Unlike many drug addictions, alcohol use disorder is a diagnosis that can be concealed for some time. Because this substance is legal and frequently consumed in social settings, it can be difficult to determine whether someone you love has a problem. Today, we would like to answer your questions about the stages of alcoholism: what are they, and when is it time to seek help?
The Three Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic disease. This means that it worsens over time and is unlikely to improve on its own. This condition affects people on a physical, mental, and functional level. The severity of a person’s alcoholism can be determined through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria, which breaks one’s substance use into discrete categories.
The first stage of alcoholism probably seems familiar to many partiers and college students: increased consumption. This can take the form of binge drinking or just drinking more often. Other signs include blacking out regularly, increased tolerance, and turning to alcohol in times of stress or anxiety.
In middle stage alcoholism, people begin to develop a physical dependency. Because they have been drinking so often, their body acclimates to a certain level of alcohol consumption. This results in cravings and withdrawal symptoms. They find themselves preoccupied by thoughts of drinking or plans to obtain more alcohol. Individuals in the middle stage begin to struggle to function, experiencing worsened academic or professional performance. They are no longer drinking for fun – they’re drinking to feel normal.
Once a person reaches late-stage alcoholism, they have developed both a physical and psychological dependency. They drink more than they intended – both in terms of frequency and amount of alcohol consumed. Their lives are seriously impacted by substance abuse; they are more isolated, have cut back on beloved activities in order to drink, and find it difficult to think about much else. They continue to consume alcohol even when it causes legal, professional, or interpersonal issues. Worst of all, they feel that they cannot stop. Without intervention, they face lasting health effects.
Heavy, long-term alcohol abuse represents a complete loss of control. This can cause severe organ damage, especially to the liver, heart, kidneys, and even the brain. These individuals are at increased risk of health complications, both physically and mentally. People in this stage find it hard to believe that recovery is possible and might have resigned themselves to a future of alcoholism. Fortunately, no one is beyond help; while some medical effects may endure, recovery is always within reach.
We encourage you to take these stages of alcoholism into consideration, and to equip yourself with information about subtle signs that your loved one has a problem.
Signs of Alcoholism
Most people’s perceptions of alcoholism come from movies and television shows. They imagine a person with an alcohol use disorder as being scruffy, homeless, and constantly drinking. However, the truth is much more nuanced.
As you can see above, a person may seem to function in day-to-day life during the early and middle stages of alcoholism. They meet career obligations, take care of their family, and maintain hobbies, all while drinking in secrecy. This is why it is vital for friends and loved ones to know which alcoholism symptoms to look out for.
These are the key signs that someone is likely to develop a substance use disorder.
Very high tolerance. Gender, genetics, and other physical factors may impact how much a person can drink at one time. However, frequent alcohol consumption can also raise one’s tolerance – people who drink every day, for example, will eventually have to consume more beer, wine, or liquor to get the same effects. If you notice that your loved one has to drink a lot in order to feel anything, they may be in the process of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Drinking a lot and being unable to stop. People who binge drink often lack the ability to control their alcohol intake. They may tell you that they’ll only have one beer at dinner, then end up ordering several by the end of the night – once they get started, it’s difficult to stop. If your friend or family member regularly surpasses their limits (and even seems surprised by the results), consider an intervention.
Using alcohol to deal with emotions. Alcoholism isn’t just a physical dependency; it’s a psychological one, too. This condition escalates when people transition from drinking in social situations to drinking alone, often after a stressful workday or negative experience. Alcohol isn’t a healthy coping mechanism, and this association is a recipe for addiction.
Hiding alcohol use. When someone has developed an addiction, they will do whatever it takes to continue drinking or using drugs. If they believe you will stop them, they will begin to cover their tracks. Alcoholics may lie about how much they drink, hide bottles or cans around the house for easy access, or pour their beverages of choice into seemingly innocuous containers like sports bottles and coffee tumblers. Alcohol turning up in strange places is a red flag that a real problem has developed.
When is It Time to Get Help?
If any of the above symptoms felt familiar, or if you’re able to place someone in one of the stages of alcoholism, it’s time to seek treatment. There are addiction services for those at every point on the spectrum. Through a combination of intensive therapies, medical intervention, trauma treatment, and group support, even those in late-stage alcoholism have hope for a brighter future.
Alcoholism Treatment in Washington
At Lakeside-Milam, we’ve helped more than 100,000 people to overcome alcoholism and drug addiction. Our programs span the full continuum of care, ensuring that our clients receive the appropriate level of support and clinical attention required for lasting recovery. To learn more about our treatment for early stage, middle stage, and late stage alcoholism, contact our admissions office.