Alcoholism Stages

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  September 29 ,
2020 
| 4 Sources


Three Alcoholism Stages Inherent to the Disease

Having no more than a drink or two a day for healthy men and one drink a day for healthy women (non-pregnant) are typically considered acceptable levels of alcohol consumption without incurring consequential health risks.

Alcohol abuse is a serious issue in the U.S. that affects millions of people, both physically and mentally. Alcoholism has three stages: early-stage alcoholism; middle-stage alcoholism; and end-stage alcoholism. 

The progression of these stages can be determined by how often they drink, their drinking habits, and their ability to function during the day. It takes time for someone to progress from one stage to another because it requires an accumulation of damage done to bodily organs that process the alcohol before symptoms start showing up on the outside as well as painless dementia or permanent brain damage which may not show up until much later in life.

In order for someone with this problem to get better, they first need to realize that they need help. This can be made easier if the person suffering from alcoholism wants to quit because of the things their drinking is doing to others, or themselves.

As the frequency or amount of drinking increases, signs of alcohol abuse and dependence become evident. Physical and mental health progressively deteriorates, and individuals may jeopardize family and work responsibilities. Here are the stages of alcoholism that may develop as a consequence.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

The early stages of alcoholism begin when individuals start relying on alcohol to enhance their mood and escape from their problems. They begin thinking more and more about their next drink and from where it will come.

Early-stage alcoholism generally begins in the late teens or early adulthood, and may persist for 5 to 10 years. Individuals can still reverse this stage by addressing any underlying issues that are causing them to turn to alcohol.

Tolerance levels gradually increase as the body adapts to greater amounts of alcohol. Since a drinker at this stage is often able to function without appearing impaired, it may not be obvious to those around him or her that a drinking problem exists in the early alcoholism stages.

Middle-Stage Alcoholism

The next stage of the disease is earmarked by an increasing need and desire for alcohol. As a result, individuals drink greater quantities and more often, including consumption earlier in the day and/or later into the evening.

The alcoholic is now losing control over drinking, and the body is no longer able to process alcohol the same way it did in the early alcoholism stages.Individuals who have progressed into middle-stage alcoholism regularly consume high amounts of alcohol and suffer increasingly severe withdrawal when deprived of it. They often experience blackouts, getting extremely drunk without having any recollection of what happened while under the influence.

Middle-stage alcoholism develops over a period of several years, characterized by erratic behavior during drinking binges, which interferes with personal responsibilities such as work and family activities. These individuals will exhibit tolerance toward ever-larger amounts of alcohol consumed on each binge drinking.

Relationships at home, work and socially break down, and there can be mounting financial and legal problems. At this point, the drinker may outwardly deny having a drinking problem; while it is apparent to loved ones, friends and co-workers.

The longer the alcoholism goes untreated, the less likely it will be that a person with this stage of alcoholism is able to quit alcohol on their own.

alcoholism-stages

End-Stage Alcoholism 

As the disease advances through the stages of alcoholism, the alcoholic becomes obsessed with drinking to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Hangovers, blackouts, stomach and other health-related problems are regular occurrences.

Physical and mental health continues to degrade as the body’s organs become increasingly damaged and functionally impaired.Dependency on alcohol becomes complete, with the alcoholic having little to no chance of living without it.

In end-stage alcoholism, an individual is not able to achieve a happy or healthy life without first getting sober and remaining abstinent from all mood-altering substances.

Does alcohol kill brain cells? - Follow the links to learn how alcohol affects the brain, and for information on wet brain.

Malnutrition also takes its toll. Large amounts of alcohol interfere with the digestive process and inhibit the passage of nutrients to the bloodstream.

Compounding the problem, a damaged liver from consumption prevents nutrients from being converted into a usable form that the body can assimilate. Physical health is quite poor by the time the alcoholic reaches the end alcoholism stages. (Follow this link to learn more about the three types of liver disease caused by alcoholism: alcoholic cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and steatosis.)

Problems with functioning in daily life mount rapidly as blood alcohol levels increase to toxic amounts.

Knowing how the alcoholic mind works is essential for alcoholics and loved ones of alcoholics who want to stay sober. Despite what they may say, many people with a drinking problem actually believe that their use of alcohol does not seriously affect them or others around them. In fact, most individuals in early alcoholism stages genuinely think that they can control their drinking and that it will never severely impact their life, career, or family relationships.

The reality is much different: As alcoholism progresses, so do the mental health effects, and many individuals fail to recognize their own alcoholism until they face severe consequences from their drinking.

Don't Let Alcohol Abuse Take Control of Your Life!

It is never too late to seek out help. Even if you are in the early stages of alcoholism or you know someone whose alcohol abuse has a negative effect on his or her life, there are treatment options available that can help reverse these harmful and dangerous effects.

The earlier an alcoholic receives treatment and begins practicing sobriety, the better chance he or she has at living a long and rewarding life without relapse. Contact a treatment provider today.

Understanding the warning signs of alcoholism can help prevent the disease from progressing through the three stages. Take a look at our alcoholism signs and symptoms section for more information.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

Related Information

Definition of an Alcoholic - List of warning signs and facts about alcohol that can help you determine if you or someone you know has a drinking problem. If you have ever asked yourself, am I an alcoholic?, then you probably feel you have some issues with alcohol. Follow the links to learn more.

Stages of Alcoholism - Some believe there are 5 stages of alcoholism, learn more. Follow this link for more details on the long term effects of alcoholism.

Alcoholism Final Stage - Detailed information about end stage alcoholism. During this stage the drinker has lost all control, and needs to drink in order to function.

Alcoholism Effects on the Body - Detailed information on how alcoholism can cause liver damage, brain damage, heart damage, cancer, muscle damage, alcoholic neuropathy, etc. Information about each alcoholism physical symptom including the long-term and short-term health consequences.

Treating Alcoholism - How to find the right treatment. Why it is important to find a specialized program for the treatment of alcoholism.

Alcoholism and Diabetes - Learn how alcoholism can affect your diabetes. Diabetes alcoholism information, precautions and advice.

Alcoholism and Death - How and why alcoholism can potentially be fatal. Find out how alcoholism effects body organs such as the liver, brain, heart, etc.

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