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The Stages of Alcoholism

Alcohol is an addictive substance, so no matter how often you drink alcohol, there’s always a possibility that you could start to drink more. If you begin to consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, there’s a much greater risk of you developing alcohol use disorder, which brings with it numerous side effects that could be damaging to your health. If you want to avoid developing alcohol use disorder or are concerned that a loved one may have developed an addiction, it’s essential that you know about the stages of alcoholism and how they occur.


How Alcoholism Is Defined

Alcoholism is a common disorder that occurs when alcohol use becomes uncontrolled. If you notice that you are having difficulties controlling your drinking or are experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking for an extended period of time, it’s likely that you are suffering from alcohol use disorder.

This indicates that your body has become dependent on alcohol to properly function. When you try to stop drinking alcohol, your body will experience unpleasant effects, and you will experience cravings for alcohol that are difficult to ignore. The intense cravings and side effects that result from not drinking alcohol indicate that you are suffering from alcohol use disorder and should obtain treatment so that you can stop drinking safely. Entering treatment can prevent serious health problems.

Alcohol use disorder commonly occurs when someone starts to drink alcohol at an unhealthy rate. Unhealthy drinking is denoted by:

  • Consuming at least four drinks in two hours
  • Drinking alcohol to the point where it puts your health at risk
  • Always having a drink nearby
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences


How People Develop Alcohol Use Disorders

There are many risk factors that can make someone more likely to experience alcohol use disorder. While alcohol use disorders can occur at any age, they are more common among people in their 20s and 30s. The main risk factors behind alcohol use disorders include:


Primary Stages of Alcoholism

If you want to properly understand the dangers of alcohol use disorder, it’s important to look at the main stages of this disorder and how it begins. While millions of Americans occasionally consume alcohol without developing alcohol use disorder, addiction can occur if you start drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis.

Keep in mind that more than 14 million Americans are estimated to be suffering from alcohol use disorder. This disorder doesn’t solely affect adults. In fact, more than 414,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 are known to be suffering from this disorder.


  • Stage 1: Occasional Use
    The initial stage of alcohol use disorder occurs when you occasionally drink too much alcohol. It’s very common for young adults to engage in binge drinking or heavy alcohol use as a way of testing their limits. Young adults who have rarely drunk alcohol before may not yet understand how much alcohol they should drink, which can be problematic when attempting to avoid alcohol use disorder.
    Binge drinking occurs when you consume more than four drinks in a two-hour period. Teenagers and young adults who attend parties often exceed these limits, which significantly increases the likelihood that they will suffer from a substance use disorder. If these episodes of heavy drinking become increasingly frequent, you may progress to the second stage of alcoholism.
  • Stage 2: Heavier Drinking
    The second stage of alcoholism occurs when the rate of alcohol consumption is more frequent. During the first stage of alcohol use disorder, many individuals will drink too much at parties or other social events where alcohol is readily available. Stage two occurs when the heavy bouts of drinking take place outside of parties and similar social events. If you start drinking alcohol whenever you’re stressed, bored or lonely, it’s likely that you’ve progressed to the second stage of alcoholism.
    Keep in mind that this stage doesn’t always result from moderate drinking. While many adults choose to drink a glass of wine with dinner, increased drinking tends to occur when alcohol is consumed because of an emotional reason. If your heavy drinking occurs because you want to feel better, there’s a good chance that you may eventually become dependent on alcohol.
  • Stage 3: Uncontrolled Alcohol Use
    When you can no longer control how much or often you drink alcohol, you’re likely in the third stage of alcohol use disorder. At this stage, it’s common to feel sick after drinking too much and to feel increasingly anxious and depressed. If you find that your behavior is becoming more erratic or your relationships are suffering as a result of your alcohol use, this means that you can no longer properly control how much alcohol you drink.
    Stage 4: Dependence on Alcohol
    The fourth stage of alcohol use disorder occurs when the body becomes physically dependent on alcohol. If you want to avoid the more serious problems of alcohol use disorder, it’s important that you seek treatment before you get to this stage.
    However, dependence on alcohol is usually accompanied by continuing to drink heavy amounts of alcohol even when you’re fully aware of how damaging it can be. If your body is dependent on alcohol, you may need to consume more of the beverage to become drunk, which could result in you drinking even more alcohol to obtain the same feelings. The first withdrawal symptoms could affect you at this stage. These symptoms include everything from irritability and body tremors to sweating and nausea.
  • Stage 5: Alcohol Use Disorder
    The fifth and final stage occurs when you are fully addicted to alcohol. Your heavy use of alcohol will no longer be tied to the pleasure you obtain from drinking. Because your body physically craves alcohol, your psychological and physical dependence on the substance will cause you to drink even when you don’t feel like it. It’s common for people who are suffering from other substance use disorders to suffer from alcohol use disorder as well.


