Understanding the Different Stages of Alcoholism

Is alcoholism a disease? What are the alcoholism stages? Read on to learn more about how alcoholism develops and available treatment options.


Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder or AUD, is an alcohol addiction. It is the inability to control one’s alcohol consumption due to physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. Alcoholism is a disorder in which a person has an unhealthy obsession with alcohol.

Alcoholism means an individual cannot control their craving even if it harms their health. They always feel the intense need to drink in large amounts to satisfy cravings and have withdrawal symptoms after stopping alcohol use. Alcoholism causes changes in the brain and body, making it difficult to stop drinking. Alcohol is the most used addictive substance in the United States. According to statistics, alcoholism affects 17.6 million people or one out of every twelve adults.1

Continue reading to learn about the varying alcoholism stages and what they entail.

Alcoholism Stages

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

The simple answer to that complicated question is: Yes, alcoholism is a disease. Since 1956, the American Medical Association has recognized alcoholism as a disease. Other professional organizations, such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the WHO, recognize alcoholism as a chronic disease. Alcoholism is a disease due to genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Like all diseases, alcoholism can be diagnosed and treated but not cured. Relapse is possible even after treatment.

Is Alcoholism Progressive?

Yes, alcoholism is a progressive disease. The progressive nature of alcoholism is why it is a chronic disease. When left untreated, alcohol use disorder can get worse over time. In the early stages of alcoholism, individuals may not yet be dependent on alcohol. As the disorder progresses, they may experience severe physical and psychological consequences of drinking.

As alcoholism stages progress, individuals may develop a higher tolerance to alcohol. It requires them to consume more to achieve the same effects. This can result in more frequent and heavy drinking.

Not every alcoholic will experience the same progression. For some, their progression may be rapid, while others may be gradual. The rate of progression may be influenced by genetics and environment.

How Does Alcoholism Develop?

People who are addicted to alcohol did not begin drinking with the intent of developing a substance use disorder. Drinking for them may start in small quantities and then progress to addiction. Alcoholism is a disorder that develops due to genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Listed below are ways alcoholism stages may develop in a person:2

  • Genetics: research shows a link between alcoholism and genetics. Persons with a family history of alcoholism are at a higher risk of having alcohol use disorder.
  • Environment: environmental factors like stress and exposure to alcohol can increase the risk of alcoholism. For example, a person’s proximity to alcohol stores can influence a person’s drinking choices. People who live closer to alcohol establishments may have a more positive outlook on drinking. Also, TV commercials that display drinking as acceptable may influence alcoholism.
  • Psychology: various psychological factors may increase the likelihood of binge drinking. It influences the way they cope with events that happen to them. Anxiety and depression may also make people more vulnerable to developing alcoholism. They may use alcohol to suppress emotions and cope.

Alcoholism Stages

Depending on the individual, alcoholism stages progress at different rates. There are different alcoholism stages, and they are:3

Pre-Alcoholic Stage

This is the initial part of the alcoholism stages. At this stage, a person may drink to destress or socialize with friends. They do not have a physical or mental dependence on alcohol. If they continue, they may develop a tolerance to alcohol.

During this stage, a person may not exhibit any symptoms or signs of alcoholism, and drinking may not cause significant problems. If they continue to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, they may progress to the other alcoholism stages.

Early Stage

This is the second of the alcoholism stages. In this stage, a person may drink more often to cope with stress. They may start to blackout from excessive drinking. Their craving for alcohol increases, and they may be unable to control their drinking. They may begin to drink more or in more significant amounts to achieve the same level of intoxication. If left untreated, the early alcoholism stages can progress to the other alcoholism stages.

Middle Stage

In this part of all the alcoholism stages, a person’s dependence on alcohol increases. They have less control over their drinking habits. They may also experience blackouts or memory loss due to their drinking. Their relationships or work may begin to suffer. At this stage, it also becomes difficult to stop drinking despite the consequences. A person’s physical and mental health may suffer at this alcoholism stage. When they try to stop drinking, they have serious withdrawal symptoms.

Late Stage

This is the final of the alcoholism stages. It is the most severe stage of the disorder. A person’s dependence increases, and it is difficult to stop drinking. In the late stage of alcoholism, an individual may experience liver damage or other serious health complications. They may also experience mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, and difficulty functioning daily.

Alcoholism Stages

Types of Treatment Available for Alcoholism

Alcoholism treatment can vary depending on the individual’s needs and alcoholism stages. The most effective alcoholism treatments combine medical, behavioral, and supportive interventions. Treatment available for alcohol use includes the following:4

  • Medication: medication helps to manage withdrawal symptoms. It also helps reduce cravings for alcohol or prevent relapse. Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram are some of the most used alcoholism medications.
  • Behavioral Therapy: another name for behavioral therapy is alcohol counseling. It involves working with professionals to identify and change alcoholic behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing are often used to help individuals. It helps them develop coping skills and address underlying issues contributing to their addiction. These therapies may happen in an individual or group setting.
  • Support Groups: self-help groups and peer support programs can also be helpful for individuals recovering from alcoholism. These programs provide a supportive community of individuals who understand the challenges of addiction and can offer encouragement and accountability.

Benefits of Seeking Help in the Earlier Alcoholism Stages

People often believe that only severe cases of addiction need treatment. As a result, many people do not seek treatment until their alcoholism has affected their health and well-being. Early intervention before alcohol use becomes an addiction is the best way to combat the disorder. Seeking help at early alcoholism stages can benefit an individual’s health and well-being. Some benefits of seeking early help for alcoholism include:

  • Improved Physical Health: alcohol addiction can cause damage to the liver, heart, and other organs. Seeking help early can reduce the risk of health complications and improve physical health.
  • Better Mental Health: alcoholism can harm mental health. It can cause mental issues like depression or anxiety. Seeking help early can improve mental health outcomes and reduce the risk of having these conditions.
  • Increased Chances of Recovery: the earlier an individual seeks help for alcoholism, the greater their chances of recovery. Early intervention can prevent the addiction from worsening, making it easier to overcome.
  • Better Relationships: alcoholism can strain relationships with loved ones and lead to social isolation. Seeking help early can improve relationships and reduce the impact of alcoholism on social and family life.
  • Improved Quality of Life: seeking early help can improve physical and mental health, better relationships, and quality of life. It can help individuals regain control of their lives and achieve personal and professional goals.

Recovering from Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the compulsive consumption of alcohol despite its negative consequences on a person’s health, relationships, and daily life. The stages of alcoholism are divided into three main categories: early, middle, and late. Alcoholism treatment involves a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups. Early treatment helps increase recovery longevity and success.

Get Treatment for Alcoholism at Essence Healthcare Facility

Understanding the different alcoholism stages makes it easy to know when alcohol use becomes problematic. It also makes it easy to determine when to seek treatment. Seeking professional help for alcohol use disorder can aid recovery and prevent relapse.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, contact Essence Healthcare for help. We will curate a personalized treatment plan that fits your unique needs and circumstances and help you achieve and maintain sobriety. Your recovery is our utmost priority.

Table of Contents

Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.