What are the Different Stages of Alcoholism?

stages of alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder (commonly referred to as alcoholism) affects more than 14.5 million people in the United States. Although a common issue, alcoholism looks different in different people. Some people have more severe drinking problems than others, but without treatment, all drinking problems can get worse because alcoholism is a progressive disease. An easy way to understand the progression of alcoholism is to look at the four different stages.

The Four Stages of Alcoholism

Many people have studied alcoholism throughout the years, but one popular scientist named E. Morton Jellinek who researched alcohol abuse proposed a now widely-accepted idea that most alcoholics follow a common trajectory through the course of their alcoholism, which he refers to as a disease. Jellinek was able to outline this trajectory in four different phases, which make up the commonly-known stages of alcoholism today. This trajectory is known as the “Jellinek Curve.”

Stage 1: Pre-Alcoholic

The pre-alcoholic stage occurs before a person develops an alcohol use disorder. During this phase, people may engage in binge drinking or heavy drinking on the weekends, but they aren’t yet physically dependent on alcohol. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours for women or five or more alcoholic beverages within two hours for men.

Not everyone who binge drinks will progress into someone with an alcohol use disorder. However, the more a person drinks during this stage, the more their tolerance will grow, requiring them to drink even more alcohol to feel the same effects. People who binge drink excessively are likely to see their drinking turn into a real problem.

Another sign of pre-alcoholism is drinking to numb emotions or pain. People who are dealing with excess stress, anxiety, or depression may drink as a form of self-medication. Continuing to drink to cope is a surefire way to eventually progress to the second phase of alcoholism.

Stage 2: Early-Stage Alcoholic

People leave the pre-alcoholic stage when their drinking becomes more frequent. People in the early alcoholic stage may start drinking every day or every other day rather than just on the weekends. They may also black out from drinking too much, lie to their loved ones about their drinking, and begin thinking about alcohol more and more frequently.

Individuals who are in this stage of alcoholism may find it difficult to imagine having a good time without a drink in their hands. They may use every excuse to drink–whether they are upset and need a pick-me-up or are celebrating at the end of a good day. However, the early-stage alcoholic may not realize their drinking has become an issue.

Receiving professional treatment during either the pre-alcoholic stage or the early-alcoholic stage can prevent the progression of a person’s drinking.

Stage 3: Middle Alcoholic Phase

The middle alcoholic phase is usually when friends and family members start to realize that their loved one has a drinking problem. People in this phase may exhibit common behavioral signs of alcoholism, such as showing up late for work, calling out sick often, forgetting to take care of responsibilities, or making alcohol their top priority.

The middle phase alcoholic may drink every day and regularly appear as though they are intoxicated. Loved ones may notice facial redness, irritability, poor coordination, slurred speech, bloated stomach, and changes in sleep patterns.

The middle-alcoholic will also experience difficulty controlling when they drink and how much they drink. They lose the ability to control their alcohol consumption and they experience intense cravings if they don’t drink. Finally, if a person in this phase of alcoholism tries to stop drinking, they may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, irritability, cravings, headache, sweating, and anxiety.

At this point, the only way to avoid progressing to end-stage alcoholism is to seek treatment from a trusted alcohol rehab center.

Stage 4: End-Stage Alcoholism

People suffering from end-stage alcoholism will begin feeling the effects of long-term alcohol abuse. Alcohol-related illnesses like liver failure or cancer may appear and social consequences such as job loss or divorce may occur.

Many end-stage alcoholics are people who have tried and failed to stop drinking numerous times. These individuals may make drinking an all-day affair, and some will have given up on trying to stay sober.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and anyone who drinks too much is susceptible to progressing to end-stage alcoholism. However, with the right treatment, recovery is possible–no matter what stage of alcoholism people are in. Even end-stage alcoholics can stop drinking and get the necessary medical treatment required to enjoy a sober life.

When to Get Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Identifying an alcohol problem before it gets too serious can be difficult to do, especially when alcohol is so accepted and widely consumed in American society. Still, there are signs and symptoms to look for, many of which are apparent during the first stage of alcoholism. If you identify with two or more of the following symptoms, it’s time to consult with an addiction specialist about getting help.

Signs of an alcohol use disorder include:

  • Drinking more alcohol or drinking for longer amounts of time than you intended
  • Wanted to cut down or stop drinking, but weren’t able to on more than one occasion
  • Spending too much time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
  • Wanting to drink so badly that you can’t focus on anything else
  • Experiencing problems at home or at work because of your drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite the problems you are facing because of your drinking
  • Cutting back on activities that you once enjoyed because you’d rather be drinking
  • Getting into risky or dangerous situations while drinking on more than one occasion
  • Continuing to drink even though it is causing health problems
  • Needing to drink more alcohol than you once did to feel the same effects (tolerance)
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when the effects of alcohol wear off

The more symptoms you have experienced in the last year, the further your alcoholism has progressed.

Start Alcohol Rehab in Southern California Today

Sheer Recovery offers a comprehensive alcohol detox and rehab program that is driven by evidence-based practices and decades of clinical experience. Whether you are an early alcoholic or suffering from end-stage alcoholism, our team can provide you with the support you need.

Starting with detox, our medical team will help you detox safely and comfortably under 24-hour supervision. Then, you’ll transition to our residential or PHP program where you engage in individualized therapies to treat the root cause of your addiction and learn coping skills to promote recovery. Alcohol rehab concludes with detailed aftercare planning to help guide you through early recovery.

Our serene, peaceful setting provides the perfect environment for recovering from alcoholism, and our team of clinical professionals is wholly dedicated to treating your needs. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, please reach out to our qualified admissions coordinators to learn more about your alcoholism treatment options.


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