From Leisure to Lifestyle: Stages of Alcoholism

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While there are many types of alcoholics, there’s only one type of alcoholism. Even with all the factors that could make an individual unique, the downward spiral of becoming a bona fide alcoholic follows the same path, doomed for the same outcome if not halted: death.

Alcoholism is a progression, a disease unnoticed by many in the beginning when times are full of parties, socializing, and wild adventures. A person doesn’t just wake up one day and becomes an alcoholic—although, it might certainly feel like it when a person realizes how far along the path of alcohol addiction they’ve gone.

With each stage they enter, the more of a problem their drinking becomes, but if an alcoholic can realize their situation, things can turn around. If you recognize yourself in one of the stages below, perhaps it’s time you reconsider your lifestyle. Is drinking a time of fun and freedom anymore? Or has your life become as empty as all the liquor bottles around you?

Stage 1 – Binge Drinking and Increased Tolerance

In the beginning, alcohol is like a powerful elixir, giving the alcoholic strength and vitality. When you’re young and surrounded by your peers, you might think drinking is a rite of passage—a way to loosen the nerves as you party all night long, meet new people, and make memories you’ll look back at fondly. It’s not uncommon to hear of college parties getting a little wild and people drinking the night away as they experience alcohol for the first time, but for the young alcoholic, drinking goes beyond an occasional party between studies.

Binge drinking becomes a lifestyle. Every weekend is dedicated to drinking as much beer and liquor as possible, every party means getting black-out drunk, every shot glass means a challenge for the alcoholic to drink more. As the alcoholic continues to binge drink, their tolerance levels raise and might mislead them to believe that they’re incredibly high functioning on alcohol. Some alcoholics during this stage don’t even realize they have a problem because of the fact that their performance is manageable while heavily intoxicated. They can walk in a straight line, they can speak well, and they might even be able to drive—but this is all an illusion. Their skills can drastically go down when not drinking, indicating the tolerance levels the body has built up and that there’s only trouble in store.

Stage 2 – Problem Drinking

Even for those who engage in binge drinking during college (or even high school), they tend to stop once they’ve graduated and have to enter the workforce and uphold decent lives. The late-twenties alcoholic, however, doesn’t give up on the habit and instead makes it progressively worse.

More and more alcohol is needed to achieve the same desired effect of feeling a nice buzz, and the “need” to feel drunk becomes skewed as life becomes more stressful. Originally, the alcoholic got drunk for the sake of it—because why else would you drink?—and feeling tipsy was more carefree, but now drinking becomes a coping mechanism. The alcoholic drinks to get away from it all, to get over “a hard day,” to relax.

Drinking is no longer about socializing with friends, who by now might make the alcoholic uncomfortable by mentioning their drinking. Relationships start to get rocky as the alcoholic begins to choose alcohol as a priority and gets defensive about their drinking, even going as far to hide their habits as best as possible so they can drink alone or with other alcoholics who won’t question their choices.

Stage 3 – Physical Dependence

By this stage, drinking has established itself as a routine in the alcoholic’s day, to the point of developing a physical dependence on alcohol. They might start drinking in the morning before work, during the day, every day after work, every evening—or all the day long. Any form of moderation is thrown out of the window once they take their first sip. This is beyond the alcoholic’s choice. Whether or not they want to binge drink is irrelevant since by the point, they have no sense of control on their drinking.

During this stage, an alcoholic might try to force periods of abstinence on them as they begin to notice their physical dependence on drinking, but if trying to break the habit on their own, they’ll repeatedly fail. This is because withdrawal symptoms begin to occur when they’re not drinking, such as quivering in the morning (“the shakes”) or feeling sudden bursts of dread without seeming cause.

The craving for alcohol grows stronger as tolerance levels decrease. No longer do alcoholics feel powerful when drunk. Instead, their mental control gets weaker as they become more prone to anger, depression, violence/rowdiness, and unsafe sex.

Stage 4 – Legal Problems and Fall-Outs

This stage encompasses all the various bottoms an alcoholic can reach before they realize there is a problem. Sometimes the fact that the alcoholic can still uphold a job, feed their family, and maintain their lifestyle deludes the reality of their addiction. Sure, they might be able to do the bare minimum to “function” as an adult, but are they really living? Are they playing an active role in their lives, their families, and their work?

At this point, legal issues begin to roll in as their drinking becomes a larger problem, outside of the alcoholic’s personal consequences. They start to get DUIs and other drunk-related arrests, like fighting in a bar and becoming belligerent. They could get fired from their job for showing up to work intoxicated. They could accidentally kill someone from drunk driving. Reality is hitting hard as lawful punishments come their way.

Relationships that were shaky have now completely fallen apart. Trust is no longer there as spouses and children can no longer rely on the alcoholic on improving their lives and getting their act together. Families might abandon or be pushed away from the negativity stemming from the alcoholism, leaving the alcoholic isolated in their misery. This then causes extreme levels of depression and anger, which rolls into the vicious cycle of self-medicating by alcoholism. Now, alcoholics regard their vice as “their only friend,” the only constant in their life, and are susceptible to the slippery slope of no return.

Stage 5 – Deterioration

In the late stages of alcoholism, physical consequences manifest from daily alcohol intake. Some effects are irreversible, such as liver disease. To quit drinking by this point would require intensive detoxification at a rehabilitation center under the supervision of medical professionals, but it still wouldn’t be too late if they’re still alive.

In this stage, alcoholics have worn their bodies out, giving in to various liver diseases, heart diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, and malnutrition. Because of the weakened state of their liver from excessive alcohol intake, their bodies can no longer take in the nutrients needed to function well. This can affect both physical and mental health, as well as lower their body’s resistance to other diseases to drastically low levels.

Their alcohol tolerance levels go down, sometimes drastically, allowing the abuser to become highly perceptible to alcohol poisoning. If by this point the alcoholic does not attempt to stop drinking, they can overdose on alcohol and die.

Until an alcohol dies however, it is never too late to stop drinking, even when it looks like you’ve gone off the deep end. Even if you end up in the hospital for alcohol poisoning, it still isn’t too late if you wake up and realize it’s time to quit. Alcohol is a toxin that can seduce many into thinking they have control, but the real control is recognizing the effects alcohol has on you and walking away. Drinking may have been fun once, but at some point, you might have to give in and switch your lifestyle. Begin a new stage.


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