stages of alcoholism

Alcoholism is defined as the inability to control drinking due to both a physical and emotional dependency on alcohol. It is also called Alcohol Use Disorder. Unfortunately, the chronic disease is common. An estimated 15 million adults in America struggle with the disorder.

The disease doesn’t typically appear as soon as someone takes their first sip of alcohol. Instead, there are stages of alcoholism. While everyone is different, and addiction can depend on many factors, the stages of alcoholism can usually be broken down into 5 stages. These include abstinence, the start of consuming, beginning to problem drink, dependency on alcohol, and finally, addiction.

We’re hoping to remind you of a sixth stage – recovery.

Stage 1: Abstinence from Alcohol

While alcoholism can occur with anyone, genetics do play a part. Some studies show that the disease is 50% attributed to genetics. That means that if there’s a family history of Alcohol Use Disorder, especially in a mother or father, an individual needs to be especially cautious with their relationship with alcohol.

If an individual is predisposed to the disease, then the first stage of alcoholism would be abstinence. However, we all begin at this stage. Typically drinking doesn’t start until high school or college years. It’s imperative to use the years before educating yourself or a loved one on alcohol.

Along with genetics, the environment plays a role in the possibility of alcohol addiction. If you are a parent, remember that children see more than you might think. They will most likely begin forming their opinions about alcohol, and future habits, based on your relationship with alcohol.

If you believe you or a loved one are more likely to fall into addiction, abstinence may be the best course of action.

Stage 2: Beginning to Drink Alcohol  

The second stage of alcoholism is initial use. While everyone differs when it comes to their experience with the first consumption of alcohol, usually it is in the teens or early twenties. It’s wise to keep a close eye on a loved one during these years, especially in college settings.

Typically, drinking begins with experimenting, trying different drinks, and seeing what you like. Make sure to be extremely aware of how alcohol affects you or a loved one during this stage. Are you making poor decisions? Are you starting to crave alcohol more than usual? This beginning of use may not be a problem yet, but knowing how you’re affected can help you decide if you want to continue occasional drinking.

If you or a loved one drink alcohol very rarely, and problem drinking occurs even less, you have most likely not become addicted. It’s when drinking leads to poor decisions and more frequent consumption that it begins to be a problem. This leads us into stage three of alcoholism – problem drinking.

Stage 3: Problem Drinking

There is a big difference between a problem drinker and alcoholism. In this stage of alcoholism, we are talking about the person who is a problem drinker. Problem drinking can look like binge drinking, the occasional consequences of drinking, and altered behavior.

Binge drinking is defined by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration to .08 percent or higher. In other words, it is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a short time period. While binge drinking is problematic, it is not a sure sign of addiction.

Problem drinking can also be determined by looking at the negative effects of drinking. This might include missing work or school after drinking, relationships being strained, or other reckless behaviors. If you or a loved one are showing signs of problem drinking, it is a sure sign to get help and attempt to stop drinking.

Stage 4: Dependency on Alcohol 

Stage four of alcoholism is becoming dependent on the substance. Usually, problem drinking becomes more and more common, bringing health issues and even drinking-related legal issues. Then even more noticeable lifestyle changes appear. Missing work, fighting with loved ones, and choosing alcohol over everything else are telltale signs.

When someone becomes dependent on alcohol, the dangers of overdose and death are high. Addiction is likely already there or just around the corner. Seeking professional help at this stage is highly encouraged.

Stage 5: Alcohol Addiction 

The last stage of alcoholism is addiction. Fighting addiction is a terrifying place to be, both for the individual and their loved ones. Signs can include:

  • The inability to stop drinking, even with the terrible consequences or desire to stop
  • The thought of drinking consuming their minds
  • Negative physical symptoms when stopping drinking, due to their body now being dependent

To be officially diagnosed with Alcoholism, you must meet with a health professional. They determine this by the 11 criteria listed in the DSM-5 for Alcohol Use Disorder.

The most important thing to remember is that this doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Recovery can be the sixth stage. With professional treatment and the willingness to try, you or your loved one can experience a new way of living.

Getting Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, hope is not lost, and help is available. If you have questions or are ready to start your recovery journey, we’re here to help. Contact our skilled addiction and mental health professionals at Emerge Healing Center to learn more about our treatment and program options.