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Stages of Alcoholism

The stages of alcoholism often progress as such: early or adaptive stage, middle stage and late stage or the last stage. People often want to know what stage of alcoholism someone is in, but although they are described here as happening one after the other, from a practical view point it can be very difficult to know which of the stages of alcoholism someone is in.

The early and middle stages of alcoholism include some limited physical changes, but they can be difficult to see particularly because they can be hidden by the alcoholic. For example, the alcoholic needs to drink more to prevent withdrawal, but at the same time may be covering up the amount he or she is drinking. In the end, knowing which of the stages of alcoholism your loved one is in may not be particularly useful. What is important is that they get treatment at the earliest possible opportunity. Stopping drinking in any stage will allow the body to begin recovering.

The following list characterizes some of the classic alcoholic behaviors during the three stages of alcoholism:

  • Loss of willpower
  • Increasing tremors
  • Serious financial, work-related problems, and relationship problems
  • A decrease in alcohol tolerance
  • Unreasonable resentments
  • The start of physical deterioration
  • Frequent destructive or violent behavior
  • An increase in failed promises and resolutions to one's self and to others
  • Loss of interests
  • Problems with the law (e.g, DWIs)
  • The loss of control has become a pattern
  • The development of an alibi system - an elaborate system of excuses for their drinking
  • A decrease in alcohol tolerance
  • Avoidance of friends and family
  • Aggressive and grandiose behavior
  • Eye-openers upon awakening
  • Half-hearted attempts at seeking medical treatment
  • Neglect of necessities such as food, shelter, and water

Stages of Alcoholism: The Early or Adaptive Stage

The early or adaptive stage of alcoholism is marked by increasing tolerance to alcohol and physical adaptations in the body which are largely unseen. This increased tolerance is marked by the alcoholic.s ability to consume greater quantities of alcohol while appearing to suffer few effects and continuing to function. This tolerance is not created simply because the alcoholic drinks too much but rather because the alcoholic is able to drink great quantities because of physical changes going on inside his or her body. The early stages of alcoholism are difficult to detect.

By appearances, an individual may be able to drink a great deal without becoming intoxicated, having hangovers, or suffering other apparent ill-effects from alcohol. An early stage alcoholic is often indistinguishable from a non-alcoholic who happens to be a fairly heavy drinker. In the workplace, there is likely to be little or no obvious impact on the alcoholic.s performance or conduct at work. At this stage, the alcoholic is not likely to see any problem with his or her drinking and would scoff at any attempts to indicate that he or she might have a problem. The alcoholic is simply not aware of what is going on in his or her body.

Stages of Alcoholism: The Middle Stage

There is no clear line between the early and middle stages of alcoholism, but there are several characteristics that mark this new stage. Many of the pleasures and benefits that the alcoholic obtained from drinking during the early stage are now being replaced by the destructive facets of alcohol abuse. The drinking that was done for the purpose of getting high is now being replaced by drinking to combat the pain and misery caused by prior drinking.

One basic characteristic of the middle stage is physical dependence. In the early stage, the alcoholic.s tolerance to greater amounts of alcohol is increasing. Along with this, however, the body becomes used to these amounts of alcohol and now suffers from withdrawal when the alcohol is not present. Another basic characteristic of the middle stage is craving. Alcoholics develop a very powerful urge to drink which they are eventually unable to control. As the alcoholic.s tolerance increases along with the physical dependence, the alcoholic loses his or her ability to control drinking and craves alcohol.

The third characteristic of the middle stage is loss of control. The alcoholic simply loses his or her ability to limit his or her drinking to socially acceptable times, patterns, and places. This loss of control is due to a decrease in the alcoholic.s tolerance and an increase in the withdrawal symptoms. The alcoholic cannot handle as much alcohol as they once could without getting drunk, yet needs increasing amounts to avoid withdrawal.

Another feature of middle stage alcoholics is blackouts. Contrary to what you might assume, the alcoholic does not actually pass out during these episodes. Instead, the alcoholic continues to function but is unable to remember what he or she has done or has been. Basically, the alcoholic simply can.t remember these episodes because the brain has either stored these memories improperly or has not stored them at all. Blackouts may also occur in early stages of alcoholism. Impairment becomes evident in the workplace during the middle stage. The alcoholic battles with loss of control, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. This will become apparent at work in terms of any or all of the following: increased and unpredictable absences, poorly performed work assignments, behavior problems with co-workers, inability to concentrate, accidents, increased use of sick leave, and possible deterioration in overall appearance and demeanor. This is the point where the employee may be facing disciplinary action.

Stages of Alcoholism: Late Stage

The late, or deteriorative stage, is best identified as the point at which the damage to the body from the toxic effects of alcohol is evident, and the alcoholic is suffering from a host of ailments. An alcoholic in the final stages may be destitute, extremely ill, mentally confused, and drinking almost constantly. The alcoholic in this stage is suffering from many physical and psychological problems due to the damage to vital organs. His or her immunity to infections is lowered, and the employee.s mental condition is very unstable.

Some of the very serious medical conditions the alcoholic faces at this point include heart failure, fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, malnutrition, pancreatitis, respiratory infections, and brain damage, some of which is reversible. Why does an alcoholic continue to drink despite the known facts about their health problems and the obvious adverse consequences of continued drinking? The answer to this question is quite simple. In the early stage, the alcoholic does not consider that they have a problem because his or her tolerance is increasing. In the middle stage, the alcoholic is unknowingly physically dependent on alcohol. He or she simply finds that continuing to use alcohol will prevent the problems of withdrawal. By the time an alcoholic is in the late stage, he or she is often irrational, deluded, and unable to understand what has happened. In addition to the effects of these changes, the alcoholic is faced with one of the most powerful facets of addiction: denial.

An alcoholic will deny that he or she has a problem. This denial is a very strong force. If an alcoholic did not deny the existence of a problem, he or she would most likely seek help when faced with the overwhelming problems caused by drinking. While denial is not a diagnosable physical symptom or psychiatric disorder, it is an accurate description of the state of the alcoholic.s behavior and thinking and is very real.

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