Stages of Alcoholism: Know the Signs and How to Get Help

When adults consume alcohol moderately, it shouldn’t be a cause of concern. However, when it gets out of control, you may find that they may be on a dangerous path towards alcoholism. 

There are many reasons people struggle with alcoholism, and you should know that this addiction isn’t created overnight. In fact, it stems from long-term abuse and trauma. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are 14.1 million Americans — ages 18 and older — struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. And among the youth, about 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 have had AUD during this timeframe. 

You must know the signs and symptoms of alcoholism so that you can help those who need assistance and are dependent on this addiction, helping them on their journey to sobriety.

Three Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism emerges from long-term alcohol abuse. Knowing these stages and understanding where a person may be in their journey will help you understand what they may be battling with at the moment and how you can help them work towards being sober. 

First Stage of Alcoholism: Denial

When a person is in the first stage of alcoholism, these are the signs and symptoms they may have:

  • Drinking to relieve stress or other problems;
  • A gradual increase in alcohol consumption and tolerance;
  • Thoughts are more focused on drinking alcohol;
  • Rationalizing the consumption of alcohol;
  • People around them aren’t aware of the drinking problem;

One of the first signs of alcoholism is when a person uses alcohol to cope with the stress they’re experiencing in their life, such as financial and relationship issues, day-to-day stress, sadness, depression, and other negative emotions. Though nothing is wrong with occasional drinking, the problem arises when alcohol is used as a crutch to deal with emotional and stressful events. 

First Stage of Alcoholism
First Stage of Alcoholism

What makes this stage dangerous is that the people around the person struggling with alcoholism may not notice these bad drinking habits. And with that, the person may also be in denial about alcohol controlling their life. 

Second Stage of Alcoholism: Loss of Control

When a person has reached the second stage of alcoholism, these are some of the symptoms that may be apparent during this time:

  • Desire to drink is more intense and urgent;
  • Blackouts due to heavy intoxication are common;
  • Withdrawal symptoms are more severe;
  • Drinking habits are out of control;
  • People are starting to notice the drinking problem;
  • Hides the drinking from concerned individuals;
  • Personal issues and isolation increases;

At this stage, the person is more accustomed to drinking uncontrollable amounts of alcohol with little to no effect. If they can still function fairly well despite drinking heavily, they’re most likely fixated on the idea of drinking and are doing it regularly. 

During this stage, alcohol addiction development is more severe, making the person experience difficult withdrawal symptoms, leaving them nauseous, shaky, sweaty, anxious, and affecting the overall quality of their life. 

End-Stage of Alcoholism: Deterioration

The most severe and final stage of alcoholism is deterioration, and these are the symptoms the affected person can be struggling with:

  • Drinking obsession;
  • Needing alcohol to function;
  • Loss of interest in other daily activities;
  • Experiencing depression, anxiety, and insomnia;
  • Financial, relationship, and legal issues are worse;
  • Severe health complication occur;

When a person reaches this stage of alcoholism, it has become a full-blown addiction. Besides the alarming amount of alcohol consumption, severe physical and emotional consequences are beginning to be more apparent. 

At this point, for the person, life outside alcohol feels extremely empty, leaving them with no interest in the activities that they once enjoyed. This can lead to severe anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep, pushing them to isolate themselves and deal with their issues with alcohol. 

At a physical point, uncontrollable alcohol consumption will weaken the person’s body, making them sick more frequently and putting themselves at high risk for heart, respiratory, liver, and pancreatic problems. 

When a person reaches the stage of deterioration, physical, emotional, mental issues are more severe, and the problem can be too serious for them to get help. However, there are steps that you can still take to help them to stop alcohol from taking over their life. 

End-Stage of Alcoholism
End-Stage of Alcoholism

Signs of Alcoholism

Although some signs of alcoholism can be easily recognizable, some can be quite challenging to identify. Besides that, you need to consider the severity of alcohol abuse to know the steps you can take to address the issue. 

Unfortunately, some people try to cover their alcohol problem by hiding the issue from their family and friends, making it hard for their loved ones to intervene and help them get sober. Besides that, mild alcohol abuse can be overlooked, but without proper observation, one can overlook early warning signs of alcoholism. 

For this reason, the moment you see questionable signs and symptoms that are raising any concerns, even if it’s in the early stages, it’s best for them to seek help right away to prevent their drinking habits from getting worse. 

When you notice that your loved ones suffer from alcoholism, there are several screening tools that can help you determine if they’re struggling with alcohol abuse. Here are some questions you may ask them:

  • Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?

If they answer yes to two or more of these questions, getting assistance from a medical professional is advised. Once they’ve agreed to get medical help, the medical professional will then require them to go through another screening and ask them questions from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to properly diagnose alcohol abuse.

These steps are imperative so that you can determine the severity of their alcoholism and so that medical professionals can recommend the right treatment that will help them counter the effects of addiction and abuse. 

The Bottom Line: No Matter The Stage They’re In, Getting Professional Medical Assistance Can Help Stop Alcohol Abuse

Dealing with alcoholism, like any addiction, is extremely difficult, especially if they’ve reached the deeper stages of this disorder. However, regardless of what stage they’re in, recognizing that they’re struggling with alcoholism and voicing your concern may help them choose the road to sobriety.

People who suffer from alcoholism need to be seen and want to be helped but are having difficulty communicating and facing their issues. But with your help and with understanding the gravity of the situation, they’ll be able to walk through tricky waters and address their alcoholism. 

The first step is recognizing that they have a problem, and the next and most crucial step is believing that they can conquer this issue. 

How to Get Help

Seeking help with substance abuse can be difficult, and acknowledging that you have a problem is an incredibly difficult step. However, you’ve already made the right step just by being here and reading about alcoholism and how to get treated.