No one sets out to become an alcoholic. It is a problem that can take anywhere from months to several years to develop, thanks to a wide variety of factors, such as medical conditions and the amount of alcohol regularly consumed.
Alcoholism is described as a psychological and physical dependence on alcohol that interferes with one’s everyday life.
This goes beyond heavy drinking, leading to the question: when does heavy drinking become alcoholism?
According to America’s Health Rankings, 27.8 percent of New Hampshire citizens between 18 and 44 reported excessive drinking.
It may be challenging to establish what constitutes excessive drinking and whether or not one is in the early stages of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). It varies from person to person, but there are certain similar symptoms and warning signals.
For example, if drinking is becoming a priority and a requirement for most social events, or when you leave the house, there may be a problem.
Some other early warning signs for AUD include:
- Experiencing memory loss or blackouts
- Mood swings or irritability
- When drinking becomes a priority over responsibilities
- Often drinking by yourself
- Associating with people with access to alcohol
- Isolation from family and friends
- Legal issues such as DUIs
- Inability to go to work on time and reliably
These symptoms may simply be the result of alcohol abuse, especially in younger adults. Still, they can be warning signs of a more severe problem.
Alcoholism can be divided into four stages, determined by the degree of alcohol dependence and the difficulty in abstaining from it.
What Are the Four Stages of Alcoholism?:
Over time alcohol use can damage your physical and mental health in addition to your ability to function in society. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the source that most mental health experts use to diagnose mental health conditions, has an extensive entry concerning AUD..
Physical dependence, tolerance, cravings, and a general loss of control define someone experiencing alcoholism.
The DSM-5 states that there are three levels of alcoholism, which are: mild, moderate, and severe. Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms commonly experienced can drive AUD subjects to constantly drink to stave off the unwanted symptoms.
Some signs of alcohol withdrawal may include:
- Increased anxiety
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms become increasingly more difficult to experience as the subject progresses through the stages of Alcohol Use Disorder.
The Pre-Alcoholic Stage
This stage is sometimes referred to as the “at-risk” stage, often encountered by those in their early 20s through social events and peer pressure. The users may test out their tolerance and experiment with different types and quantities of alcohol.
Binge drinking is a common occurrence at this stage. People may drink heavily at parties on the weekends though may abstain from alcohol during the rest of the week. However, people in this stage may find themselves eventually turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism from daily stresses and life traumas.
At this point, tolerance develops. It might be difficult to tell if someone is just a social drinker, abusing the substance, or experiencing this stage of AUD.
Early-Stage Alcoholism is also known as the transitional stage. People will develop a cyclical pattern of drinking. Alcohol use becomes a problem in many areas of their lives including with the law and family, which only fuels more drinking. At this point, health and work-related issues may begin to emerge.
The Middle Alcoholic Stage
The pattern of drinking becomes more severe in the middle alcoholic stage. People may skip out on social events so that they can drink. They may begin to hide their drinking or feel guilty about it.
Drinking may take place at work or during other high-risk situations that may cause job or family problems.
People are often concerned about their inappropriate social behavior due to alcohol use, and they may face legal problems. However, those in this stage can often still maintain a job and a family, so they appear fine to outsiders. The long term effects can still be devastating.
End-stage alcoholism is also known as the final stage of alcoholism. Serious health and quality of life issues are common at this stage due to years of heavy alcohol consumption.
At this stage, alcohol has taken over the user’s life.
They drink around the clock in order to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal may create hallucinations and even deadly consequences like stroke and coma at this phase.
People can also have seizures from alcohol withdrawal and may fall and injure their head or body. Delirium Tremens (DT) is the term for these withdrawal symptoms, which can be fatal if left untreated. Some physical health issues that can be in the late stage of alcoholism can include:
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome or alcohol-induced dementia
- Heart failure
In New Hampshire, 421 annual deaths are related to alcoholism.
Alcoholism does not have to result in death. There are therapy options to assist people in recovery, and people do recover.
These are the four stages of Alcoholism. But, first, let’s discuss some of the early signs of problem drinking so you can spot them before AUD sets in.
What Are Some Signs of Problem Drinking?
Some of the early warning symptoms of a drinking issue can help you recognize if you or someone you care about has a problem in enough time.
The following are some red flags:
- Inability to reduce your alcohol consumption
- Cravings for alcohol
- Spending significant time revolved around getting and drinking alcohol
- Drinking alcohol longer than you intended to or much large amounts
- Alcohol disrupts responsibilities
- Drinking during dangerous situations like driving or operating heavy machinery
- Continuing to drink despite any negative consequences
Let’s say that you do have some signs of a problem drinking pattern, now should you be concerned?
Should You Be Concerned About Your Drinking?
If your drinking has driven you to do things you would never do again and you experience regret over those actions, then you may have a drinking problem. The same line of thinking applies to engaging in drinking that harms your home, school, and work lives.
Excessive drinking can result in health issues such as high blood pressure or liver damage. It would be best if you stopped drinking because it is harmful to your health in that situation.
Alcohol consumption, and excess consumption, can very well be a group issue. Take a look at your life, your friends, and your colleagues. Are you the only one suffering from an alcohol use disorder? If not, how can you help them find the support they need and deserve?
Strategies for Dealing with A Loved One’s Drinking
Many support groups are geared toward people who suffer from alcoholism.
There are many groups, such as Al-Anon, that provide support for the loved ones of alcoholics. They are places where you can receive fresh perspectives from people who have been in your shoes and learn a little bit more about the progression of alcoholism.
If you want to assist your loved one in pursuing professional treatment, you must first let him know that you support him.
It is better to avoid discussing treatment with your loved one while he is under the influence of alcohol. He may lash out at you rather than listen due to the alcohol impairing his sense of judgment. When the time comes, instead of pouring guilt on them, demonstrate concern for their health and well-being.
It is also a good idea not to enable him any further and give him the space needed to do his own research into treatment.
If he decides to seek treatment and family therapy is offered, it is wise to join in because treatment can assist in healing the relationship. Learning healthy coping skills will help you have a better relationship with your loved one.
Get Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
If you are looking for a rehab for alcoholism, Addiction Recovery Services of New Hampshire offers a comprehensive treatment program for alcohol use disorder.
We provide Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to soothe withdrawal symptoms and curb cravings so you can focus on your recovery.
The medications we offer include:
In conjunction with behavioral therapy, these drugs are intended to increase your chances of a successful recovery from alcoholism.
Our purpose is to assist you in reclaiming your life from the grasp of alcohol.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, call us at (978) 228-5853, and let us help you reclaim your life!
FAQs About the Stages of Alcoholism
What is the correct order of the stages of alcoholism?
There are four stages of alcoholism that people will progress through. They are the pre-alcoholic stage, the early stage, the middle stage, and the late stage.
What are the three stages on the path to alcoholism?
On the way to alcoholism, there are often three phases: denial, inability to manage their drinking, and finally physical and emotional decline.
What are the four stages of being drunk?
There are four levels of drunkenness that develop as someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels rise. They are, in order to dangerousness: having a buzz with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between .03-.12, excitement with a BAC of between .09 to .25 percent, loss of coordination and reasonable behavior at between .18 and .30 percent, and finally stupor when the BAC in excess of .25 percent. Out of all of these, being in a stupor is the most dangerous since it can lead to seizures, comas, and even death.
What stage of alcoholism is the most advanced?
The most advanced stage of alcoholism is the late stage. Physical dependence persists, and a person must drink to operate normally. Additionally, those dealing with advanced alcoholism may experience severe withdrawal symptoms that include hallucinations and seizures.