The Three Main Stages of Alcoholism and How to Deal Them

 In Alcohol Addiction

Many healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet feature wine as an important ingredient. In moderation, wine and alcohol serve as a relaxing and enjoyable accompaniment to a good meal with friends.

Some people, though, cannot drink alcohol in moderation. They begin as moderate drinkers but advance through the three stages of alcoholism with tragedy as the end result. Their numbers are larger than we realize, with 15.1 million adults suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

Few of these people receive treatment, with devastating consequences. In fact, 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. Perhaps you or someone you know is struggling with AUD right now.

In this article, let’s go over the primary stages of alcoholism. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with them will help you or your loved one combat this disease. Don’t despair because there is hope! Read on for more information.

The Three Stages of Alcoholism

There is some disagreement whether alcoholism has four or three distinct stages. Regardless, the progression is the same.

In this article, we’ll use the three-stage model, beginning with the early stage of alcoholism. Then we’ll cover chronic alcoholism and finally end-stage alcoholism.

It’s important to remember that every individual’s journey through this disease is different. For example, some people may exhibit symptoms of early-stage alcoholism but never get any worse. For others, though, the progression is rapid and devastating.

In fact, it’s hard to tell if someone is struggling with alcohol in the early stages. They might enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner every night. Are they an alcoholic? The answer lies in their attachment to drinking.

If they are emotionally or physically attached to their drinking, they have a problem. In addition, if they can’t stop drinking once they start, that is also a sign, especially if drinking interferes with their daily activities.

End-stage alcoholism is, unfortunately, easy to see.

Now let’s go through the three stages so you know what to expect. Come on!

Early-Stage Alcoholism

As noted above, early-stage alcohol abuse is sometimes hard to detect. There isn’t any noticeable dysfunction yet, and the individual may not even drink every day.

But when they do drink, it may be just to get drunk. What’s more, their tolerance for alcohol is increasing, so they need to drink more to achieve the same effect.

There are many reasons why an early-stage alcoholic drinks. Maybe it is to relieve stress, get rid of negative thoughts, or generally self-medicate.

They may find themselves wondering if alcohol is going to be served at an event. Or where they can find a drink if it’s not.

During this early stage, the individual will likely experience their first blackout, which should be a cause for concern.

Getting Help

Alcoholism is much easier to treat in this early stage. If you feel you are in the early stages of AUD, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Similarly, if you think your loved one may be on the wrong path, talk to them now. Tell them you are happy to find therapy or counseling services, or any help they need.

A simple conversation could prevent years of heartache.

Middle-Stage Alcoholism

During this middle stage, the individual becomes physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. Outside observers begin noticing the signs of alcoholism, even if the person is in denial about their seriousness.

In fact, during this stage, the alcoholic starts making excuses and isolating themselves so they can drink more. They often pretend they are in control, setting up random rules about when they can and cannot drink.

For example, they might announce they aren’t going to drink before a certain time. Or they might provide you with the total number of drinks they allow themselves per evening.

These rules are broken more-often-than-not, though. Then, out of embarrassment, the alcoholic starts drinking alone.

Alternatively, they may laugh it off, stating they just like to party or have a good time. But as they are forced to drink more to achieve similar effects, their lives begin to unravel.

Blackouts become more common now, and the alcoholic may become anxious or depressed. They might be struggling to maintain their relationships and their jobs. Even so, their primary obsession is still finding the next drink.

What Can You Do?

Again, if you think you are in the middle stages of alcoholism, it is not too late to ask for help. In fact, it is much easier to get help now rather than during end-stage alcoholism.

If your loved one is abusing alcohol, speak up and lovingly confront them. Tell them about the effects of their addiction, and urge them to get help.

This is called an intervention. It might save your loved one’s life.

End-Stage Alcoholism

During the final or end-stage of alcoholism, the person experiences a chronic loss of control. Finances, employment, and personal relationships all suffer. During this period, the alcoholic focuses more and more attention on drinking to the exclusion of everything else.

Drinking becomes an obsession, and the alcoholic cannot fall asleep without alcohol. Blackouts are now frequent, and any attempt to stop drinking brings on unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

When they see their hands shaking in the morning, they are reminded of what will happen if they stop drinking. Many late-stage alcoholics keep drinking simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

But the alcohol is destroying their bodies, and not only their outside appearance suffers. End-stage alcoholics are at risk for the following diseases:

  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Pancreatitis

Severe alcoholism can even cause heart failure or brain damage.

Clearly, the end-stage alcoholic is in dire need of an emergency intervention. Note, however, that no one should attempt to detox from alcohol abuse alone. Any withdrawal has to be monitored by a medical professional because the risk of death is real.

How Can You Help an End-Stage Alcoholic?

End-stage alcoholism is not pretty. If you are in this stage, please get professional help right away. It might save your life.

If someone you care about is living through this stage, you might feel lonely and powerless. This is especially true if the alcoholic refuses to accept help.

But don’t give up. Consult a professional (either a doctor or a counselor) to develop a well-thought-out intervention. Remind your loved one you care for them, but also demonstrate how their drinking has affected family members and friends over the years.

Finally, remind your loved one that their options are treatment or death. And make sure they promise to enter treatment right after the intervention.

At this point, professional help is the only way they will get better. But it is completely possible for the recovering alcoholic to live a healthy, fulfilling life again.

Wrapping Up: Stages of Alcoholism

Those are the three stages of alcoholism. Progressing from mild to potentially fatal, alcoholism is a serious and progressive disease. With treatment, though, even those in the end-stages can stop drinking. For good.

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction, do not hesitate to reach out to us. We would love to hear from you and hear your story, and we want to offer you hope for a better future.

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Alcohol as a disease