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Identifying The Three Stages of Alcoholism

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Key takeaways:

  • Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), involves dysregulation of brain circuits leading to excessive alcohol consumption and loss of control over drinking habits.
  • Alcoholism is compulsive alcohol use despite the desire to quit, affecting work, school, or personal life.
  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism differ in severity; alcohol abuse involves excessive drinking and failure to fulfill responsibilities, while alcoholism is a chronic, severe dependence on alcohol.
  • Factors influencing the development of alcoholism include age, family history, and trauma.
  • Alcoholism progresses through three stages: Denial, Addiction, and Physical and Mental Deterioration.
  • End-stage alcoholism is the most severe and challenging to treat, often involving malnutrition and severe physical and mental weaknesses.
  • Alcohol’s effects can multiply adversely when paired with certain medications, leading to cross-addiction and alcohol poisoning.
  • Treatment for alcohol addiction is available and effective, and it’s never too late to seek help from an addiction treatment program like Lantana Recovery.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), encompasses the dysregulation of multiple brain circuits involved in executive function leading to excessive consumption of alcohol, and is compulsive alcohol use or when someone can’t control their alcohol drinking habits. It’s just like drug addiction and can cause emotional and physical distress to a person. A person is diagnosed with alcoholism if they can’t quit binge drinking despite their desire to do so, spends most of their time drunk or hungover, has trouble sleeping, restlessness, etc., and especially when their drinking habits are affecting work, school, or personal life.

Alcoholism vs Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use/abuse and alcoholism are often used interchangeably. Even though both points to alcohol-related problems, they differ in the severity of the problem, and diagnosis is made accordingly. Alcohol abuse is a pattern of excessive drinking which is followed by failure to fulfill everyday responsibilities at work school or home, driving after drinking, and not being able to stop drinking even after you realize that it is causing harm to your relationships.

Alcohol abusers are not necessarily regular drinkers but can be occasional binge drinkers too. Men who drink more than 12-15 drinks per week or women who consume more than 8 drinks per week are categorized under alcohol use. But it can’t be limited to a specified number. If consumed in any quantity, affects your life negatively, it is most likely that you have fallen prey to alcohol use disorder.

Alcoholism, on the other hand, is more severe than alcohol use. Alcohol is among the leading causes of preventable death worldwide, with 3 million deaths per year attributable to alcohol. Alcoholism is a chronic disease in which a person is excessively physically and mentally dependent on alcohol. This alcohol dependence has severe side effects which not only affect the person who is consuming alcohol but also the people around them. Alcoholics show symptoms like building up a tolerance for alcohol over time, being physically ill if not drinking alcohol, and intense urges to leave anything they are doing and drink alcohol.

How Long Does It Take To Get Addicted To Alcohol

How does someone go from drinking recreationally or problem drinking to being an alcoholic? There is no specific method to find that out because it’s something that varies from person to person. Different circumstances, personal or family problems, tension at job, stress of studies, financial crisis, and/or mental illnesses all might or might not contribute to building someone’s addiction to alcohol use and abuse.

There are many factors that contribute to when a person becomes an alcoholic from an occasional drinker. Some of the factors that help decide how long it takes for a person to get addicted to alcohol are:


The younger someone starts drinking, the more likely they are to become an alcoholic by the age of 30-35. This is just general psychology that if we do something over a long period of time, we get dependent on it. Some college students get into the habit of substance use as a way to have fun or just to fit into the college environment. But that can escalate soon and turn into an addiction before you even know it!

Family History

Kids learn from whatever their parents do A family history of alcohol addiction makes a person more vulnerable to becoming an alcoholic. If a child grows up seeing his parents or other elders of the family consuming alcohol excessively, he/she might be too set to follow the same path.

Childhood/Adult Life Trauma

If a person has had bad childhood experiences or faced trauma in their teen or adult age, they are more likely to become an alcoholic. The reason is that they try to suppress the hurt that comes with those memories and they are trying to literally drown all their pain by a loss of control of their senses. If there is any trauma that has not been processed and dealt with, then you should use therapy and cope with the drinking problem in a healthy way.

People struggling with alcoholism don’t often realize that they are in this hellhole. Even if/when they do, they are so mentally and emotionally drained to get help. Getting out of this cycle of addiction seems impossible to them and to fight with this depressing thought of not being able to ever recover, they drink even more. So if someone finds themselves drinking more than they plan to, or their drinking habits affecting their relationships, it is most likely that they are on the on-set of being an alcoholic.

Stages of Alcoholism

The three stages of alcoholism are progressive and subsequent. One stage of alcoholism follows the other and creates a domino effect. Before you know it, your binge drinking can land you in the late stages of alcoholism. It is good to be aware and educated on these stages of alcoholism so that when you or your loved one sees the problem, he/she knows what to do. Also, “understanding transitions from alcohol use to disorders is important for timing risk reduction strategies effectively and limiting the burden of alcohol-related harm” (Transitions Through Stages of Alcohol Use, Use Disorder and Remission: Findings from Te Rau Hinengaro, The New Zealand Mental Health Survey, Rapsey et el., 2018).

  • Most alcohol use disorders develop before the age of 25 based on nationally representative data.
  • Higher alcohol use among individuals’ peer groups is linked to a subsequent transition through various stages of alcohol use and disorder.


