Alcoholism, prevalent since the Prohibition era, does not happen overnight. It develops over time and is often characterized by alcohol dependence, both physical and psychological, and preoccupation.
The length of time for each stage may vary but the symptoms remain the same. The stages of alcoholism are usually defined as early, middle, and late. The lines between the stages are not clearly defined. Nor do these stages have any particular time frame of when one leads to another. What marks the passage from one to the other are the characteristics of each stage.
The early stage of alcoholism develops without any outward physical indicators. Starting with experimentation, a tolerance to alcohol allows the drinker to consume more and more. This can lead to binge drinking. Binge drinking is the consumption of large amounts of alcohol in a very short period of time.
For men, this means drinking 5 or more alcoholic beverages in under 2 hours. For women, it means drinking 4 or more in under 2 hours. Binge drinking is very dangerous and can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma, and even death. One important symptom is drinking to get drunk. Most drinkers will drink a glass of wine with dinner, for social occasions, or to unwind.
The alcoholic drinks to get drunk or “buzzed”. From outward appearances, the alcoholic shows no signs of the illness and can function as they normally would in their day-to-day life.
The middle stage involves drinking more often as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression. The physical dependence on alcohol now takes place. The body has become more tolerant of higher levels of alcohol in the early stage and now requires more to achieve the state of well-being the drinker is wanting to find.
Another characteristic is the craving for alcohol. The craving from the physical and psychological dependence increases beyond the person’s control as their tolerance increases. Withdrawal symptoms start to surface, causing loss of control over alcohol consumption. Symptoms can include tremors in the hands, irritability, and sweating profusely. Blackouts may start, allowing the drinker to still function but have no memory of what happened.
Problems from drinking may start to become apparent such as missing work, friction within the family, isolation, etc.
The late stage is characterized by the effect of constant drinking, now clear to see by all. The need to drink has caused alienation from concerned family and friends.
It has caused problems at work, if not the loss of employment. The world now revolves around alcohol. Although the alcoholic may notice the downward spiral, denial takes root. The need to drink more and more alcohol becomes stronger than any other need in their daily lives.
The stages of alcoholism cannot be measured in any particular length of time. But each stage has characteristics defining each. Over 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol disorders.
This has led to over 18,000 deaths from excessive alcohol use, making alcohol abuse the third largest killer in the United States.