Alcoholism is a disease of the brain often characterized by compulsive alcohol use despite the negative consequences it can cause. Understanding the early, middle, and late stages of alcoholism can help you determine whether you’re addicted or at risk.
The Early Stages of Alcoholism
The early stages of alcoholism are initiation and experimentation. For those who will become addicted, the early stages begin the first time they use alcohol.
Initiation is the initial introduction to drinking, and it commonly occurs in adolescence. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around 33 percent of teens have experimented with alcohol by the age of 15, and by the age of 18, around 60 percent of teens have used alcohol.
Experimentation occurs when you begin to use alcohol more regularly, such as drinking at the bar on the weekends or drinking at parties or during sporting events or concerts. Initially, this experimentation is a social activity that’s associated with having good times with friends.
The Middle Stages of Alcoholism
The middle stages of alcoholism occur when alcohol use begins to cause problems in your life, such as relationship, legal, health, and financial problems. This is when social drinking becomes problematic drinking, also known as alcohol abuse. Binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse that occurs when you drink enough in the space of two hours to bring your blood alcohol level up to .08 percent. For women, this is typically four drinks, and for men, it’s typically five.
People abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons, including to relax, reduce stress, cope with difficult memories or emotions, or medicate mental illness symptoms like anxiety or depression. People in the middle stages of alcoholism begin to drink more often, and they may drink alone. They will often try to hide the extent of their drinking from others, and they may begin to worry that they have a drinking problem.
The Late Stages of Alcoholism
The late stages of alcohol addiction occur when alcohol addiction and dependence develop. Addiction is caused by brain changes that lead to compulsive drinking despite the problems it’s causing in your life. Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop drinking suddenly. Both addiction and dependence are the result of changes in brain function.
Once an addiction develops, willpower won’t be enough to quit for good. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction almost always requires professional help to overcome. That’s because in order to successfully treat it, you must address the underlying causes, which often include chronic stress, mental illness and a history of trauma.
Alcoholism Treatment Works
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Once it develops, it will only grow worse until it’s successfully treated through a quality holistic rehab program. Treatment addresses underlying issues of body, mind, and spirit for whole-person healing.
Successful recovery depends on developing essential coping skills for handling cravings, stress and other relapse triggers. It depends on learning to have a good time without needing alcohol to do it. And it requires changing dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns so that you think and behave in healthier ways.
If you’ve developed alcoholism or you feel you’re on your way to becoming addicted, a high quality treatment program can help. Treatment helps you reclaim your life on many fronts, end the alcohol abuse and find purpose and meaning in a life of sobriety for a happier, healthier life for the long-haul.