Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
What are the three stages of alcoholism
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: January 19, 2022

Alcoholism is a form of alcohol use disorder that involves excessive drinking, which has a negative influence on your physical and mental health or causes some other type of difficulty in your life. Some persons who suffer from alcoholism, for example, experience significant financial difficulties or get into legal difficulties when they drink and drive or engage in other criminal behavior after binge drinking or combining alcohol with various drugs. There are several distinct types of drinking that might be categorized as alcoholism. It has three phases, each one more severe than the previous. Continue reading to learn about the three stages of alcoholism and their repercussions.

The 3 stages of alcoholism

The first stage of alcoholism: The early stage

It's simple for you to fall into the early phases of alcoholism if you have a drinking problem.

At this stage, the alcoholic has only just begun to build a tolerance and dependency on alcohol. They will frequently believe they need to drink more and more in order to get the effects they want. This may imply drinking a whole bottle of wine instead of just a glass during dinner.

Because alcohol has such a minor impact on the drinker, these individuals may begin to consume alcohol on a daily basis. They might even start drinking in order to deal with difficulties in their lives. For example, they may rely on a drink to get them through a stressful day.

It's difficult to detect the early phases of alcoholism since these individuals can easily conceal their drinking problem. They may still go to work, school, or other obligations while still drinking.

When you reach out to someone with an issue, let them know that you understand and appreciate their struggle. Let people know if they've been affected by the work of others so they can see how it fits into their own lives. People don't always realize that they have a drinking problem until help arrives.

During the early phases alcoholism develops an alcoholism dependency. During this stage, it may occur that you have trouble with drinking because drinking too often will not give you pleasure. It means you are experiencing drinking problems that could affect your mental health. When you are experiencing alcoholism you can start drinking in order to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Although your drinking problems are mild, they can still be quite normal.

Second Stage of Alcoholism: The Middle Stage alcoholism

The second step involves increasing alcohol consumption and strengthening tolerance. Initially, cravings may occur between drinks. Recovery from drinking after a day of drinking could also cause physical pain. Three stages of excessive alcohol consumption occur with tolerance as well as frequency exceeding high.

If you're an alcoholic in the middle stage, you'll need to drink alcohol to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. If you try to quit drinking for a few days, you might get the following:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting: Some of the most frequent signs include nausea and vomiting. They usually begin three to four days after your last alcoholic beverage and get better over time.
  • Insomnia: When you learn about alcohol withdrawal symptoms, sleeplessness is usually near the top of the list. After you quit drinking alcohol, your sleep cycle may be disrupted, making it difficult to obtain a good night's sleep. If you had trouble sleeping before you became addicted to alcohol, it could get worse while you are in alcohol detoxification.
  • Irritability: During the second stage of alcoholism, alcohol cravings and physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms can make you irritable and moody.
  • Headaches: Hangovers, on the other hand, are among the most typical withdrawal symptoms following long-term alcohol abuse.

During the middle stage of alcoholism, you're also susceptible to delirium tremens (d.t.'s), a condition in which someone with alcohol use disorder suddenly stops drinking. A condition known as acute alcoholic hepatitis occurs when your body is unable to break down alcohol due to lack of a stomach enzyme called "pancreatic alcohol dehydrogenase." This happens in people who are severely intoxicated, whether through binge drinking or prolonged usage. Your risk for this condition rises if you develop an alcohol addiction and engage in binge drinking over The following are signs and symptoms of delirium tremens:

  • After a few days, you may experience severe perplexity.
  • Tremors
  • Irritability/agitation
  • Mood changes
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Sound or light sensitivity
  • Changes in your mental state

Third Stage of Alcoholism: End Stage Alcoholism

In the third stage, you've established an full-fledged alcohol addiction and are probably seeing the negative physical and emotional consequences. You may have gotten so caught up in drinking that you're constantly drinking, thinking about when you'll get your next drink, or recovering from it.

When you have a hangover, it's very common to feel as though you need alcohol simply to get through the day, and you could wake up with the rashes. Life outside of drinking at this point appears meaningless and you've lost all interest in the activities you used to like doing. You can't sleep unless you have a drink before bed and suffer from anxiety, sadness, and insomnia. Because they confronted you about your drinking habits, your friends no longer speak with you. You frequently withdraw yourself and devote a lot of time to drinking alone.

