sun kentucky

24 Hour Crisis Care

Stages of Alcoholism

Stages of Alcoholism

Over 13% of adults in Kentucky admit to drinking excessively. When does this sort of drinking lead to alcoholism? Just like how a caffeine addiction doesn’t come from a single cup of coffee,  someone doesn’t develop alcoholism after having a single beer. What does the journey from someone’s first drink to an alcohol use disorder look like? Are there stages of alcoholism? We’ve found that there are, and knowing more about what each stage looks like can help you better identify what might be going on within your own life.

At SUN Behavioral Health in Kentucky, we want to assist everyone within our community. We believe one of the best ways to do this is by offering educational, easy-to-access resources to help people make informed choices about their heal th. Today, we’re going to break down the progression of an alcohol use disorder and what this can mean for someone over time.

The Four Main Stages of Alcoholism

Someone being classified as having an alcohol use disorder doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve found there are usually four different stages in someone’s journey when it comes to alcoholism. Let’s break them down into four parts.

The Pre-Alcoholic Stage

While one drink won’t make someone an alcoholic, every journey does start with the first step. Those who start drinking at a younger age are statistically more likely to have higher alcohol consumption later in life. In Kentucky alone, almost 20% of people under 20 have reported drinking alcohol within the past month.

During this first stage of the journey, many people are new to alcohol. With inexperience comes experimentation as they try to find what drinks they prefer most. Because of this, some may try multiple drinks within one evening, which can be the start of a habit of binge drinking as they get used to consuming a certain amount of alcohol in one sitting. Developing habits like this, or choosing to continue drinking after finding drinks you like can lead to the next stage.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

At this stage, alcohol consumption, even if on a casual basis, has become normalized within a person’s life. When this happens, alcohol can sometimes be seen as an escape, or even a coping mechanism in response to high stress, anxiety, untreated mental health issues, and more. 

Conditions like these can lead to further binge drinking, or daily drinking, in order to manage what’s occurring in someone’s life. During this stage, people might start to show the beginning signs of alcoholism, such as cutting out activities they used to enjoy. Their lives can start to be dictated by wanting to drink or be taken up by them having to manage the after-effects of drinking.

The Middle Alcoholic Stage

Even though this is the “middle” stage, it’s considered to be the peak in regard to alcohol use disorder. Many of the primary symptoms of alcoholism start to become obvious during this stage. Some of these symptoms include:

  • The majority of your time is spent drinking or dealing with the aftermath of drinking
  • Drinking for long portions of time or having more drinks than you would normally want to
  • Having intense cravings or constant thoughts of drinking
  • Halting activities you used to love in order to drink
  • Needing to drink more alcohol in order to feel the effects you desire
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drunk on a frequent basis, such as drinking and driving, having unsafe sex, or making unsafe choices
  • Being unable to drink less or stop drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you aren’t drinking 

It’s during this stage that the first, potentially major ramifications of drinking start to occur. This can include things like job loss or ruining relationships due to alcohol consumption. The regular consumption of alcohol can start to take a toll on your physical and mental health during this stage, leading to things like depression or anxiety. It can also impact the desire to care for yourself, leading to poor hygiene which can impact mental health and other aspects of your life as well.

End-Stage Alcoholism

This stage is known as the “end” stage as this is when many people start to notice their lack of control over their alcohol consumption and start to become concerned by it. This could be due to a significant incident caused by their drinking, like a breakup or a car accident. You do not need to worry, however. This might be called “end-stage”, but it doesn’t mean your life is over. You can recover from any stage of alcoholism, even this one, with the right help and treatment. 

Many people at this stage have been drinking for a long period. This level of long-term alcohol consumption can start to negatively impact vital organs throughout your body. While many of these conditions can be healed alongside treatment for alcohol use disorder, that doesn’t make them any less impactful. 

Alcohol consumption impacts your digestive system, liver, pancreas, bones, and even brain. It can lead to an increased risk of stroke, infections, and even cancer throughout many parts of your body. Here are just a few of the conditions that can develop from alcohol consumption.

  • Cirrhosis - caused by continuous damage to the liver, can lead to inflammation, visible swelling of the liver, and even liver failure.
  • Gut leakiness - caused by damage to the intestinal lining, this can lead to inflammation and problems properly digesting your food.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia - this occurs due to damage to the heart from regular alcohol content within your blood. This leads to an irregular or slow heartbeat which can cause chest pain, fainting, and dizziness. 
  • Myopathy - heavy drinking can break down your muscle tissues, leading to loss of function and strength in your muscles.

There are other risks that can come from late-stage alcoholism, like withdrawal. Withdrawal from alcohol can start as soon as 6 hours after your last drink and tends to be the most severe for the first 72 hours. Many symptoms will subside after that, though some may stick around for longer without proper treatment. Some of the risks of withdrawal include tremors, hallucinations, and seizures.

What Are Some Signs Your Drinking is a “Problem?”

When alcohol starts to impact not just you, but those around you, it might be time to start thinking about if this is the path you want your life to be on. Is drinking worth losing a job, friends, or even a loved one? If you’re unable to stop drinking on your own, looking into treatment for alcohol use disorder might be a good option for you.

When Should Your Drinking Concern You?

Having a drink or two shouldn’t be something to be concerned about. However, if you’re drinking often in response to stress, depression, or other outside factors, this might be a time to start keeping an eye on it. If you find yourself craving drinks or thinking about them whenever you’re not drinking, or you’re unable to stop yourself from drinking even if you want to, these are signs that you might want to be concerned about. This is where SUN comes in. We can help you stop drinking and work through the side effects that can come with it in a safe and effective way.

Strategies for Dealing with a Loved One’s Drinking

If you’re reading this blog and it’s making you think of someone important in your life, don’t worry. Help and recovery are always possible. Before approaching them, make sure you go into it open-minded and judgment-free. Remind them that you love them, care about them, and want to better understand what they’re experiencing and thinking. Offer support, like helping them schedule their first appointments, or offer to assist them in any exercises they may need to continue at home during recovery.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you or a loved one is interested in starting the recovery journey from alcohol use disorder, SUN Behavioral Health is here and ready to help. We offer every step of the process, from detox and withdrawal services to inpatient and outpatient treatment options. 

If you have any questions about our treatment options, alcohol use disorder in general, or anything else, don’t hesitate to give us a call today at 859-429-5188. We’re here and ready to help.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is noted by the inability to stop drinking, being impacted by drinking most of your day, and needing to drink more in order to feel the same effects. 

Why should we be concerned about AUD and alcohol addiction?

Alcohol use disorder/alcohol addiction will greatly impact your body and mind over time, leading to an increased risk of strokes, liver failure, digestive problems, and even cancer. 

How to help a loved one with alcoholism?

Be supportive, open-minded, and judgment-free. Remind them you love them and are here for them when they need it.

Get Help Today!

  • sun kentucky
  • lobby
  • computers

SUN Behavioral Kentucky

820 Dolwick Drive
Erlanger, Kentucky 41018

Hours of Operation:

Open 24 hours

google logoSUN KentuckySUN Kentucky
2.8 Stars - Based on 245 User Reviews
joint commission

Other Locations

Contact Info