Denial is one of the first stages of alcoholism and it is like a defense mechanism where an alcoholic avoids confronting their problems and it is one of the most important symptoms of being an alcoholic. Normally denial is just avoiding confronting one’s problems but for an alcoholic, it’s not the same. It’s their strong belief that they are not alcoholic, like telling a lie and then believing it themselves.

Sometimes alcoholics go into this alcoholism stage of denial because their work or personal lives have been adversely affected by their drinking habits. Some other factors that contribute to alcoholism denial are comparing themselves with people who have had it “worse” or drinking as a reward for working hard. Alcoholics also tend to forget the consequences of drinking excessively and only remember that it tends to “relax” them.


The second stage of alcoholism is being addicted. Someone who has a drinking problem is not necessarily an alcoholic. The difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse is important in determining whether a person has an alcohol addiction or not. Out of all three stages of an alcohol use disorder, this second stage is where the sufferer has a loss of control over himself/herself. A person in the 2nd stage of alcoholism will be binge drinking and showing the following symptoms:

  • Spending a lot of time hungover or trying to get over a hangover.
  • A strong urge of drinking alcohol.
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations like working with machines or driving
  • Need to drink increasingly large amounts of alcohol over time in order to feel “drunk”
  • Suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • High blood pressure

As you progress in this stage, your tolerance for drinking starts increasing and you keep drinking more and more. If a person finds themselves struggling with the above symptoms, they most likely have an alcohol addiction. Symptoms vary from person to person but alcoholics generally tend to show the same behavioral pattern when it comes to addiction.

Physical and Mental Deterioration

The most consuming stages of alcoholism are this stage 3 and the final stage of alcoholism where a person has now to suffer the consequences. Alcoholics drink excessively and undoubtedly that has adverse effects on a person’s body and mind. Your physical and mental health both suffer. Here are some of the effects that your body suffers from your habit of alcoholic drinking:

  • Alcohol addiction can cause interference with the communication pathways of the brain and make it harder to think clearly and cause behavior changes.
  • There are various risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism like liver disease, inflammation, steatosis, hepatitis, etc.
  • It can also cause pancreatitis, which makes the pancreas swell and prevent proper digestion
  • Alcohol addiction can result in something as serious as cancer. It can cause esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, or even colorectal cancer.

Drinking too much alcohol also weakens the immune system. Alcoholics are more likely to catch diseases like pneumonia etc. than people who don’t drink a lot or at all.

Alcoholism does not only affect a person physically but mentally as well. It can cause toxic behavior and problems in the normal functioning of a person. It tends to disrupt a person’s relationships and alcoholics usually end up isolating themselves from their friends and family. It also causes:

  • Anxiety
  • Severe depression and stress
  • Restlessness
  • Uncoordinated reflexes
  • Interrupted brain development
  • Short-term memory loss

Alcoholism can affect a person’s social interactions and badly affect their relationships. Although the effects are temporary and can be resolved if not treated, these symptoms can worsen and can have long-term effects.

End-stage Alcoholism

It is easier to treat a patient in the early stage of alcoholism and there is less danger of relapse. But as the patient progresses towards the final stage of alcoholism, he/she becomes prone to binge drinking and gets less likely to recover and the damages done are irreversible to some extent. It is relatively harder to treat and the danger of relapse is comparatively higher. End-Stage alcoholism is a fully-fledged addiction, which has become a chronic disease.

At this final stage of alcoholism, the alcoholic is suffering from malnutrition because of his/her negligence of the body’s nutritional needs. Other physical weaknesses arise because of the constant deprivation of healthy food or water. The physical weakness paired with mental and emotional fragility can prove to be fatal and cause severe problems like heart failure.

If a person tries to quit drinking at this stage, they may suffer from severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, hallucinations, or even delirium tremens, which can be fatal. But the recovery path is always open at any stage of alcoholism. End-stage alcoholism can be treated with medications, individualized behavioral therapy at Lantana, and long-term rehabilitation along with support from friends and family.

Multiplier Effect of Alcohol

Paired with some other medications, alcohol’s effects can multiply adversely. Therefore, some medications are strictly prescribed to be taken without alcohol. When that medicine is taken with other drugs, it can turn the medicine into chemicals that damage the liver and other organs that it comes in contact with.

It can also enhance the effect of the medication, oftentimes more than the prescribed or necessary limit, which is known as the multiplier effect. If a person takes other drugs with alcohol it will lead to cross-addiction and it will be considered end-stage alcoholism. It can cause higher central nervous system impairment and a high blood alcohol level which is considered alcohol poisoning.

People in the late stage of alcoholism tend to pair meds with alcohol which heightens the effect but also, the risk of no-going-back. The withdrawal symptoms at this stage are also severe and recovering from them will need tougher addiction treatment.

Treatment For Alcohol Addiction

No matter if you’re in the early stage or late stage of excessive alcohol use disorder, there’s always hope.  When you opt for an addiction treatment program to overcome alcohol addiction, you choose for you and your family a better future. When you decide to get yourself out of your addiction, sign up for an addiction treatment program that will focus on your physical and mental health problems and their well-being.

We at Lantana Recovery treatment center offer personalized substance abuse treatment programs to help you, not only with alcohol but also with any sort of drug addiction that you have. Our experts help you from the beginning; to get started on recovery, fight relapses, and overcome withdrawal symptoms.

It’s never too late to get help. Get in touch with us today and sign up for a better future!



Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.