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What Are The 3 Stages Of Addiction? Alcoholism Explained

What are the 3 Stages of Alcoholism? Short and Long-Term Effects, Dangers, Risk Factors, Helping an Alcoholic, Medical Detox & Treatment Options

The First Stage of Alcoholism: The Early Stage

What are the 3 stages of addiction to alcohol? It’s simple to fall into the early phases of alcoholism if you have a drinking problem. At this stage, the alcoholic has only begun to build a tolerance and dependency on alcohol. They frequently believe they need to drink more to get the desired effects. 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 daily. They might even start drinking to deal with difficulties in their lives. For example, they may rely on a drink to get through a stressful day.

What are the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic? It’s difficult to detect the early phases of alcoholism since these individuals can easily conceal their drinking problems. They may still go to work, school, or other obligations while drinking.

How to talk to an alcoholic? When you reach out to someone with an issue, let them know that you understand their struggle. Have research and list the stages of alcoholism. 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 they have a drinking problem until help arrives.

What are 3 stages of alcoholism? During the early phases, alcoholism develops an alcohol dependency. You may have trouble drinking during this stage because drinking too often will not please you. It means you are experiencing drinking problems that could affect your mental health. When you are experiencing alcoholism, you can start drinking to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Although your drinking problems are mild, they can still be quite normal.

what are the 3 stages of alcoholism
This is the first part of the three phases of alcoholism. Because alcohol has such a minor impact on the drinker, individuals may begin to consume alcohol daily.

Second Stage of Alcoholism: The Middle Stage of Alcoholism

What Are The 3 Stages of 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 and frequency exceeding high.

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

  • Nausea and Vomiting: The most frequent signs include nausea and vomiting. They usually begin three to four days after your last alcoholic beverage and improve 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 detox.
  • 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 cannot break down alcohol due to a lack of a stomach enzyme called “pancreatic alcohol dehydrogenase.” This happens in severely intoxicated people through binge drinking or prolonged usage. Your risk for this condition rises if you develop an alcohol addiction and binge drink. The following are the 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

What are the three stages of alcoholism? You’ve established a full-fledged alcohol addiction in the third stage and probably see the negative physical and emotional consequences. You may have gotten so caught up in drinking that you’re constantly thinking about when you’ll get your next drink or recovering from it.

When you have a hangover, it’s common to feel like you need alcohol simply to get through the day, and you could wake up with 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 start 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 of long-term alcohol abuse.

what are the 3 stages of alcoholism
You’ve established a full-fledged alcohol addiction in the third stage and probably see the negative physical and emotional consequences.

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 of recovering. Its treatment has become less complicated, and relapse is higher than in other areas of life. End-stage drinking disorders are essentially complete and chronic symptoms. 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 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.

What are the 3 Stages of Alcoholism? Pre-Alcoholism Stage

This stage of alcoholism is difficult to notice, even for the person misusing alcohol. During the pre-alcoholic stage, a person will begin drinking in social settings. As they continue to drink, they may also start using alcohol for stress relief. In other words, they use alcohol to self-medicate but can still limit consumption without drinking too much. 

They may also drink to cope with sadness, loneliness, stress at work, or relationship issues. Rather than dealing with the actual problem, pre-alcoholics will drink alcohol to dull emotional pain.  The pre-alcoholic stage is not obvious to others. However, alcohol tolerance is gradually developing. The individual can stay in this stage for many years but eventually start showing more disordered behaviors.

Is alcohol addictive?

Yes. If a person finds it difficult to stop drinking alcohol or is experiencing significant consequences from drinking alcohol, they may have an alcohol use disorder.

How addictive is alcohol?

Alcohol use can become an addiction when the person uses it more and more frequently and in higher amounts, perhaps to self-medicate an underlying mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression. The person first develops tolerance, meaning that they require more alcohol to feel the same effects.

Why is alcohol addictive?

Drinking alcohol caused the release of naturally occurring feel-good opioids known as endorphins in two key brain regions associated with reward processing.

Is alcohol physically addictive?

Yes. Alcohol is physically addictive because it alters the chemicals in your brain. The addiction may be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms experienced.

