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Stages Of Alcoholism

Although some people are able to handle moderate alcohol drinking, others have certain risk factors that can cause them to suffer an uncontrollable addiction to this mind altering and intoxicating substance.

In most cases, alcoholism progresses through several stages until it gets to a point where it might have serious consequences and effects for the addict as well as for anyone else around them. This is unless they seek proper treatment and rehabilitation.

In its early stages, alcoholism might be concealed. As such, you might have a hard time telling that someone has a problem with alcohol. However, the condition will continue progressing and following a treacherous path of misery and destruction. By the time the user reaches the end stage of alcoholism, they might be so deprived that it might be hard for you to recognize them.

Although no one makes a conscious choice to be an alcoholic, some people who partake of alcohol face the risk of developing this progressive and chronic disease. At the moment, research shows that alcoholism affects 1 out of every 8 Americans. It also contributes to about 88000 deaths on an annual basis.

While every case of alcoholism is unique, what is clear is that alcohol tends to affect problem drinks in ways that are more or less similar. As such, people with alcohol use disorders will typically progress through 3 distinct phases.

First, the problem drinking will escalate and the affect individual will develop increased tolerance to alcohol. Eventually, they may experience biological changes that could lead them to the second stage, which is typically marked by physical dependence on the substance. At this point, they won't drink just to feel good. Rather, they may drink to avoid the unbearable effects of acute withdrawal.

Once they get to the 3rd and final stage, alcohol will consume their lives. Here, the withdrawal symptoms they experience will be so severe that they will have no option other than drinking to ensure that these symptoms do not affect them. This stage will also be marked by rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health. Unless the victim of alcoholism seeks treatment and rehabilitation, they may eventually drink themselves to their death.

Understanding Alcoholism

Alcoholism is similar to other types of substance and drug addictions in the sense that it is a progressive condition. As such, many people are completely unaware of the fact that they are slowly but surely crossing the line demarcating habits and addiction - at least until it starts becoming hard for them to stop abusing the substance on their own.

In many cases, however, there will be signs that your recreational drinking has started shifting to alcoholism. These signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Being unable to stop consuming alcohol once you start
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, including sweating, nausea, and shaking when you do not drink
  • Needing to drink larger and larger amounts to help you overcome your tolerance to alcohol
  • Strong cravings and urges for alcohol

As you progress through the various stages of alcoholism, therefore, you might start experience serious medical problems, including but not limited to cancer as well as significant damage to body organs like the brain and the liver.

However, the effects of your addiction will not be exclusive to you. For instance, if you continue abusing alcohol while pregnant, you might have babies with fetal alcohol syndrome or birth defects. Similarly, driving while under the influence of alcohol might increase the risk of others inside the car or in the immediate vicinity due to the risk of accidents happening.

That said, alcoholism tends to progress through three distinct phases, including the early, the middle, and the end or late stage of alcoholism. Some experts, however, divide these stages into four phases, including the adaptive, the dependent, the progression, and the conclusion stages.

Early Stage Of Alcoholism

In the early stages of your alcoholism, it might be difficult for others to detect that you have a drinking problem. This is because you might not display any obvious dysfunction or impaired.

At this stage, however, your body will start building up tolerance to alcohol. As such, you might manage to drink increasing quantities of the substance without losing your control.

To tell that someone has reached this stage of alcoholism, you should look at the social aspects of the condition. You might, for instance, notice that there is something different about them - even if you cannot readily tell what it is exactly. On the other hand, they might start drinking consistently to deal with problems like stress.

That said, the adaptive or early stage of alcoholism will mark the beginning of your descent into the road leading to full addiction. At this point, therefore, drinking will no longer be a casual social activity you engage in. Instead, it will turn into a daily habit that you use to deal and cope with emotional problems like anxiety and stress.

Apart from the fact that you will start drinking more alcohol than you usually do, it might be difficult for you to tell that you have a problem. This is because you will appear normal outwardly while inwardly you will be experiencing significant biological changes.

With the increase in your consumption of alcohol, for instance, your liver might adapt so that it starts breaking alcohol down faster. Repeatedly exposing your system to alcohol may also alter the chemistry of your brain.

For instance, the brain might try counteracting the sedative effects of alcohol. By so doing, it may increase the activity of certain excitatory neurotransmitters - which could speed up the activity in your brain.

The various physiological changes that mark the early stages of alcoholism might also cause your tolerance to alcohol to increase. Therefore, you might start showing little to no signs of intoxication even after consuming alcohol heavily. Similarly, you may not experience any ill effects as a result of drinking - such as hangovers.

With the buildup of tolerance, therefore, you may start drinking more to achieve the pleasurable effects that you are looking for. At this stage, you might also appear to function normally and your performance at school, work, and other settings will not be affected. Some people may even mistakenly believe that alcohol is improving their performance.

