Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
End-Stage Alcoholism
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: February 24, 2022

End-stage alcoholism, often also referred to as late-stage alcoholism, is the final stage of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which causes serious mental and physical health conditions due to years of alcohol misuse.

For those that have reached end-stage alcoholism, consuming alcohol has completely taken over their lives. This often causes relationships to suffer and break down, and it also negatively impacts work, finances, and overall health.

Attempting to quit drinking alcohol at this stage is incredibly difficult and should not be attempted alone. Detoxing from alcohol after years of heavy alcohol abuse can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, hallucinations, and delirium tremens (DTs).

If you are concerned about end-stage alcoholism, we have shared a wealth of information here. However, we recommend contacting us directly to discuss treatment options.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is defined as the excessive consumption of alcohol even when it negatively affects a person’s life. If you or a loved one regularly consume alcohol, you or they may develop tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol contributes to approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the United States, making it the third leading preventable cause of death. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.5 million people over the age of 12 had an alcohol use disorder in 2019.

AUD is a medical diagnosis that encompasses conditions more often known as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism. As alcohol misuse causes changes in the brain, AUD is considered a brain disorder that leads to a cycle of dependence that is difficult to break.

However, there is always hope of recovery. Regardless of how severe an AUD may seem, evidence-based treatment can be effective. Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), trauma therapy, mutual-support groups, and prescription medication can support those living with AUD to reach long-term sobriety, preventing an AUD from becoming end-stage alcoholism.

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

End-stage alcoholism can cause clear, visible, and damaging symptoms to a person's health and well-being. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cirrhosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Jaundice
  • Liver damage
  • Anemia
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (also called alcohol dementia)
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Brain damage
  • Hepatitis
  • Cancer

Stages of Alcoholism

End-stage alcoholism is reached after a progressive increase in alcohol use and dependence. However, signs and symptoms often arise before a person reaches this stage. Below, we delve into the many different stages of alcoholism.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

At this stage, family and friends may not yet recognize the degree to which a person is consuming alcohol. In the early stages, the person's experience of drinking alcohol is generally positive, and they often do not see themselves as having a problem or causing harm to themselves.

Noticeable signs of early-stage alcoholism include:

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol
  • Seeming more sociable when drinking alcohol
  • Creating excuses to include alcohol in events and social situations
  • Drinking to deal with stress, boredom, and loneliness

Middle-Stage Alcoholism

The primary difference between middle-stage and early-stage alcoholism is that alcoholism progresses into a part of daily life. The disease begins to take control as alcohol is no longer used for a quick high and instead develops into a physical dependence as the body adapts to the presence of alcohol.

At this stage, someone with a physical dependence may begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal when they lack a certain level of alcohol in their body. People can often feel physically sick during the day if they have not yet had a drink and the high level of alcohol in their body begins to drop.

Signs of middle stage alcoholism include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sweating, and nausea when a person is not under the influence of alcohol
  • Alcohol consumption in non-social settings
  • Broken relationships
  • Reduced social activity
  • Erratic, unpredictable behavior

Symptoms of End-Stage Alcoholism

End-stage alcoholism can result in life-threatening health conditions in addition to mental health disorders such as depression. Some of the most common health conditions include:

  • Liver disease. Long-term alcohol misuse causes extreme stress on the liver and, in some cases, results in alcohol-related liver disease. Chronic alcohol abuse causes the liver to fail at metabolizing alcohol fast enough. The liver sometimes hardens, and scarring appears on the liver tissue - this is called cirrhosis. Symptoms that indicate liver disease include a swollen abdomen, dry mouth, blood in the mouth or stool, weight loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and jaundice.
  • Chronic pancreatitis. The most common indicators of chronic pancreatitis include weight loss as a result of malabsorption, serious abdominal pain, and diabetes. Alcohol is the cause of almost 80% of all chronic pancreatitis cases. However, many people have no symptoms for years before experiencing a sudden pancreatitis attack.
  • Cardiovascular issues. Alcohol abuse causes a significant strain on the cardiovascular system. People who have reached end-stage alcoholism often experience issues with their heart and high cholesterol.

If you or a loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, please don't hesitate to contact us. We can offer effective addiction treatment.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

By the time a person reaches end-stage alcoholism, they may have attempted to detox but unfortunately relapse due to cravings and other difficult withdrawal symptoms.

Related article: Alcohol and sleep

It's essential to know the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to prepare for detox adequately. In cases of a severe alcohol use disorder, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal and should not be attempted alone.

Regardless of the stage of alcoholism, medical supervision should always be sought when withdrawing from alcohol. Often, the following withdrawal symptoms are experienced during detox:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Treatment for End-Stage Alcoholism

The best chances of successful recovery without dangerous, long-term health complications lie in addressing an alcohol use disorder before it develops into end-stage alcoholism. However, even in the most severe cases of end-stage alcoholism, treatment is still available.

The initial stage of alcohol addiction treatment is likely to be medical detox, where you or a loved one will be medically supervised as alcohol is removed from the body. During detox, health care professionals monitor vital organs and provide medical intervention if necessary. Medically supervised detox is the only safe option for those that have reached end-stage alcoholism.

After the withdrawal period, an addiction specialist will work with you or your loved one to discover the underlying reasons for the alcohol use disorder. They will also provide professional medical advice and find the best way to help.

Understanding how rehab might be structured can help you or your loved one take the first step in accessing help for your substance use disorder. At Cornerstone, we often recommend the following methods for overcoming alcohol dependence:

  • Medication such as disulfiram, naltrexone, or Campral (acamprosate)
  • Behavioral therapy including CBT, rational behavior therapy, rational living therapy, and dialectic behavior therapy
  • Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery

Contact Us Today

If you would like to find out more about our alcohol addiction treatment services, our rehabilitation programs, or ask any questions you may have about end-stage alcoholism, please contact us today.

At Cornerstone, we provide expert and compassionate treatment to every client, considering each individual's unique needs. At our treatment center, alcohol rehab can be a transformative experience laying the foundations for a fulfilling, sober life.

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