Alcohol's physical effects begin to show soon after you've started drinking heavily. You're more likely to become sick (especially with frequent respiratory illnesses), and your doctor may have warned you about the harm to your liver or pancreas as a consequence of long-term alcohol abuse. You are also most probably malnourished because long-term alcohol

It makes it easy to treat an alcohol patient early in their relapse. However with alcoholism in the last phases the patients become prone to binge drinking, a lesser chance to recover. Its treatment has become less complicated and relapse is relatively higher than in other areas of life. End stage drinking disorders are essentially a complete and chronic symptom. In this last stage of alcoholism, alcoholics suffer indigestion due to a lack of food. Physical weaknesses are caused if we lack wholesome foods and water.

Most end-stage drinkers feel that their drinking has become uncontrolled and suffer from underlying medical issues. Heavy drinking can have a variety of serious health risks and can cause serious injury to vascular systems and gastrointestinal tracts, including the kidneys and liver. Liver disease can be classified into three phases. When liver scarring occurs, dietary therapy and monitoring of lipid levels can be performed as an emergency measure.

As your physical, emotional, and mental health deteriorate, you become increasingly aware of a problem but believe that there is no longer any hope for recovery. The alcohol has ensnared your life, and you're not sure if you'll be able to get free.

By the late stage of alcoholism, the bodies of alcoholics have already suffered significant damage, which is frequently visible.

Related article: How can alcohol affect your sleep 

Individuals who have gone through end-stage alcoholism may experience the following health issues:

Alcoholic hepatitis

Acute alcoholic hepatitis is a life-threatening illness characterized by hepatomegaly, jaundice, ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, splenomegaly, fever, hemorrhage, malnourishment, and abdominal discomfort.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking alcohol raises your risk of developing the following cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver and breast in women.


This is a deadly liver disease that causes scarring for life. It's perhaps one of the most prevalent and serious health problems seen in end-stage alcoholics. After ten or more years of drinking, up to 20% of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis.

Asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema are examples of persistent obstructive airway diseases (COPDs) that can cause breathing difficulties.

COPD is one of these diseases, and it's common among people who smoke. It has nothing to do with drinking; however, alcoholics are three times more likely than non-drinkers to smoke, so they have a higher chance of getting this condition. As you can see, excessive drinking might result in a variety of health problems and

Problem Drinking vs Alcoholism

It's important to remember that just because you drink frequently doesn't necessarily indicate that you're an alcoholic.

Before we go further into the many phases of alcoholism, let's look at the distinctions between problem drinking and alcoholism.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 30% of Americans consume alcohol in excess; nevertheless, it does not necessarily imply that you are addicted to it if you abuse it. You might just have a drinking issue.

So, what is the difference between them?

Typically, problem drinkers fit the following descriptions:

  • Binge drinkers are men who have more than 5 drinks or women who have more than 4 alcoholic beverages in one day.
  • Heavy drinkers are men who have more than 15 alcoholic beverages and women who have more than 8 alcoholic beverages in a week.
  • Women who are pregnant and continue to consume alcohol put their babies at risk.
  • People under the age of 21 who consume alcohol are banned.

Some people may not be tolerant to alcohol even though they are problem drinkers. Even after having only a little amount of alcohol, they might still become inebriated.

They might not be hooked on alcohol, and they may not experience any withdrawal effects if they quit.

Alcoholism is a kind of dependence on alcohol that is divided into two categories: tolerance and addiction. An alcoholic will experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to quit drinking, unlike a problem drinker who does not get sick if they do not have access to alcohol. If they begin their day without having a glass of wine, they may feel unwell.

Another crucial distinction is that an alcoholic's brain chemistry differs significantly from that of a problem drinker.

Alcoholics have a harder time keeping a constant chemical balance in their brain. They may, for example, have lower dopamine levels on a daily basis.

Alcoholism vs alcohol abuse

Alcohol addiction are frequently interchangeable terms. While they both indicate alcohol-related issues, their severity and diagnosis differ. Alcohol abuse occurs as an excess of alcohol that causes failure to carry out everyday tasks at home and at school and drives when drinking. Alcoholism can affect people as well, and they may become a frequent binge drinking addict as well. Women who drink a total of eight drinks per week can be classified according to alcohol consumption.

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Drinking?

Not all early alcoholism symptoms are life-threatening, but many of them are. Some of the most subtle signs described in the early phases of problem drinking begin somewhere. Not all early alcoholic signs are deadly, but they may still be a cause for concern.

If you're exhibiting any of the symptoms of alcoholism described above, it's probably time to evaluate your drinking habits again. If you observe indicators in a loved one, it might be beneficial to express your concern by asking them about their drinking in a calm manner.