An alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcoholism, is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrollable drinking and preoccupation with alcohol. Commonly referred to as an alcoholic, a person with alcoholism struggles with the inability to control their drinking due to both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. This condition, like many others, occurs in stages, during which the individual may display a variety of signs. Our Clearbrook rehab in Pennsylvania is going to list the 3 stages of alcoholism and signs to look out for in your loved ones.
What Are the 3 Stages of Alcoholism?
From mental illness to a family history of drinking, alcoholism can occur for a variety of reasons. It can also affect every area of a person’s life, including their relationships, career, finances, and health. Long-term alcohol abuse can be a lonely road, and while early detection can significantly increase their chances of recovery, detecting this condition isn’t always that simple.
The 3 phases of alcoholism listed below are based on the Jellinek Curve of Addiction chart and Milam and Ketcham’s guide “Under the Influence,” which explains a person’s descent into alcoholism. Each of the 3 stages of alcohol abuse comes with its own set of symptoms that the individual may display. Whether you suspect that a loved one has a drinking problem, or you’re curious whether you’ll recognize your behavior in these stages, keep reading to learn more about the telltale signs of a drinking problem.
Stage #1: Denial
The first stage of alcoholism is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Occasional drinking to alleviate stress or other problems
- Gradual increase in how much and how often they drink
- Gradual increase in their tolerance for alcohol
- Thoughts become more focused on drinking alcohol
- Rationalization of alcohol abuse or drinking behaviors
- Loved ones and coworkers are unaware of the drinking problem
Stage one of alcoholism includes gradually relying more on alcohol to cope with life’s stressors, which is also one of the most common warning signs of alcoholism. People who eventually develop this condition may have first started drinking to cope with things like financial issues, relationship problems, stress, mental illness, or other stressors.
While there’s nothing wrong with having a drink here and there, it becomes a problem when you begin to rely on drinking to feel happy or satisfied, either physically or emotionally. As you begin to rely more on alcohol to get through tough problems, you may eventually find yourself thinking of when you can have that next drink or having thoughts like, “If I can just hold off a few more hours, then I can head to the bar to have a drink.”
People in the early stages of alcoholism may also attempt to rationalize their increasing reliance on alcohol by telling themselves that it’s just a rough patch or that they can stop whenever they want. However, not only can an emotional dependence occur, but alcohol is also physically addictive, making quitting a whole lot more difficult. What’s more, your loved ones may not even realize that your drinking is increasing, and you’ll likely be in denial of the issue, as well.
Stage #2: Loss of Control
The second stage of alcoholism is loss of control, which is characterized by the following symptoms:
- An increased desire to drink
- Frequent blackouts from heavy drinking
- Severe withdrawal symptoms when the person doesn’t drink for a while
- Inability to control their drinking habits
- Others begin to realize the person’s problems
- Hiding drinking habits from others
- Relationship problems and social isolation worsens
In the second stage of alcoholism, you gradually become accustomed to consuming more and more alcohol to experience the same effect or “buzz.” While you may still be able to function well enough at work and home, you may become more and more focused on getting that next drink than on anything else. In fact, alcohol eventually becomes all you can think about.
Alcohol-induced blackouts are also common in this stage of alcohol abuse, which may become longer and more frequent as time passes. You may not even remember where you went, what you did, or who you were with during these blackouts, which can be dangerous for several reasons.
Additionally, as your spouse, friends, family, or coworkers begin to pick up on your problem, you start to realize it, too, though you may still be in denial and attempt to rationalize your behavior. As a result, you may begin hiding your drinking habits from others, spiking your coffees or sodas when around others, hiding empty bottles, and lying about your whereabouts when you’re drinking, all to avoid confrontation.
A person in the second stage of alcohol abuse may also experience severe withdrawals when they don’t drink for a certain length of time, including nausea, shakiness, anxiety, excessive sweating, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms may also occur when a person attempts to quit alcohol, which, as you can imagine, can be discouraging. That’s why our Northeast addictions treatment center recommends a medically monitored detox as the first step in recovery.
The third stage of alcoholism is emotional and physical deterioration, which is characterized by symptoms like:
- An obsession with drinking
- Depression and anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- Legal, financial, and relationship problems
- Health problems may become more apparent or may begin to occur
- Loss of interest in certain activities
- Alcohol is needed to function properly
In the third stage of alcoholism, the emotional and physical consequences of chronic drinking become more obvious. At this point, you may be completely obsessed with drinking and may feel as if you need alcohol just to get through the day.
You may also spend your days thinking about drinking and when you’ll be able to have your next drink. At this point, alcohol has taken priority over other responsibilities in your life, possibly including your family, spouse, kids, career, and bills.
You may also struggle physically when you aren’t drinking. If you haven’t had alcohol in a few hours, you may start feeling shaky, nervous, and nauseous, all of which may only be alleviated with alcohol. You may also suffer from depression and anxiety when you aren’t drinking or haven’t had a drink in a few hours.
You may lose interest in all the activities you once found so enjoyable, and your friends may not talk to you anymore because you’re tired of them pointing out your drinking habits. If you’re married, you may frequently argue with your spouse, which, without the help of counseling, can end in divorce.
The physical toll of long-term drinking also begins to take a noticeable effect in this stage. Your eyes and skin may begin to yellow (a sign of liver disease), and you may get sick more often than before. Your liver and pancreas may also suffer the consequences of so much alcohol, increasing your likelihood of liver disease and even cancer.
During the final stages of alcohol addiction, you may begin to experience consequences like liver disease, malnutrition, weight gain, heart problems, pancreatitis, dementia, and more. As your body slowly shuts down from all the alcohol, you may realize that you can’t go on living like this.
The end-stage of alcoholism is often a very dark and difficult one to get out of. People in the end-stage who attempt to quit alcohol either cold-turkey or without the help of a medically supervised alcohol detox risk delirium tremens (DT), and other potentially life-threatening side effects.
Fortunately, help is available. Our alcohol rehab in Pennsylvania offers detox, substance-specific treatment, and therapy to address the physical and psychological side effects of alcohol abuse.
If you or a loved one is in any of the three stages of alcoholism, don’t wait to hit rock bottom to seek out the help of a treatment center. Call Clearbrook Pennsylvania today at 570-536-9621 to learn more about our Wilkes Barre alcohol treatment and family program for your loved ones.