What Are the Stages of Alcoholism?

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3 stages of alcoholism

Learn about the 3 stages of alcoholism, and how to stop progression of the disease.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a common disease and remains the number one substance that people seek out treatment for. But before someone reaches the point in the disease when they start having problems, they may already be in trouble. For many, alcoholism can take root with few signs during its early phase.

To better understand AUD, it is broken down into three stages. This helps people understand that alcoholism is a progressive disease. It proceeds on a pathway that becomes more serious as time passes. Indeed, the sooner that AUD is addressed and treated, the better the chances for recovery success.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

AUD is a chronic relapsing disease that impacts brain chemistry and the nervous system. As tolerance ratchets up, it causes the person to drink more and more to achieve the effects they once enjoyed.

As consumption increases, the brain pathways become altered. Alcohol impacts the reward pathways and signals a need to repeat the drinking behavior through cravings. Once the body has become used to the daily alcohol intake it reacts when the substance is withheld. These withdrawal symptoms are so uncomfortable that the person returns to drinking to stop their suffering. This becomes the cycle of addiction. AUD features at least some of these signs and symptoms:

  • Unable to stop drinking once started.
  • Blacking out, having no memory of actions.
  • Building up tolerance; have to consume more to get desired effects.
  • Lying about your level of drinking.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home or work.
  • Relationship troubles related to the drinking.
  • Plan your life around drinking; spend time recovering from drinking.
  • Try to stop drinking or cut back but can’t.
  • Keep drinking even despite the negative impact on work, family, and finances.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop, including tremors, sweating, nausea, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and more.

The 3 Stages of Alcoholism Explained

As someone consumes ever higher amounts of alcohol the brain will begin to adapt to it as it compensates for the effects of the substance. At some point along the way, a shift occurs toward a pathological craving for the alcohol. The brain and body begin to demand more. Here are the three stages of alcoholism:

Early Stage. In the early stage the body is starting to adapt to the increased drinking. To most people, it won’t even appear that the person has a problem with alcohol. They still function well at work, they are still social, and they still look healthy. But the drinking becomes a daily habit, maybe to offset job stress or emotional turmoil. Over time, tolerance to alcohol increases, leading to higher consumption.

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Chronic Stage. With continued drinking, brain chemistry becomes altered and the person now has alcohol cravings. This leads to dependency, which becomes clear when withdrawal symptoms occur after the effects of the alcohol wear off. At this stage, others become aware of the drinking problem and may show their concern. The alcoholic becomes more secretive and isolates so they can drink alone. They may have blackouts, mood swings, sleep problems, lose interest in their hygiene, and their appearance is altered.

End Stage. Late stage AUD features all consuming compulsive drinking. The person drinks at all hours of the day to stave off withdrawals. By this point, most have suffered severe consequences, such as a broken marriage, a job loss, and health problems. Some may end up homeless. Without getting the help they need, an end stage alcoholic will have serious health problems that are likely to threaten their life. Suicide rates are high in this stage of the disease.

Why Do People Deny They Have a Drinking Problem?

No one likes to feel as if they are weak or out of control. Pride is a big factor that keeps people in denial of their drinking problem. But there are other reasons why a person might not want to admit they have an AUD. These might include:

  • Fear of stigma. There is still a stigma related to alcoholism, and the person may be worried about harming their reputation.
  • Not ready to quit. Sometimes it may take a great deal of suffering before someone will decide that it’s time to give up drinking.
  • No time for rehab. The person may be worried about taking a chunk of time off of work to go in for treatment.
  • Expense of treatment. There may be a lack of insurance or funds to pay for a treatment program.

How to Help a Loved One with Alcoholism

  • Learn about alcoholism and research treatment options.
  • Wait for a quiet, private moment to ask them about their drinking habit. Speaking in a calm tone, gently ask them if they would like to talk about it with a doctor.
  • Resist the urge to be angry at them about their drinking problem. Show concern and offer your support when they are ready for help.
  • Offer to accompany them to the initial assessment.
  • Be an advocate for your loved one’s treatment and recovery process. While they must own their recovery and make the efforts to achieve sobriety, you can be a trusted support for them at all stages of their journey.
  • The loved one may be concerned about handling tasks such as paying bills, daycare, or other issues while they are in treatment. Offer to help them make a plan for handling these while they are in rehab. It may be what tips them in favor of getting help.
  • Ensure the loved one is aware that their family loves them and is rooting for them.

The 3 stages of alcoholism show how the disease may progress if left unchecked. You have the power to stop the progression; seek out the support you will need to help you do it.

Capo by the Sea Provides Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Capo by the Sea offers comprehensive treatment for people battling alcoholism. If you recognize that you are progressing through the three stages of alcoholism, get help now. Our caring team is here to support you. Call us today at (888) 529-2114.