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Short and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

You won’t necessarily feel the physical effects of alcohol, but it starts from the moment you take your first sip. If you drink, you’ve probably had some experience with the physical effects of alcohol, from the warm buzz that kicks in quickly to the not-so-pleasant wine headache or the hangover that shows up the next morning. Since those effects don’t last long, you might not worry much about them, especially if you don’t drink often.

Many assume the occasional beer or glass of wine at mealtimes or special occasions doesn’t pose much cause for concern. But drinking any amount of alcohol can potentially lead to unwanted health consequences. People who binge drink or drink heavily may notice more health effects sooner, but alcohol also poses some risks for people who drink in moderation. Find out more about how to help a high-functioning alcoholic.

Alcohol use can affect anyone’s physical and mental well-being over time. These effects may be more serious and noticeable if you drink more than 1 or 2 drinks regularly.

Short-Term Physical Effects of Alcohol

Temporary physical effects of alcohol you might notice while drinking (or shortly after) include:

  • Feelings of relaxation or drowsiness
  • A sense of euphoria or giddiness
  • Changes in mood
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Head pain
  • Changes in hearing, vision, and perception
  • Loss of coordination
  • Trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Loss of consciousness or gaps in memory (often called a blackout)

Some of these physical effects of alcohol, like a relaxed mood or lowered inhibitions, might show up quickly after just one drink. Others, like loss of consciousness or slurred speech, may develop after a few drinks. Dehydration-related effects, like nausea, headache, and dizziness, might not appear for a few hours, and they can also depend on what you drink, how much, and if you drink water.

These effects might not last very long, but that doesn’t make them insignificant. Impulsiveness, loss of coordination, and mood changes can affect your judgment and behavior and contribute to more far-reaching effects, including accidents, injuries, and decisions you later regret.

Long-Term Physical Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol use can also lead to more lasting concerns beyond your mood and health. Some long-term physical effects of alcohol of frequently drinking include:

  • Persistent changes in mood, including anxiety and irritability
  • Insomnia and other sleep concerns
  • A weakened immune system, meaning you might get sick more often
  • Changes in libido and sexual function
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Increased tension and conflict in romantic and family relationships
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Other Physical Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Here’s a breakdown of the physical effects of alcohol on your internal organs and body processes.

Digestive and Endocrine Glands

Drinking too much alcohol may cause pancreas inflammation, resulting in pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can activate the release of pancreatic digestive enzymes and cause abdominal pain. Pancreatitis can become a long-term condition and cause serious complications.

Inflammatory Damage

Your liver helps break down and remove toxins and harmful substances (including alcohol) from your body. Long-term alcohol use interferes with this process. It also increases your risk for alcohol-related liver disease and chronic liver inflammation:

  • Alcohol-related liver disease is a potentially life-threatening condition that leads to toxins and waste buildup in your body.
  • Chronic liver inflammation can cause scarring or alcoholic cirrhosis. When scar tissue forms, it may permanently damage your liver.

Sugar Levels

The pancreas helps regulate how your body uses insulin and responds to glucose. If your pancreas and liver don’t function properly due to pancreatitis or liver disease, you could experience low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. A damaged pancreas can also prevent your body from producing enough insulin to use sugar. This can lead to hyperglycemia or too much sugar in the blood.

If your body can’t manage and balance your blood sugar levels, you may experience greater complications and side effects related to diabetes. Experts recommend avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol if you have diabetes or hypoglycemia.

Central Nervous System

One major way to recognize alcohol’s impact on your body? Understanding how it affects your central nervous system. Slurred speech, a key sign of intoxication, happens because alcohol reduces communication between your brain and body. This makes speech and coordination — think reaction time and balance — more difficult. That’s one major reason why you should never drive after drinking. Over time, alcohol can cause damage to your central nervous system; you might notice numbness and tingling in your feet and hands.

Drinking can also affect your ability to:

  • Create long-term memories
  • Think clearly
  • Make rational choices

Over time, drinking can also damage your frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for vital functions like impulse control, short-term memory, and judgment. Chronic heavy drinking can also cause permanent brain damage, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder that affects memory.

Digestive System

The connection between alcohol consumption and your digestive system might not seem immediately clear. The side effects often only appear after the damage has happened. Continuing to drink can worsen these symptoms. Drinking can damage the tissues in your digestive tract, preventing your intestines from digesting food and absorbing nutrients and vitamins properly. In time, this damage can cause malnutrition.

