The majority of people are able to have an occasional drink or even take or leave alcohol altogether. However, for some alcohol use can become a problem if it has spiraled from habitual misuse to dependency, which often has serious consequences. Alcoholism is a progressive condition and an individual passes through three distinct stages with varying degrees of addiction, unless they reach out for treatment.
From Habit to Addiction
Because of the progressive nature of alcoholism, it can be difficult for people to know when they have crossed the line from habitual drinking to full-blown alcoholism. There are some red flags to look out for that signal recreational drinking is becoming compulsive behavior:
- Cravings for alcohol become more pronounced
- An inability to drink in moderation
- The onset of withdrawal when someone has not had a drink for a while, even overnight while they’ve been sleeping
The need to drink progressively more alcohol to get the desired effect as the body becomes more tolerant through prolonged misuse
As someone passes through each stage of alcoholism, it is not uncommon for them to develop medical conditions, some of which can be serious. Prolonged and heavy drinking can cause significant damage to the liver, brain, and other vital organs and can even lead to the development of cancer. If a woman misuses alcohol when pregnant, there’s a heightened risk of birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome. The bottom line is that it is not just the person with alcohol issues who suffers as a result of their drinking.
Stage One: Early Alcoholism
It is often hard to detect when a person is in the early stages of alcoholism as there may not be any obvious signs or impairment. This is nevertheless a precarious stage because an individual builds up a tolerance to alcohol over time, even if misusing recreationally. This often leads to them having to consume progressively more alcohol to get the desired effect and so the early stage of alcoholism can pass quite quickly to the next phase without any obvious warning signs.
FACT: Around 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol or other related problems according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Stage Two: Middle Alcoholism
In the mid-stage of alcoholism, someone progresses to a point where the physical and social effects of problem drinking are starting to become noticeable. A mid-stage alcoholic will experience blackouts after excessive drinking and may also suffer from any of the following withdrawal symptoms if they don’t drink for a while:
- Headaches and dizzy spells
- Enlarged pupils and vision problems
- Clammy, pale skin and complexion
- Nausea and sickness
- Heart palpitations or increased heart rate
- Uncontrollable shakes and tremors
- Sweats and fever
- Anxiety and depression
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Mood swings and blackouts
These are the kind of red flags that are very difficult for an individual to conceal from others and it is often the first time it comes out into the open to family or friends. Many people with mid-stage alcoholism recognize their issues at this point and are able to accept they need alcohol abuse help.
In cases where someone’s alcoholic behavior has started to negatively impact family and friends, they may be faced with an ultimatum to seek help or risk further isolation from those close to them. In essence, the middle stage of alcoholism is possibly the most obvious window of opportunity to seek alcohol abuse rehab either through the intervention of others or through taking action voluntarily.
FACT: A shocking 6.5 million youngsters from the age of 12 through 20 indulge in at least one binge drinking episode each year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Stage Three: Late-Stage Alcoholism
This is the final phase of alcoholism and is when a person has completely lost control of their need to use alcohol. They are largely beyond the point of recognizing they have an issue and may have become so withdrawn from those close to them as a result of their negative behavior, that they do not seek or get the help they need to combat their alcoholism.
A late-stage alcoholic will not be able to function ‘normally’ without having a drink.
The symptoms that will have developed during the mid-stage of alcoholism will become more heightened as someone progresses to the third phase. Relationships are likely to have been destroyed. The breakdown of relationships involving children as a result of someone’s drinking can also lead to custody issues which can compound the issue and if their alcoholism remains untreated, it will become a significant risk to their health.
FACT: According to the NIAAA, more than 80,000 Americans die each year as a result of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.