Signs That Indicate an Alcohol Use Disorder

If you believe that someone close to you may have been drinking too much alcohol as of late, there are some clear signs that indicate a person may be suffering from alcohol use disorder. These signs include:

  • Not being able to limit how much alcohol they consume
  • Drinking alcohol even when it’s causing social and physical problems
  • Going through withdrawal whenever they attempt to stop drinking
  • Feeling a craving to consume alcohol
  • Spending large amounts of time drinking
  • Not being able to successfully reduce the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Not meeting work and social obligations
  • Drinking alcohol even when it’s not safe to do so


Health Symptoms Associated With Alcohol Use Disorder

When someone starts drinking too much alcohol to the point that they develop alcohol use disorder, they will start to experience various health symptoms. These symptoms can be divided into short-term and long-term symptoms, the latter of which are more dangerous to a person’s health. When high amounts of alcohol are located in the blood, the affected individual may experience:

  • Slow reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration issues
  • Problematic behaviors
  • An inability to control bodily movements

As for the long-term health effects caused by alcohol use disorder, the primary effects that you could experience include:

  • Liver disease that could be irreversible
  • Problems with menstruation and sexual functions
  • Heart problems, which could include everything from high blood pressure to heart failure
  • Eye problems
  • Complications with diabetes
  • Neurological issues like dementia and memory loss
  • An increased risk of various cancers, which include breast cancer and colon cancer

In addition, women who struggle with alcohol use disorder can give birth to children with birth defects. The long-term effects of alcohol use disorder are the worst ones that you could experience. Many of these effects could lead to irreversible damage to your body, which invariably increases the likelihood that you will suffer from other health problems. If you want to mitigate these concerns, it’s highly recommended that you seek treatment immediately.


Withdrawal Symptoms That You May Experience

If you develop alcohol use disorder and eventually attempt to stop drinking alcohol, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms result from your body becoming dependent on alcohol to properly function. When your body is no longer receiving alcohol, it reacts accordingly. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of the alcohol use disorder. The main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations


Main Treatment Options Available to You

There is a range of treatment options that you can seek once you have admitted that you are suffering from alcohol use disorder. These treatments include inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment and detoxification, the latter of which is considered to be the starting point for any treatment program.

Detox is a process that involves getting the substance out of your body, after which you can begin the recovery process in earnest. The point of detox is to make sure that you can get through the withdrawal symptoms without experiencing too many adverse side effects. In many situations, patients will receive small amounts of medication to ensure that any withdrawal symptoms are mitigated as withdrawing from alcohol without medical assistance is dangerous.

Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

Outpatient treatment is commonly administered for mild and moderate alcohol use disorders. When attending outpatient treatment, you can still stay at home and travel to work whenever necessary. During treatment, you’ll be expected to attend sessions around three to four times each week. These sessions include many of the same treatments and therapies that you’ll receive during inpatient rehab.

Inpatient rehab requires you to stay in a residential facility on a 24/7 basis until the treatment program is completed. The main benefit of seeking this kind of treatment is that you will be in a drug-free environment alongside other individuals who are experiencing the same things that you are. The treatments provided during inpatient rehab include family therapy, individual counseling and group therapy.


Seeking Treatment at the Granite Recovery Center


Granite Recovery Centers offers a combination of a 12-step curriculum and evidence-based psychotherapies. The treatment available to you offers a comprehensive continuum of care, which includes residential treatment, medical detox, sober living, and intensive outpatient therapy. Patients can undergo four different types of psychotherapy, which include dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma therapy, and grief and loss therapy.

Once you have admitted that you’re suffering from alcohol use disorder, it’s important that you consider all of your treatment options. No matter what stage of alcoholism you’re in, receiving treatment early on can help you keep severe side effects at bay. In time, you can learn how to live a life free from alcohol.