Heavy drinking can also lead to:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • The feeling of fullness in your abdomen
  • Diarrhea or painful stools
  • Ulcers or hemorrhoids (due to dehydration and constipation)

Ulcers can cause dangerous internal bleeding, sometimes fatal without prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Circulatory System

Chronic drinking can affect your heart and lungs, raising your risk of developing heart-related health issues.

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Alcohol Addiction and Treatment Options

When learning about alcohol use and alcohol addiction, several different terms are used to describe the nature and frequency of use. 

  • Binge Drinking: “A pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five for men—in about 2 hours.”
  • Heavy Alcohol Use: “More than four drinks on any day for men or more than three for women.”
  • Alcohol Use Disorder: “Anyone meeting any two of the 11 criteria [outlined in the DSM-V] during the same 12-month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of AUD—mild, moderate, or severe—is based on the number of criteria met.”
  • Standard Drink: “One ‘standard’ drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol”.

Alcohol Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient rehab centers offer patients a safe and confidential environment to deal with addiction problems. The minimum time for treatment is 30 days. People with more severe addictions might spend more time in rehab. An initial medical and psychological evaluation is done to determine the root causes of addiction and any co-occurring disorders. Patients immediately begin detoxing to reduce their physical alcohol dependence. After detox, therapy follows. 

Alcohol Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient or inpatient rehab programs are used to treat alcoholism. Outpatient programs are usually recommended for people who have just started developing alcohol problems but are not addicted yet. 

Medication Assisted Treatment for Alcohol

Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are the most common drugs used to treat alcohol use disorder. They do not provide a cure for the disorder but are most effective in people participating in a MAT program.

What are Some Risk Factors of Alcoholism?

  • Drinking at an early age. New findings showed that early drinking was associated with developing alcoholism. This is according to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. [1]
  • Psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, mood and personality disorder, or other mental health issues can increase the risk of alcoholism. Further, it’s easy to turn to alcohol when a person is feeling anxious or depressed.  The effects of alcohol may seem to ease those feelings temporarily. Because of this, it can resort to drinking more, leading to alcohol addiction.
  • Stressful Environments. According to the US National Library of Medicine National, environmental stress is the most potent. Some people turn to alcohol to relieve stress. [2]
what are the 3 stages of alcoholism in groups
New findings showed that early drinking was associated with developing alcoholism.
  • Family history. Risk of alcoholism increases if you have a parent or other relative who is alcoholic. Children with one parent who struggles with alcohol use disorder have 3-4 times increased risk of becoming an alcoholic. This is according to American Addiction Center. [3]
  • Taking alcohol with medicine. Some medicines can increase the toxic effects of alcohol on the body. When a person continually takes alcohol with their medications, they may become addicted to the following effects – some of which can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.

Alcohol Recovery is Possible

Alcoholism is clinically referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD). It is a common, chronic, and progressive medical condition that involves the compulsive consumption of alcohol. Not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. However, anyone whose life is negatively affected by alcohol consistently is considered to have an alcohol use disorder. Examples include failing to fulfill work, family, or social obligations due to recurrent drinking. Moreover, regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most days and weeks. If you are concerned that you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol, there are alcoholism treatment options available.

Alcohol is commonly consumed as a drink in various forms. Examples are beer, wine, and hard liquor. Alcoholism is organized into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. You could also be becoming dependent on alcohol. So, you could become psychologically dependent if you find it difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without a drink. Alcoholism treatment is necessary once there is a psychological or physiological dependence, especially when both kinds of dependency are present.

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How To Help An Alcoholic?

Alcoholic Recovery is the answer you’ve been looking for. If one of your loved ones has a significant drinking problem, you probably have a front-row seat to watch the devastation. That is also a tragedy. The fact you are reading this information is a testament to how much your care and want to see your loved one recover from their drinking problem. 

As you contemplate how to help anyone with a drinking problem, you must understand they aren’t weak in character. They aren’t morally flawed. What they are is sick with a very devious disease. Yes, addictions are classified as diseases. Even more troubling is alcoholism and other substance abuse problems aren’t curable. The best an alcoholic or drug addict can hope for is arresting their disease and rendering it dormant for the rest of their lives.

