November 10, 2007
What Are the Alcoholism Stages?
Almost everyone knows about the twelve steps to recovery from alcoholism. But what are the stages someone goes through on the way to alcoholism?
Alcohol addiction stages are generally defined as early, middle, and late. These three stages, however, are very broadly defined and are going to look a little different in each alcoholic. One person may never move past the early stages, while another may zoom through the early and middle stages like a rocket and land squarely in the late stage.
In the early stage of alcoholism, the drinker may not consciously admit he or she has a problem, but realizes there’s some sort of social opposition to the alcohol consumption. At this stage the alcoholic begins to drink alone, sneak drinks, feel guilty about drinking, and avoid or refuse to talk about drinking.
Beyond that, the second or middle stage of alcoholism includes such symptoms as trying and failing to reduce drinking or quit altogether. At this point the drinking has gotten to the point where there is almost always an impact on the family. The alcoholic may fight with spouse, parents, or children. There may be issues at work like increased use of sick leave, tardiness, or absenteeism. Legal troubles may surface here. A DUI arrest is not uncommon for someone in the second stage of alcoholism.
Especially for the binge alcoholic, who can go a long time between drinking periods, there is remorse after a binge. The middle stage of alcoholism is usually where blackouts and memory loss first occur. The alcoholic also becomes much better at rationalizing the drinking activity.
If the alcoholic reaches the third, final or "late" stage, the alcoholism is having a severe impact on his or her life. The body has absorbed so much alcohol over such a long period of time that the person has a very high tolerance for alcohol. A woman in Washington State was arrested for DUI in April of 2007 with a stunning blood-alcohol level of .47. Almost half her blood was alcohol!
This level of alcohol actually indicates alcohol poisoning, and many other people would have been dead long before they reached .47. This woman’s tolerance was so high that not only was she still breathing, she thought she could drive a car. The police officer disagreed with her.
Someone in late stage alcoholism will almost certainly have blackout periods and/or memory loss. The alcohol has permeated the brain and is changing it. Liver diseases like fatty liver or cirrhosis are probably present and the person’s health has definitely declined by this point. It is absolutely critical at this point that the alcoholic either seek help on his or her own, or have an intervention.
One other interesting fact that has recently come to light: women, almost without exception, pass through these stages faster than their male counterparts. Women’s bodies generally have less water than a similar-sized male’s. Alcohol in the bloodstream mixes with water, but since there is less water in a women’s body, that makes the alcohol more potent.
Anyone, male or female, who has entered any stage of alcohol dependency should seek help immediately. Alcoholism affects not only the drinker, but his or her family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who may encounter the impaired driver out on the road. Perhaps the fourth stage of alcoholism should be recovery.