. This phase is characterized by withdrawal symptoms becoming more pronounced during periods of abstinence, signaling a shift towards physical and psychological dependence. The person may attempt to drink at all hours to stave off withdrawal symptoms. Blackouts and memory lapses become more frequent. The repercussions of increasing alcohol consumption, such as health complications, deteriorating personal relationships, and potential legal issues begin. Despite the alcohol’s detrimental impact, the person will prioritize drinking over personal and professional responsibilities, leading to a significant decline in life’s quality.

3. The Late Alcoholic Stage: Problem Drinking and Alcohol Dependence

By this stage, the addiction has taken a severe toll on every aspect of the person’s life. Their body’s dependence on alcohol is intense, leading to debilitating withdrawal symptoms if alcohol consumption stops. Health complications start to develop. Relationships with family and friends deteriorate, professional obligations fall apart, and financial stability crumbles. Legal troubles, including DUIs or other alcohol-related offenses, are probable.

4. The Final or End Stage: Addiction and Crisis 

This final stage of alcoholism is marked by severe physical, emotional, and social deterioration. Individuals may suffer from life-threatening health problems, such as liver disease (cirrhosis), heart disease, or brain damage. Dependency on alcohol at this point is profound, and quitting without medical assistance can be dangerous due to the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. The individual’s life may become consumed by their addiction, with almost all other aspects of life being neglected or having already collapsed.

Anabranch Recovery Center Can Help

If you or someone you care about needs help with an alcohol or drug addiction, Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, can help. Our highly skilled professionals will guide you through recovery, providing you with the care and treatment you need to achieve your goal of living a sober life. Take the first step. Contact us today.

About the author

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

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