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The 5 Stages of Alcoholism: Unique Symptoms and Warning Signs

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Alcohol abuse and addiction occur for many reasons.  Although no one chooses to become an alcoholic, it can happen gradually to anyone who drinks.  It can begin innocently as a way to cope with stress, relax, or socialize.  People are often unaware of the stages of alcoholism until problem drinking develops.

Some people become addicted to alcohol more quickly than others.  A person’s age, gender, and physical health condition are a few factors that play a role in how alcohol affects their body and mind. Anyone who consumes alcohol regularly should know the stages of alcoholism to avoid the long-term mental and physical health issues caused by alcohol abuse.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is also referred to as alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction.  It is a chronic disease generally characterized by compulsive drinking. 

The definition of alcoholism according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

“Continued excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks.  A chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction.”

One of the most prominent signs of alcoholism is the inability to quit drinking despite the adverse effects or negative consequences it has on a person’s life.  

5 Stages of Alcoholism You Need to Know

Of course, alcoholism doesn’t happen all at once.  It progresses over time through various stages of severity.  Here are the five stages of alcoholism you should know if you consume alcohol:

Stage 1:  Experimentation

Some people begin experimenting with alcohol during their teen years.  Many teens drink even if they don’t like the taste because they want to fit in with the crowd.  While most of them don’t develop alcohol use disorders, some find that it helps them cope with anxiety or depression.  Individuals who use alcohol as an escape mechanism often develop alcohol dependence.  

Stage 2:  Increased Tolerance

A person who drinks alcohol regularly will eventually build up a tolerance.  They find that it takes more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects.  For instance, if it usually took two drinks to calm their anxiety, it may take three or four drinks now.  Of course, no amount of alcohol will cure anxiety.  In many cases, alcohol worsens the problem.

Stage 3:  Negative Impacts

Over time, drinking alcohol has a detrimental effect on a person’s life.  Excessive drinking can lead to relationship problems, poor work performance, financial problems, and health issues. The individual may also engage in risky behaviors while drinking that they normally wouldn’t do otherwise.   At this stage, friends and family begin to notice that something is wrong and some will organize an intervention to help the individual get treatment.

Stage 4:  Physical and Psychological Dependence

With prolonged alcohol abuse, the body adapts to the presence of alcohol.  As a result, withdrawal symptoms appear when alcohol is withheld.  This physical dependence can be treated with professional detox and medication.  The psychological dependence on alcohol means the individual feels that alcohol is necessary to help them feel normal.  This aspect of alcoholism can be addressed with counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

Stage 5:  Addiction or Alcoholism

At this stage of alcohol addiction, the individual has lost control over their alcohol consumption.  The urge to drink is stronger than their will to stop.  Many people describe it as drinking because they have to.  In other words, they must drink to escape the intense withdrawal symptoms.  

In this stage of alcoholism, many physical and mental health issues are noticeable such as heart, liver, or kidney problems in addition to paranoia and cognitive decline.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Many people are good at hiding their drinking problems, up to a point.  Eventually, it will be impossible for them to keep the secret from friends or family.  Some of the early warning signs of alcoholism to watch for are:

  • Drinking in secret
  • Irritability
  • Isolation
  • Weight changes
  • Poor work or school performance
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Financial or legal issues
  • Drinking while driving
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Blackouts or memory problems
  • Inability to quit or control the drinking

Alcoholism can be lethal when excess amounts are consumed within a short time frame.  The body is not able to metabolize the toxic chemicals and overdose can occur.  The CDC reports that approximately 140,000 people die from excessive alcohol use in the United States each year.

Avoid the Stages of Alcoholism with Treatment at Design for Change

Many individuals who seek treatment for alcoholism typically wait until they’ve reached stage five. They could have avoided the difficult stages of alcoholism by seeking treatment early.  If you are struggling to control your alcohol use, Design for Change can help.  

Our evidence-based full continuum of care addresses the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual factors that contribute to alcohol use and abuse.  We strive to help clients achieve whole-person wellness through a comprehensive program that is customized for their unique needs.  

Reach out to our Lancaster, CA facility by phone, email, or online to begin living the alcohol-free lifestyle you and your loved ones deserve.

Sources: – Alcoholism – Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use in the United States

The 5 Stages of Alcoholism: Unique Symptoms and Warning Signs