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alcoholic man drinking alone

The 4 Stages of Alcoholism

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with alcohol disorders. The troubling part of this information is that many of these people are actually unaware that they even have any sort of problem. Alcohol abuse is a disorder that is gradual, not something that happens instantly, and in our society, frequent and heavy drinking is some sort of right of passage that many people feel they must be a part of.

But when does social drinking become abusive? How much is too much? In a society that glorifies intoxication, what are the signs that someone has gone too far? Many of us think of alcoholics as old people, or homeless folk living beneath highway underpasses. However, over the last fifty years or so, we have started to see such a huge influx of young people with addiction and substance abuse issues, that maybe it is time we reevaluate what actually defines an alcoholic, and discuss the four stages of alcoholism.

Being aware of the symptoms and signs of each stage of alcoholism can help anyone to seek help prior to their dependence becoming a real issue, the only thing that usually holds someone back is lack of knowledge that they are even on an alcoholic path.

The Fun Stage:

Usually occurring during most people teenage and early 20’s, this is when someone is just discovering the joys and fun that can come with drinking. While there may be consequences, whether it be from parents or brutal hangovers, the fun still usually outweighs any negative things that come from it, especially for a budding alcoholic.

Drinking at this early stage is about the time that many people are just trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the stream of life, and drinking can help break down those self-confidence issues and help them to feel a part of the crowd. Which can also turn into being a crutch for many people.

The Overindulging Stage:

Following and sometimes blending into the fun stage, the overindulging stage is characterized by getting drunk at times when it might not be appropriate. I am not talking about on weekends with friends, but I mean on a weeknight when there is school or work early the next morning. When the person probably shouldn’t have a drink but they see no reason why “one won’t be a problem” and then proceed to drink the rest of the bottle of wine or the whole six pack.

This early sign of being unable to say no despite any possible consequence or indication that it may not be too wise is a warning of a possible mental dependence or obsession to drink. Oftentimes, this is when the excuse of stress comes into play. “I had a hard day at work, I deserve to drink” or “My kids/parents were driving me crazy today, I deserve a drink.” In the rooms of AA, we call the stage of Alcoholism, “drinking AT someone” where we use blame on others, obligations, or moods as a good reason to drink. In other words, validating and rationalizing our behavior.

shot of whiskey

The Physical Dependance Stage:

There are two facets to alcoholism: dependence and addiction. There is always a possibility for an alcoholic to be dependent on alcohol, yet not addicted to drinking. After the problem drinking stage is when dependence forms. At this juncture, this is when you have an attachment to alcohol which has taken control of your normal ritual. You may be aware of the adverse effects, but have no control over your consumption of alcohol. With withdrawal, you will sober up and feel detrimental symptoms like nausea, body tremors, severe irritability, and sweating.

This is when someone who has been doing a lot of heavy drinking begins to see the physical effects of their behavior. AKA, waking up with the shakes, frequent migraines, irritability, inability to eat unless having some drinks, At this stage, a person now MUST drink in order to feel healthy and okay enough to get through the day. When people talk about drinking on their way to work, this is often why. The alcohol addiction has become severe enough that it has begun to wreak havoc on the body, and the only way to counteract the negative effects is to drink more.

The Oblivion Stage:

Occurring in every alcoholic when they have passed through the previous three stages of drinking, is the oblivion stage. This usually occurs when the person no longer drinks for fun, but they drink to completely avoid their life. When they can no longer function without alcohol, despite a possible desire to not want to have to drink anymore. They drink because it is their only escape at this point. They drink because they feel hopeless, they drink because it is the only thing that allows them to not feel.

This is the darkest and lowest point of every alcoholics drinking career. It is usually coupled with severe external consequences ranging from the loss of family members and friends, the inability to hold a job, or just complete and utter depression and emotional turmoil. This is when a person drinks specifically to black out. To escape everything. Although this seems like the lowest any person can get, it is actually sometimes a good thing, because this, for many alcoholics, is what we like to call Rock Bottom.

This is usually the stage where a person makes the decision to actually want to do something about their drinking and get help. Those of us who have hit rock bottom and have lived to tell the tale are positive when we say that no true alcoholic will ever be able to recover without first hitting their own personal rock bottom. It is the last stage of alcoholism, and it is different for every alcoholic. It could be the physical breakdown of the body or the emotional low point that eventually gives way to thoughts of suicide. Whatever it is, this is the make or breaking point of every alcoholic. They will either give p, or choose to make a change.

In Need of Detox?

It can be intimidating to know that addiction and alcoholism are always right around the corner. Sometimes getting that little push and having medical guidance can be what it takes. Relapse and active addiction/alcoholism are only as preventable as much as we value the sobriety we hold in our hands. If you or a loved one has been struggling with getting a firm grasp on sobriety and need detoxification, please call 800-982-5530 or visit Our teams of specialists are waiting by to help figure out what options are best for sending your life is a comfortable direction that you can proudly stand behind.