The 3 Stages of Alcoholism


Alcoholism can be categorized into three stages: early stage, middle stage and end stage alcoholism or late stage alcoholism. These stages generally take years to develop. Alcoholism is a disease where alcoholic beverage consumption is at a level that interferes with physical or mental health, and negatively impacts social, family or occupational responsibilities.

Consuming no more than one or two drinks per day for healthy men and one drink per day for healthy non-pregnant women is generally considered acceptable alcohol consumption without health risks. However, as the amount or frequency of drinking increases, the earliest of the alcoholism stages can develop as a result.

Learn about the warning signs, behaviors and side effects of each of the 3 stages of alcoholism.

The Early Stage of Alcoholism

In the early stage of alcoholism, a person begins to depend on alcohol to affect their mood. They drink for relief from problems, and they begin thinking more and more about alcohol. The person and others around them may not recognize that they are in the earliest of the stages of alcoholism. A gradual increase in tolerance happens, meaning, it takes increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired mood-altering effects. Often, the person can consume large amounts of alcohol without appearing impaired.

At the early alcoholism stage, the body has adapted to increasing amounts of alcohol. In fact, how a person functions will likely be improved with drinking as blood alcohol levels rise. For example, they can think and talk normally or walk a straight line with no problem. However, with continued alcohol consumption over time, the body begins to lose its ability to cope with high alcohol levels. As early alcoholics progress to higher levels of alcohol, their thinking, talking or walking functions deteriorate as soon as they stop drinking and their blood alcohol level decreases. When this starts happening, they are now moving into the next of the stage of alcoholism.

The Middle Stage of Alcoholism

The need and desire to drink gradually becomes more intense. Drinking larger amounts and more often happens as well as drinking earlier in the day. The alcoholic is losing control over drinking, and the body is losing its ability to process alcohol like it did in the early stages of alcoholism. The alcoholic's tolerance decreases as he or she becomes intoxicated more easily. Withdrawal symptoms begin to become more severe if alcohol is reduced.

The person may now secretly recognize there is a drinking problem, and others may begin to notice as well. Unfortunately, the alcoholic no longer can judge how much alcohol his/her body can handle. Typically, the drinker denies to himself and others that alcohol is a problem so he won't have to deal with his inner turmoil. Hangovers, blackouts and stomach problems may now be physical symptoms that occur on a regular basis.

The End Stage of Alcoholism

As alcoholism progresses, the alcoholic becomes obsessed with drinking--sometimes to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Everyone can tell there's a major problem. During the late alcoholism stage, the mental and physical health of the alcoholic are seriously deteriorating. Many of the body's organs have been damaged, which lowers resistance to disease. Relationships at home or socially may have been severely damaged, and there can be mounting financial and legal problems due to the alcoholic's powerlessness over alcohol.

Side Effects of Long-term Alcoholism

Every alcoholic will suffer from malnutrition. Alcohol in large amounts interferes with the digestion process and the passage of nutrients from the intestines into the bloodstream. Liver function has been damaged, further limiting the conversion of nutrients into a usable form that the body can assimilate. The damaged cells are not receiving the needed nutrients, they cannot repair themselves and the damage continues. Nutritional deficiencies cause a host of related problems to become worse. For example, a vitamin B-1 deficiency common in alcoholics can result in loss of mental alertness and appetite, fatigue, confusion and emotional instability. And if the alcoholic continues drinking, alcohol will cause the death of the alcoholic in one way or another. From suicide, accidents and related injuries to direct damage to the body's organs and systems, death will likely be the final outcome of end stage alcoholism.

Are there warning signs of alcoholism? Yes! You can read related articles that help you understand the signs and symptoms that indicate when alcohol consumption is becoming or is already a problem. Remember, there are many resources available to help treat and deal with alcoholism.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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