For your part, it would be a great help to accept that the person you love is sick. With all of the empathy and sympathy you can muster, that is what you will need in reserve if you want to help them.

How to Run an Effective Intervention for an Alcoholic?

As you contemplate organizing an intervention, you must understand that this is a very serious process. There isn’t any way to know how things will go. In a best-case scenario, your loved one will admit they are an alcoholic and agree to go into rehab. If things don’t go well, there could be a lot of anger and confusion that comes out of the process. 

You have three choices if you think an intervention is a right thing to do. Your choices are:
  • Organize and run the intervention yourself 
  • Ask another family member or friend to run the intervention
  • Seek help from a professional addiction treatment professional who specializes in intervention coaching

You would benefit from knowing some general intervention services and guidelines regardless of your choice.

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for an Accredited Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers in Near You?

Even if you have failed previously and relapsed, or are in the middle of a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

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Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Medical Detox Program

Medical detox or Detoxification is when an addicted person clears their body from alcohol or drugs due to substance use disorder and begins recovering from their addiction. Drug detox and rehabilitation centers help alcoholics ease and reduce withdrawal symptoms and their dangerous side effects. Detox is the first step in alcoholism treatment.

Withdrawing from alcohol on your own can be life-threatening due to severe symptoms like heart palpitations and seizures. Medical drug detox is needed because it’s a safe and effective way to withdraw from substance abuse with a lower risk of complications. Inpatient rehab and medical detox treatments are designed to treat drug and alcohol abuse and chemical dependency safely.

what are the 3 stages of alcoholism
Medical Detox or Detoxification is when an addicted person clears their body from alcohol or drugs due to substance use disorder and begins recovering from their addiction.

Did you know that our alcohol detox can help prevent and treat delirium tremens? Also, an extremely severe form of alcohol withdrawal can cause body tremors, hallucinations, and seizures.

Other benefits of alcoholism treatment with medical detox include:

  • Receive 24/7 medical care and support.
  • Recovery away from access to drugs and alcohol.
  • Receive medications that eliminate or reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Reduced risk for relapse, overdose, and death.
  • Recovery without having to juggle work, school, and family responsibilities.
  • Improve your physical and mental health.

3 Stages of Addiction Treatment Plans

Our in-house medical team will design your treatment program to support long-term recovery using cutting-edge methods in a serene residential rehab setting for different levels of care. Above all, you’ll find a luxury healing setting that offers advanced programs to address your personal needs. Alcoholism treatment does not need to be uncomfortable. You should not have to be in a box. We address that issue.

Levels of Care:

Alcohol Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient alcohol rehab is one of the most common ways to treat an AUD. It involves checking into a rehab facility and staying there for the duration of your treatment. You will have access to medical professionals and other specialists 24 hours a day, allowing you to rest easy knowing help is always available. Additionally, inpatient rehab programs have a schedule consisting of breakfast in the morning and therapies, counseling sessions, and activities for the remainder of the day.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol

Seeking professional treatment for alcohol addiction is imperative. Quitting alcohol without medical intervention can lead to severe withdrawal seizures and death. Treatment initially aims to ease the withdrawal symptoms by close monitoring and prescribing a slow taper of medications, formally known as medication-assisted therapy (MAT). Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol consists of a combination of medications that works to alleviate the withdrawal effects so the recovery journey can go as smoothly as possible. 

Receive the Best Alcohol Addiction Treatment at We Level Up

Alcohol withdrawal can be excruciating, anxiety-ridden, and even life-threatening. Therefore, the combination of medically assisted treatment for alcohol and psychotherapy is known to be the most successful in treating alcohol use disorder. Effective MAT for alcohol dependence has been shown with the FDA-approved medications Naltrexone (ReVia, Depade), Naltrexone for Extended-Release Injectable Suspension (VIVITROL), Disulfiram (Antabuse), and Acamprosate Calcium (Campral). 

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[1] ‘MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions’ – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (
[2] Lee, J., Kresina, T. F., Campopiano, M., Lubran, R., & Clark, H. W. (2015). Pharmacotherapies treat alcohol use disorders and opioid dependence in primary care. BioMed research international, 2015, 137020. – U.S. National Library of Medicine (
[3] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Harmful interactions: Mixing alcohol with medicines

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