The Four Stages of Alcoholism: Pre, Early, Middle, and Late

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 23, 2020

There are over 3 million cases of alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) diagnosed in the United States each year. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that at least 88,000 deaths occur annually as a direct result of alcohol abuse.

The Four Stages Of Alcoholism

The main reason for the abundance of deaths is the myriad of health problems that the disease causes. Many alcohol-related health conditions are highly preventable when a person is able to get the treatment they need for alcohol abuse.

It is crucial to understand each of the four stages of alcoholism, the long-term health risks of alcohol abuse, and what to do if you believe your loved one is abusing alcohol.

The First Stage Of Alcoholism: Pre-Alcoholism

The first of the four stages of alcoholism is called pre-alcoholism. During this stage, a person isn’t drinking on a steady basis yet.

Instead, they have switched from only drinking occasionally to drinking whenever they have had a bad day or they feel angry about something.

This is problematic because it demonstrates that alcohol is being used as a coping mechanism. It is important to mention that a person who is in this stage will have already built up a tolerance to alcohol, so it will take more alcoholic beverages for them to begin to feel intoxicated.

The Second Stage Of Alcoholism: Early Alcoholism

Once a person begins to drink until they pass out, they have entered the second stage of alcoholism.

Out of all of the stages of alcohol abuse, this one is often the hardest for a person to deal with because their body has started to physically crave alcohol, which can lead to them experiencing constant thoughts about how they can get more of it.

This stage is often noticed by loved ones when they see the addicted person’s attempts to try to hide their drinking problem.

For example, they might witness them pouring alcohol into their morning coffee if they think no one is looking.

The Third Stage Of Alcoholism: Middle Alcoholism

When a person’s drinking problem has begun to severely impact their life, the signs of alcoholism can no longer be denied by their friends and family members.

They will quickly grow tired of making excuses for the addicted person who is missing work, getting arrested, or showing up intoxicated to social functions.

The physical effects on the body from consuming too much alcohol will also begin to show. Swelling in the abdomen, fatigue, and flushed facial skin are all common.

Sometimes, a person with an addiction to alcohol might lose or gain weight when they reach the third stage, too.

The Fourth Stage Of Alcoholism: Late Alcoholism

The last of the four stages of alcoholism begins when a person completely prioritizes their drinking over everything else in their life.

When this happens, their physical health is severely impacted. It is common for their loved ones to notice yellowing of the eyes and skin as their liver begins to deteriorate.

Hallucinations, tremors, confusion, paranoia, and other signs of alcoholism may occur at this point too, especially if they go too long without drinking.

Health Risks Of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse

If a person stops drinking soon enough, there is a chance that their body can heal from the damage caused by alcohol.

In fact, the liver can often completely repair itself in about a month. But the longer that someone goes without treatment, the worse the long-term health effects will be.

The damage to the brain is often the most severe because alcoholism can lead to strokes, dementia, seizures, and other neurological conditions. Some of these conditions can impair a person’s ability to process and remember day-to-day information.

The heart is affected severely, too. In fact, those who have an addiction to alcohol have a much greater risk of having a heart attack than someone who doesn’t.

What To Do If Your Loved One Is Abusing Alcohol

The best way to help a loved one who is abusing alcohol is to get them into an alcohol treatment center that offers medically supervised detox. In one of these programs, addicted individuals can flush the alcohol out of their body in the safest way possible.

Alcohol detox is usually only completed within an inpatient program because the individual may need urgent medical care as they go through withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can cause dangerous to life-threatening symptoms.

After detoxing, a long-term stay is often necessary to ensure that the addicted person has the best chance of staying sober once they are released.

Find Help For A Loved One Struggling With Alcoholism

Alcoholism damages the body in many different ways, and it can have a severe impact on a person’s long-term health. Many people who have an addiction to alcohol may not want to attend treatment, though.

For some, it may take time to convince them of the need for treatment. Alcohol is socially acceptable, so many people do not realize they are in one of the four stages of alcoholism until it becomes difficult to function without it.

Alcohol rehab centers offer specialized programs to help individuals accept their alcohol use disorder and learn to manage it. To learn about which alcohol and drug rehab centers may fit the needs of a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse, contact us today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 23, 2020
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