Although alcohol will become a significant aspect of your day to day life, it is highly unlikely that you will agree that you have a drinking problem. In fact, you might get defensive about your drinking or start making excuses and rationalizing your behavior. Additionally, it is highly likely that you will insist on your ability to stop drinking when and where you choose to do so.

Middle Stage Of Alcoholism

In the middle stage of your alcoholism, however, you might start noticing a variety of the negative social and physical effects of your drinking. For instance, you may start blacking out after periods of excessive drinking.

Similarly, you are highly likely to develop strong cravings for the substance and even experience adverse withdrawal symptoms whenever you go for long durations without drinking.

Some of the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that show up in the middle stages of alcoholism include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Shakiness
  • Tremors
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Severe headaches
  • Vomiting

At this stage, the alcoholism might start affecting you psychologically meaning that you will suffer from nightmares, mood swings, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, depression, and anxiety when you go for long without alcohol.

Due to these adverse effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, others around you might notice that you have a drinking problem and you may also recognize the fact that you have an issue with alcohol.

During this phase, however, it is highly likely that you will start making excuses for your drinking and lying about the amount of alcohol you drink. You might also start having problem meeting your daily responsibilities, such as completing required tasks at school, home, or work.

Similarly, alcoholism may affect your personal and professional relationships and you will stop worrying about your health, wellness, and appearance. With the progress of the condition, you will drink even more than you used to until you get to a point where alcohol dependence develops.

At this stage, you are also likely to experience strong cravings for the substance and you will stop drinking for enjoyment. Since your body would have become used to having alcohol in its system, you will need it physically if only to ward off any painful withdrawal symptoms.

Since you will be dependent on alcohol by the phase, it is highly likely that you will experience uncomfortable and unbearable symptoms when you don't drink, including insomnia, headaches, vomiting, nausea, tremors, and restlessness 6 to 24 hours after your last drink.

You may also have a difficult time trying to control your drinking. Some people even start drinking early and plan most of their days around alcohol. In a social situation, you might have a hard time stopping your consumption of alcohol even after others do so.

As a direct result, you may also find that you are unable to handle as much alcohol as you used to before you become drunk. Similarly, blackout episodes will occur - during which you won't remember what you did or said while drunk. Alternatively, you will start lying about your drinking and take alcohol secretively.

In spite of your efforts to conceal your alcoholism, your drinking problem will be obvious to anyone else. Your performance at work will suffer and you may be impaired in the workplace.

Similarly, your personal relationships will unravel and you might become angry or irritable if anyone confronts you about your drinking. Feelings of shame and guilt, as well as depression and mood swings will become common.

Additionally, your drinking might take an obvious physical toll on your body. As such, you may look unwell, bloated, and red in the face. This is because you might not be eating or sleeping enough or keeping up with your personal hygiene.

End Stage Of Alcoholism

In the late or end stages of alcoholism, you may lose total control over your drinking and the condition will start impacting you mentally, socially, emotionally, and physically. At this point, you will be so obsessed with alcohol that you will allow it to interfere with and destroy your relationships at work, school, and home. Similarly, blackouts will happen more frequently and you will likely have a hard time going to sleep unless you drink first.

Although you might still be able to hold down to your job, you may eventually lose it. Even if you may have the physical ability to do your job, all your mental focus will still be on the next drink you are going to take. As such, your work might start suffering.

Irrespective of whether you realize it or you don't, you can start experiencing a variety of medical problems arising from your excessive and/or binge drinking. This is because alcoholism in the late or end stages tends to cause pancreatitis, recurring respiratory infections, cirrhosis of the liver, and hepatitis. In the most severe of cases, this form of substance addiction can also lead to brain damage and/or heart failure.

While in the end, late, or deteriorative stages of alcoholism, you will be consumed by your persistent need to drink. This is because years or months of consuming alcohol chronically will have ravaged your mind and body to such an extent that your life will start revolving around alcohol and nothing else.

Due to this, you might lose your friends and some members of your family. In the most extreme of cases, you may also end up homeless because you won't have a job to help you pay your rent or make mortgage payments.

Other effects of late stage alcoholism include heart failure, lung infections, esophageal cancer, Barrett's esophagus, chronic pancreatitis, and malnutrition. Since alcoholism also has toxic effects on bone marrow, you may also experience severe blood disorders like anemia.

Overall, you should know that these stages of alcoholism will not happen overnight. In fact, it might take you several years of persistent alcohol abuse to progress through all three stages. To ensure that this does not happen, therefore, you should consider getting alcohol detox, treatment, and rehabilitation before the condition causes you serious damage or leads to your sudden death.

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Getting treatment is vital to your success at beating addiction. Let us help you make the right choice.

Our addiction treatment specialists can help you find the right treatment choice for your personal situation.

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