The Four Stages of Alcoholism

Learn about the four stages of alcoholism and its signs and symptoms.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a slowly progressing problem that manifests for weeks, months, or even years. Alcohol isn’t like other drugs that you take a single time and immediately become addicted to. However, alcoholism can be just as detrimental and deadly as opioids when it fully develops. The main difference is that it takes longer to take its full effect.

Alcoholism is when you become physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol to the point that it interferes with your daily life.1 According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around 17 million Americans suffer from some degree of alcoholism.

If you find that you can no longer control your urges to consume alcohol or that you have trouble functioning without it, there’s a good chance that you struggle with alcoholism. There are different degrees of alcoholism, ranging from mild to severe. As mentioned before, alcoholism is a slowly progressing problem, but it can spiral out of control and take over your life if left untreated.

Stages of Alcoholism


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Causes of Alcoholism

The exact biological and psychological causes of alcoholism aren’t fully known. However, we know that alcohol is a drug that causes chemical changes in the brain. These changes cause the brain to experience pleasure when enough alcohol is consumed. Eventually, alcoholism turns into dependency to the point of consuming it even if it damages the body.2

Who Is Considered an Alcoholic Drinker?

Because the stages of alcoholism and the degree to which people abuse it vary broadly, it’s not always easy to tell who’s an alcoholic. Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, but if you answer ‘Yes’ to one or more of these questions, you’re at risk of being an alcoholic.3

  • Do you need to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol?
  • Do you feel guilty about drinking?
  • Do you become irritable or violent when you’re drinking?
  • Do you have problems at school or work because of drinking?
  • Do you think it might be better if you cut back on your drinking?

Potential Predictors of Alcohol Use Disorders

While no one is exempt from potential alcoholism, a few predictors increase the odds.


As we age, our bodies change. Muscle is replaced by fat, and our blood concentration level gets lower. This means that older people cannot handle the same amount of alcohol as when they were younger. If drinkers cannot adapt as they age, they’re at a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.4


It’s not a coincidence that alcohol use disorder often seems to run in the family. In fact, genes are responsible for nearly 50% of the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. If one of your parents was an alcoholic, you’re more likely to develop the same problem, but not guaranteed.5


Simply put, if you’re in an environment where alcoholism is accepted and isn’t viewed as a problem, you’re more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Environments where alcohol is readily available, heavily marketed, and not viewed as a potential problem are ripe for alcoholism.6

The Four Stages of Alcoholism

Let’s take a look at the four stages of alcoholism so that you can be on the lookout for potential problems.

Pre-Alcoholic Stage

There are few indicators during this stage of alcoholism. It’s often the stage where drinkers are experimenting with alcohol and testing their capabilities. Drinking is occasional and often only social.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

During this stage, the user starts drinking more often and more heavily. People also start to find excuses to drink, such as social gatherings and celebrations.

Middle Alcoholic Phase

The middle stage is where alcohol starts to affect your relationships and daily activities. Some may even start the morning with alcohol during this stage of alcoholism. This stage is when alcohol is consumed to the point of causing physical and mental damage.

End-Stage Alcoholism

The end or late stage of alcoholism is when the body becomes completely dependent on alcohol. You feel like you can’t function and consume without a second thought for your health or relationships.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

  • Drinking more than intended
  • Failing to fulfill obligations
  • Becoming socially isolated
  • Becoming dishonest or secretive
  • Craving alcohol

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

  • Rapid weight gains or loss
  • Slow or staggering walk
  • Glazed or red eyes
  • Low or no energy
  • Depressed or anxious

Long-Term Health Problems

  • Cancer
  • Brain damage
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Pancreatitis

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Drinking?

Enjoying the occasional alcoholic beverage isn’t cause for concern. When you start drinking every day or binge drinking, worry should begin. You should ask yourself the questions listed above.

Who Is Most Likely to Struggle with Alcoholism?

Everyone is at risk of potentially struggling with alcoholism. Age, genetics, and environment play the biggest factors in potential alcoholism, but they aren’t limited. Personal struggles, hard times, tragedy, a painful injury, and your circumstances also put you at higher risk for turning to alcohol to ease your physical or emotional pain.

When Should You Seek Help?

Stages of Alcoholism

You should seek help for alcoholism as soon as you feel like you have a problem or if those around you are concerned for you. Treating alcoholism in the early to middle stages is much easier than in the late stage.

No matter what stage of alcoholism you feel you are trapped in, help and recovery are always possible. The early stages are easier to treat, but the late stage is still treatable, especially when you turn to Concise Recovery.

Overcome Alcoholism with Concise Recovery

Concise Recovery uses evidence-based and holistic treatment to help you overcome alcoholism. We emphasize community-based treatment because social support is a huge part of recovery. We offer residential treatment, outpatient treatment, and detoxification treatment to those in need. No matter what stage of alcoholism you are in, Concise Recovery is here to help.

You do not have to face alcoholism alone. Reach out to our staff at Concise Recovery today and learn what we can do to help you achieve lasting recovery.