Just as there are stages of grief, there are stages of alcoholism. And just like with grief, the amount of time spent in each stage varies from person to person. While being in the first stage of alcoholism doesn’t mean you are any less of an alcoholic than someone further along, it does mean that treatment will vary. If you have alcohol addiction or are trying to help someone who does, it can be useful to understand how alcoholism presents itself through each of the stages.
Stage #1: Adaptive Stage
An estimated 6.5 million children and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20 indulged in binge drinking episodes in 2010.
The first stage of alcoholism may be challenging to detect. Commonly seen in young adults, this stage helps an addict’s body develop a tolerance so that she can consume more alcohol without losing control in the future. These experimental drinkers frequently binge drink, wherein they consume large quantities of alcohol in a small amount of time. People in this stage often dismiss any chance of being an alcoholic given that their drinking may be infrequent.
Stage One can be the most dangerous stage of alcoholism for two reasons: Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period can be deadly and because people are far less likely to identify as an alcoholic while at this stage, thereby making it far less likely that they will visit alcohol rehab centers.
Signs of being in Stage One include:
- Drinking exceptionally large amounts of alcohol in one sitting (for men, five or more drinks within two hours; for women, four or more drinks within two hours)
- Others point to new behaviors or attitudes in the drinker
- Drinking is used to deal with stress or other problems
Stage #2: Dependence
Drinkers leave the first stage when their drinking becomes more frequent. Instead of the occasional social outing to justify becoming drunk, it becomes a weekly occurrence. Drinking may be used as an excuse to hang out with friends, a way to combat boredom or a means of reducing sadness or loneliness. While a non-addict may pair a cocktail with dinner, an alcoholic pairs the alcohol with anything just to feel good in general. A person at this stage tends to develop a strong craving for alcohol and may even experience withdrawal symptoms if not drinking.
Signs of being in Stage Two:
- A greater sense that alcohol rehabs are beneficial
- Drinking to mask other emotions, such as insomnia, anxiety, depression or loneliness
- Irritability when not drinking
- Making excuses to drink
- Hiding the amount of alcohol consumed
Stage #3: Progression
Although any stage of alcoholism is problematic, Stage Three is marked by the drinker realizing the social, emotional and physical impacts of drinking. By this point, the alcohol has likely interfered with a person’s interpersonal relationships. A person may feel sick from drinking but continue anyway because it feels good in the beginning. Many addicts drive while intoxicated and experience legal troubles while in this stage.
Signs of being in Stage Three:
- Decreased socialization due to erratic or offensive behavior
- Difficulty navigating social interactions with strangers
- Sudden change in friends
- Rapid heartbeat
- Clammy, pale skin
- Enlarged pupils
- Shakiness and tremors
Stage #4: Conclusion
At this point, the drinker has lost total control. The disease carries psychological, mental and physical consequences. Quite likely, alcohol has become such an obsession that the drinker cares very little about friends and family. Alcoholic blackouts occur with increasing frequency and it becomes difficult to fall asleep without drinking. It is difficult to maintain employment since the mental focus is always on how and when to get the next drink. Alcoholism this far progressed can cause numerous physical problems, including cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, chronic respiratory problems, and pancreatitis. In extreme cases, alcoholism can lead to brain damage, heart failure, and death.
If you’re concerned about your drinking or that of someone you know, it may be time to reach out to alcohol rehab centers. A variety of treatment options are available to help.