Stages of Alcoholism: When Is It a Problem?
Alcoholism is one of the most prevalent forms of addiction affecting Americans. Nearly 13.8 million Americans over the age of 18 have a drinking problem; 8.1 million of those suffer from alcoholism. If you are worried that you or someone close to you might be one of the millions suffering from this affliction, it is important to recognize the stages of alcoholism. The earlier you can recognize the problem, the easier it will be to seek treatment and change your life for the better. This post discusses the four stages of alcoholism and what the things to look for if you think you or a loved one are suffering.
Stage One – Pre-Alcoholic
This first stage is the hardest to identify because it looks very similar to normal, social drinking habits for the casual observer. During this stage, people tend to experiment with alcohol by trying new types, testing their limits of how much they can drink, etc. Drinking is mostly social at this point. At this stage, people’s tolerance to alcohol begins to develop, leading them to drink more to obtain the same level of “buzz”. Eventually, they will find themself being able to drink larger quantities of alcohol while still being able to function. If you are worried that you might be in this pre-alcoholic stage, ask yourself if you need a drink to feel better or if you need it to socialize. If you have a few drinks over the course of an evening out with friends, you most likely have nothing to worry about. However, if you find yourself needing a drink to feel better, avoid worrying, forget bad memories, reduce anxiety, or help with pain relief, you could be in the pre-alcoholic stage. Try going to a party or relaxing without a drink. If you find that you are unable to do, seek help. If you are worried about a loved one, see if they seem to need alcohol to relax or unwind from a stressful day or always have a drink in their hands during social events.
Stage Two- Early Alcoholic
The second stage of alcoholism includes an increase in drinking as well as more stereotypical “college-aged drinking” behaviors such as binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women in 2 hours. Binge drinking is not safe even when done occasionally. Typically at this stage, people begin to experience alcohol related blackouts. They may find themselves drinking more consistently and frequently, shifting to drinking every weekend instead of just at social functions. Drinking starts to become an excuse to get together with people, a way to alleviate stress, combat sadness or loneliness, or something someone does out of boredom. People tend to develop a higher emotional attachment to drinking and a growing discomfort with the amount they find themselves drinking. At the same time however, they are unable to resist it. People’s tolerance continues to grow, leading them to drink larger quantities more frequently, and they begin to form an obsession with thoughts of alcohol and when they will be able to have their next drink. Many people begin lying to their loved ones about their drinking habits during this stage and begin to hide their habits by spiking sodas, coffee, etc.
Stage Three – Middle Alcoholic
At this stage, the impacts of people’s habits begin to show and their drinking becomes a visible problem to their friends and family. People develop alcohol dependence with a strong attachment to alcohol, and while they are aware of the adverse effects of their drinking, they no longer have control over their consumption habits. People begin to drink at inappropriate times, such as when they are caring for children, driving, or at work. Relationship issues develop and many people have a sudden change in friends, often seeking out people with similar drinking habits. Many people experience a decrease in their social activities and difficulty conversing with strangers because of their erratic behavior and an increased irritability. Others begin missing work due to their drinking or their hangovers. High risk behaviors like drinking and driving are common at this stage, as are the legal troubles associated with them. At this later stage the physical symptoms of alcohol dependency such as facial redness, stomach bloating, sluggishness, weight gain or weight loss also begin to appear. At this point, some people become aware of their drinking problem and seek some form of help.
Stage Four – Late Alcoholic
This last stage is the most severe form of alcohol addiction and is typically referred to as alcohol dependence or alcoholism. People who have entered this stage have developed a high tolerance to the effects of alcohol and need to drink large quantities to even begin to feel “buzzed.” Drinking is now an all-day affair and everything else in a person’s life comes second to drinking. People in this stage no longer drink for pleasure, but need the physical and psychological effects of alcohol to live their lives, and develop compulsive behaviors to drink whenever and wherever they can. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse become apparent at this stage. Serious health problems such as dementia, paranoia, and cirrhosis of the liver develop. This is also the stage where withdrawal symptoms occur if someone attempts to stop drinking, often leading them to revert to alcohol for relief.
If you read this information and find yourself thinking that sounds like you, seek help. It is never too early to find treatments for your addictions. The sooner you do, the better your chances for recovery and a new, healthier lifestyle.