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Stages of Alcoholism

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Throughout our lives, we experience many “firsts.” Your first steps, your first day of school, your first time driving a car — just to name a few. Oftentimes, we remember these landmark events if they occurred when we were old enough to do so. Do you remember when you had your first drink?

Perhaps you stole a sip from a parent’s cup, or maybe you and your friend snuck into the fridge when no one was home. Did you just try a little bit or did you get wasted on your first night? While everyone’s experiences with their first drink are very different, for anyone who’s now managing an alcohol use disorder, the first drink is usually the first step.

While not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, oftentimes those who are don’t always know it. This is where knowing and identifying the different stages of alcoholism can be helpful. You can’t know what you’re managing if you don’t know what to look for to identify it. Our team here at Pacific Sands believes in offering solution-focused options for our whole community. This includes offering easy-to-access information regarding alcohol use. Today we’re going to look at the stages of alcoholism, how they’re defined, and what you can do to address alcoholism if you need it. 

What Are the Stages of Alcoholism?

Just like you can’t become an expert chef after making only one meal, having one drink or even just drinking sometimes with friends doesn’t mean you’re on the path to developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

There are four main stages of alcoholism. They’re broken down based on behaviors instead of specific time frames. There is no set timeline for developing an AUD, but there are certain signs and side effects that can help indicate exactly how deep you are into it.

The Pre-Alcoholic Stage

While drinking doesn’t inherently make someone an alcoholic, it always has to start somewhere.

Studies show that those who drink at a younger age are more likely to develop an AUD. This doesn’t mean that all do, nor does it mean that if you start drinking at a later age you can’t develop an AUD. Here in California, over 1,000,000 youth aged 12 to 20 reported drinking within the last month. 

In this early stage of alcoholism, a person is primarily experimenting. They’re testing out what drinks they like, what their limits are, how often they can drink, and more.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

In early-stage alcoholism, drinking has become, at minimum, normalized within a person’s life. It could still be fairly casual, going to parties on a regular basis or having some drinks after work with friends.

As the person is getting more comfortable with alcohol, they can start to see it as a way to destress or address other problems in their life. They might start to associate the feelings they get while drunk with happiness or escape. While everyone’s journey is completely unique, it’s not uncommon to see people beginning to prioritize drinking during this stage over things in their lives.

alcoholism progression stages

The Middle Alcoholic Stage

Despite often being labeled the “middle” stage of alcoholism, this stage is generally considered to be the peak. Many symptoms and side effects from alcohol use start to pop up regularly during this stage.

Some common behaviors and changes people might notice during this stage include:

  • An inability to cut back on drinking
  • Needing more alcohol to feel the same effects
  • Spending large portions of the day revolving around alcohol (thinking about it, drinking it, and recovering from it)
  • Skipping out on activities that a person used to enjoy
  • Relationships being impacted by alcohol use
  • Regularly participating in risky activities due to alcohol use (i.e. unsafe sex, drinking and driving, etc.)
  • Experiencing strong cravings for alcohol
  • Experiencing side effects known as withdrawal when you’re not drinking

End-Stage Alcoholism

People in this stage of alcoholism have often been drinking for a large portion of their lives, or they drink such large quantities when they do drink that they’re more negatively impacted. Chronic use and/or binge drinking lead to this stage of alcoholism.

In this stage, some of the more long-lasting side effects start to make themselves known. Alcohol consumption, long-term, can start to negatively impact many organs within our bodies such as the liver, heart, lungs, brain, muscles, and even your bones. 

Long-term alcohol use increases the risk of cancer for many vital organs. You also risk permanently damaging your liver. With consistent alcohol consumption, the liver can slowly sustain damage. With repeated damage done to it, scar tissue can build up within the liver leading to future complications.

Many of the prevalent side effects of end-stage alcoholism can be addressed during recovery, and have the chance to heal over time depending on the severity. During this stage, withdrawals are very common and can start as soon as 6 hours after the last drink is consumed. Alcohol withdrawals have some serious side effects such as hallucinations and seizures. Medical staff can assist you safely through alcohol detox at the right facility.

What Can You Do to Address Late-Stage Alcoholism in a Loved One?

If you’re reading this article and it makes you think of someone you care about, or even yourself, there are ways you can help.

When wanting to approach a loved one regarding their alcohol use, it’s important to be open-minded and supportive and not approach them with hostility. Be prepared to listen and be understanding, and remind them how much you care about them. One of the major factors about why people don’t discuss alcohol use is the fear of judgment. If you approach them with judgment, you could risk them not wanting to have a discussion regarding their alcohol use at all. 

phases of alcohol addiction

Get Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder in Orange County, CA

No matter what stage you or a loved one is at along the road of AUDs, it’s never too late to address your concerns and look for help. Even if you’ve attempted recovery in the past and want to try again, there is always a place for you. 

Our team here at Pacific Sands is ready to help whenever you are. We offer private rooms at a luxury facility to help support our patients during their recovery. We want to be adaptable to all who need access to proper care. No matter your history with alcohol use, we’re ready to help whenever you need it. Just give us a call today at 949-426-7962 and we can get you onto the healing path you want to be on.


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