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Stages of Alcoholism

Recovery Centers of America

Authored by Recovery Centers of America

Do you remember when you had your first drink? 

Maybe you went to parties in college. Everyone else was going and it seemed like a fun time. The next morning, you realized that it helped you forget about how stressful your classes were or how much you disliked your roommate for a bit. It was a good escape.

Now you’re out of college and your mind still turns to a cold drink whenever you have a rough day at work. Sometimes you get headaches and you use a beer to calm them down. Alcohol helps you sleep. It does so much for you, but you also feel horrible when you’re not drinking. Your partner is upset by how you act when you drink. If you’re hungover at work one more time, you might get fired.

If this sounds familiar to you, just know you’re not alone. Here at Recovery Centers of America in Indianapolis, we hear stories just like this all the time, and we want to help. Here in Indiana, 48% of Hoosiers 12 and older have reported alcohol use within the past year, and while this doesn’t mean they’re “alcoholics” it’s important to know where the line is.

There are stages of alcoholism, and today we’re going to take a deeper look at them. Part of recovery is knowing what to look for so you can start your journey in the first place. Let’s talk more about alcoholism, how it develops, and what you can do to start your recovery journey. 

What Is Alcoholism?

AUD is more complex than you might initially think. There are multiple factors that can contribute to someone developing an AUD, and it’s not as simple as “drinking too often.”

Everything from your genetics, your background, your peers, your mental health, and more can play into an AUD. Yes, your genetics can make you more susceptible to developing an alcohol use disorder, though having those genetics will never guarantee that you develop one.

Oftentimes, a combination of family, stress, peers, economic status, and sometimes untreated mental health conditions can all lead to someone developing an AUD. Alcohol is often an “escape” for many people. It can be a way to manage stress and mental health for those who don’t have another place to turn. 

There is no one way for an AUD to develop, and everyone’s reasonings and history with alcohol will vary. The great news is, regardless of how an AUD develops, anyone who wants to work toward recovery can find it.

Recognizing the Signs of a Loved One With an Alcohol Use Disorder

Just because someone drinks alcohol, does not inherently mean they’re going to develop an AUD. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lays out several questions you can ask yourself or a loved one to better determine if someone might have an AUD.

In the past year, have you:

  • Craved a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Tried to cut down or stop drinking on more than one occasion but were unable to?
  • Spent a large amount of time drinking or experiencing the aftermath of drinking?
  • Had more than one time where you drank more than intended?
  • Had the effects of drinking impact your family/job/school?
  • Cut back on or abandoned activities that you used to love in order to drink?
  • Continued drinking even when it was causing you problems with loved ones?
  • Continued drinking even if it negatively affected your physical or mental health?
  • Had an alcohol-related memory blackout?
  • Had to increase the amount of alcohol you consume in order to experience the effects you wanted?
  • Experienced withdrawal symptoms whenever you weren’t drinking?

If you find yourself or your loved one answering yes to multiple questions above, it might be time to speak with a professional about having an alcohol use disorder.

The Four Stages of Alcoholism

An AUD won’t develop overnight. Generally, the path to developing an alcohol use disorder can be broken down into four stages. Let’s take a look.

Pre-Alcoholism Stage

Did you know that the age at which someone has their first drink can impact their odds of further alcohol use later in life? In fact, the younger someone has their first drink, the more likely they are to develop an AUD, according to the NIAAA. 

Here in Indiana, the average age when someone has their first drink is 12.8 years old. While this stage technically can begin with the first drink, the primary portion of this stage revolves around people who are expanding their journey with alcohol. This is usually combined with inexperience, but it mainly focuses on experimentation in the form of both levels of alcohol consumption and types of alcohol. Because the person is experimenting, they might binge drink or go out drinking multiple nights in a row. This can lead to the development of a habit of regularly consuming alcohol.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

During this stage, alcohol consumption has become normalized in this person’s life, even if they only drink “casually.” Since it is normal to them, it’s not uncommon for it to become an escape from reality. This can quickly lead to alcohol becoming a coping mechanism when high stress, anxiety, school, work, or other things threaten to overwhelm them.

It is during this stage that a person might start to show signs of developing an AUD. This can range from large portions of their day revolving around alcohol to cutting back on things they used to like in order to drink instead. 

Mid-Stage Alcoholism 

Despite its name, the “middle stage” of alcoholism is usually considered to be the peak. At this point, a person is regularly drinking and could answer “yes” to many of the questions we listed above earlier. The following signs and symptoms of an AUD will start to become more apparent:

  • Spending most of the day drinking or thinking about drinking
  • Having intense cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking more often and more heavily than before
  • Frequently engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence, such as driving and unsafe sex
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

Not only can the person who has an AUD be greatly impacted during this stage, but those around them start to be impacted as well. It’s not uncommon for familial relationships and relationships with friends to be damaged by the effects of alcohol. These relationship impacts, combined with the side effects of alcohol, can also lead to the further development of mental health problems such as depression.

