Corporate Office:
2101 Magnolia Avenue South, Suite 518
Birmingham, AL 35205

What are the Stages of Alcoholism?

Before the First Stage – Pre-Alcoholism

Alcoholism does not appear without warning. Many signs exist before someone becomes dependent on alcohol. In this early stage, called Pre-Alcoholism, friends and family may barely notice alcohol abuse or the other behaviors that come with it.

Our society generally accepts (or at least turns a blind eye to) mild alcohol misuse, especially among young people and those going through difficult times. “They are just having fun” and “You need to loosen up” are two of many common phrases used to excuse and sometimes encourage the consumption of alcohol.

As someone drinks more heavily or more often, they develop a tolerance to alcohol. They must drink more to achieve the same level of euphoria. This behavior is dangerous because it damages neural pathways, causing changes in the body that lead to the first stage of alcohol use disorder.

Stage 1 – Early Alcoholism

People within the Early Alcoholism stage are often aware that their drinking is “a little out of hand.” They will often hide the extent of their drinking by spiking regular beverages, mixing stiffer drinks, drinking earlier in the day, and so on. Drinking becomes a frequent thought in their mind; Will there be alcohol at the event? When can I drink next? How can I bring alcohol? Early-stage alcoholics may have different reasons for drinking, but they all use the mood-altering substance to feel differently than they do sober.

In Early Alcoholism, a person’s tolerance for alcohol also grows, meaning the body becomes used to a certain amount of alcohol. For example, it may take four or five drinks to feel the same way they did during the earlier stage of their use pattern with only two drinks. They begin to drink more to achieve the desired euphoria. However, the body can only really handle so much alcohol before it causes damage. Some may not feel the effects of alcohol, but their motor skills and judgment are still impaired. They may also blackout after drinking, a common sign of Early Alcoholism. At this point, drinking is no longer a social activity. It begins to affect one’s life, leading to the next stage of alcoholism.

What to do if you or a loved one is in Early-Stage Alcoholism

In early alcoholism, a person may not yet have lost control of their personal life, but they must begin to look internally to prevent the problem from worsening. The first step is to identify why they are drinking. Group therapy, professional counseling, or a combination can help someone get to the root of the issue they are soothing with alcohol.

It’s important to remember that sobriety requires more than remaining free of alcohol. It is finding new outlets to cope with trauma, grief, or stress and avoiding the situations that drove them to drink in the first place. Addiction treatment and counseling help people learn the skills to better manage triggers and process feelings healthily.

Stage 2 – Middle-Stage Alcoholism

Middle-Stage Alcoholism is when a dependency on alcohol develops. Drinking becomes regular and often starts to become evident to family and friends. The consequences of drinking also become more apparent – blacking out, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, headaches, and shaking are some of the symptoms. People in middle alcoholism get better at masking their drinking and give excuses for their behavior. Relationships become strained, and they start to neglect responsibilities, causing more frequent issues at work or school. Essentially, alcohol begins to take over their life and they consume more alcohol to deal with increasing consequences. This increase in consumption quickly spirals into the most severe stage, Late-Stage Alcoholism.

What to do if you or a loved one is in Middle-Stage Alcoholism

If you believe your loved one is in Middle-Stage Alcoholism, it is critical that you try to get them the medical and clinical help they need. When you talk to your loved one, be open and honest with how you feel about their drinking and the issues you see it creating. Approach them from a place of care and concern, not confrontation. Have contact information for a recovery program, such as Bradford, available when they are ready to speak to a professional.

Stage 3 – Late-Stage Alcoholism

Late-stage alcoholism is extremely dangerous. In this stage, it is evident the person cannot control their drinking habits. Alcohol becomes their top priority, dictating every action and decision. A person in this stage of alcoholism is no longer concerned about the consequences or is so entrenched in heavy alcohol use that they cannot pull themselves out of the pattern of use. Depression, guilt, and shame are common emotions. Mental anxieties layer over worsening physical symptoms, prompting the person to consume more alcohol to deal with the agony. It is a devastating cycle.

When a person reaches late-stage alcoholism, the brain has become so damaged it needs alcohol for survival. This damage makes recovery more challenging and why stopping drinking “cold turkey” or detoxing without medical supervision is extremely dangerous. The brain and body are now dependent on alcohol. Stopping could cause severe withdrawal symptoms that lead to permanent injury or death.

How do you Treat Late-Stage Alcoholism?

Successfully treating alcohol use disorder, especially late-stage alcoholism, involves more than putting down the bottle. The transition from the vicious cycle of addiction to a life in recovery is difficult but necessary. Medically detoxing from alcohol in a safe, supervised environment is the first step on the journey to recovery.

After detox, people require intensive therapy and counseling to develop the skills and coping mechanisms needed to handle emotions healthily. Only after healing the mind, body, and spirit can they repair their personal and professional lives. Sobriety is not guaranteed once it is reached and requires consistent management, just as with any chronic disease. Remaining in a recovery community (group meetings, therapy, etc.) is essential to long-term success. With the appropriate professional treatment, daily determination, and a robust support system, anyone struggling with alcoholism can find recovery.

If you think you or your loved one may be an alcoholic, please call Bradford Health Services at 888-SOBER-40 to set up a free and confidential consultation about how to get treatment.