End-Stage Alcoholism

The reason this stage is called the “end-stage” is not because a person is doomed once they’ve reached this stage. This stage is called the “end” because it is during this stage people will reach a point where they realize they want to take back control of their life. This can come about in a variety of ways, but what’s important to know is that it’s never too late. You can always find the road to recovery no matter how far along you are in your “stages of alcoholism.”

Many people who are in this stage have had alcohol as a staple in their life for a while now. Unfortunately, this long-term relationship with alcohol can take quite a toll on your organs. Even though many of these conditions can be improved with time and treatment, they can still impact you before and during your recovery.

Alcohol affects almost every part of your body. While people primarily think about the liver in regard to alcohol consumption, it can also affect your digestive system, pancreas, blood, bones, and even your brain.

Here are just a few of the conditions that can develop from long-term alcohol use:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Gut leakiness
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Myopathy
  • Fibrosis
  • Alcohol-assisted hepatitis
  • Reduced bone density
  • Pancreatitis
  • Increased risk of cancer

Just like in the mid-stage, people in the late-stage have a high chance of going through alcohol withdrawal whenever they’re not drinking. Withdrawal can start as quickly as 6 hours after your last drink and tends to be the most severe for the first 72 hours. Many symptoms will start to subside after that, but not all will go away without proper treatment and care. The most severe symptoms that can occur include tremors, hallucinations, and even seizures.

What Are The Signs of “Problem Drinking?”

Everyone’s definition of “problem drinking” will vary. What one person might deem to be a problem might be something someone else finds ignorable. We all can probably agree, however, that the risk of losing your friends, family, and job can be considered a “problem.” If you notice that your drinking is negatively affecting those around you, you’re unable to stop drinking on your own, and/or your drinking is negatively affecting you even when you’re not drinking – it might be time to start looking for some help. 

How to Know If Your Drinking Should Concern You

Having a drink or two every once in a while is not inherently a sign of concern. If you find yourself thinking about drinking whenever you get into high-stress situations, that can be a sign that your drinking habits aren’t as healthy as they should be. If you find you crave drinks whenever you aren’t drinking, you think about drinking often, or if you’re unable to stop drinking once you start, these can also be signs that your relationship with alcohol could use some help. Luckily, Recovery Centers of America is here to help. We’re well-equipped to support you on your recovery journey, there’s no reason to go it alone.

Strategies for Helping With a Loved One’s Drinking

If any of these points during this blog have been hitting close to home, don’t worry, recovery is always possible for you or a loved one. If you’re wanting to approach a loved one regarding their drinking because you’re concerned, the most important piece of advice we can give is to go into it judgment-free. If you approach them with hostility and closed-mindedness, you’re far less likely to reach them. Be supportive, remind them you love them, and try to understand them and their experiences.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you or your loved one is looking to start their recovery journey, you’ve come to the right place. Our team here at Recovery Centers of America in Indianapolis is experienced and ready to help. Our goal is to make access to recovery care as easy as possible. We do this by having easy access to recovery resources for all members of the community. We also are in network with most insurances, making it that much easier to get the healing you deserve.

Our staff is full of compassionate and well-trained professionals who are connected to the community around us. We always have openings and can take new admissions 24/7, with most patients getting through the process in about an hour. For those who need help accessing our facility, we offer rides up to 3 hours away, both to the facility and back home after if you need it. We are here every step of the way, from detox to inpatient and outpatient recovery. We connect patients with our alumni program from the start, so they can meet others who went through their journey here and are still going strong in their recovery. 

We want to be there for you and show you that recovery is always possible.

If you have any questions about our services, alcohol addiction treatment options, insurance, or anything else, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 1-800-RECOVERY. Our team is always here and ready to help.

FAQs About the Stages of Alcoholism

What are the levels of alcoholism?

There are four primary stages of alcoholism. The pre-alcoholism stage where someone is experimenting with alcohol, the early stage where drinking starts to become commonplace, the mid-stage where alcohol starts to impact your life further, and the end stage where you reach the point you want to regain control of your life.

What are some of the symptoms of alcoholism?

Some of the common symptoms include: being unable to stop or cut back on drinking, needing to drink more to feel the same effects, craving alcohol when you’re not drinking, and missing activities you used to love in order to drink.

What are some common stomach problems caused by alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol can negatively impact your digestive system with long-term use. People have been known to develop leaky gut and microbial dysbiosis in the digestive system.

Authored by

Recovery Centers of America

Recovery Centers of America



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