Alcoholism is a disease which affects a staggering one in eight people. It is a serious ailment that affects the function and structure of the brain. Learn about the 3 stages of alcoholism, including the symptoms of each and when to get help.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 7.2 percent of American adults 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This measure represents a staggering 17 million people. Alcohol affects men almost twice as much as women. Approximately 855,000 adolescents between the ages of twelve to seventeen years of age had the disorder.
The American Psychiatric Association has organized the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This critical tool helps clinicians to diagnose a variety of mental health disorders, including alcohol use disorder. Using a set of eleven factors, mental health professionals can make an informed diagnosis. The factors include cravings and withdrawal symptoms, intent, anxiety, risk-taking, tolerance, and other vital indicators.
If you have experienced at least two of the eleven symptoms recently, then you may have alcohol use disorder. If only two or three symptoms are present, you may have mild alcohol use disorder. Professionals consider the presence of four to five symptoms to be moderate, while six or more symptoms are considered severe. Alcoholism is a disease that experts often divide into three separate stages which we detail in the following paragraphs.
3 Stages of Alcoholism: Early-Stage Alcoholism
In stage one of the 3 stages of alcoholism, you will acquire a higher tolerance for alcohol. You will become more focused on drinking as this stage progresses. Even if family members show concern, you will likely have trouble believing that there is an issue and disregard any red flags.
In this stage, the brain’s reward system will need increasing levels of alcohol for activation, and the brain is rewired to have more tolerance as drinking levels increase. This fundamental change in brain structure will cause you to consume more alcohol on average.
Many times, such individuals are high school or college students. They might not have been regular drinkers, but now place themselves at risk for developing alcohol use disorder. The new alcohol users may show zero to two of the eleven symptoms of the DSM-5.
Binge drinking is another common occurrence among young people. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater within two hours. The number of drinks that must be consumed to be classified as binge drinking depends on body weight and gender. To reach this BAC, women only require four drinks. For a man, it would be closer to five drinks in two hours.
Many individuals have trouble determining how much alcohol is in one “drink.” This confusion may result in binge drinking. A drink, or alcoholic drink-equivalent, contains 14 grams or 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. Another important consideration is the percentage of alcohol in different types of beverages. Beer has 5% alcohol. Table wine has 12% alcohol. 80-proof distilled spirits have 40% alcohol. This disparity means that these beverages will contain different volumes for one “drink.”
To put this in perspective, twelve ounces of beer and a 1.5 ounce shot both constitute one drink. It may be useful for you to check the label on the container to determine alcohol content, though not all beverages may be required to list this information.
It is important to know that some binge drinkers will not become alcohol dependent. Those who drink daily may be predisposed to developing the disorder. Children of those with an alcohol use disorder are four times more likely to develop the disease themselves.
Additionally, a person’s home life can increase the likelihood of the disorder. If a parent has abused alcohol or other drugs or if there is violence or conflict within the family, there is a greater risk. Some people with AUD may already have an existing mental health disorder. They may become more frequent drinkers because it seems to ease some of their symptoms.
Regardless of these factors, the number of drinks consumed puts you at risk for alcohol use disorder. If you drink more than three to four drinks per day, you are putting yourself at risk.
3 Stages of Alcoholism: Middle-Stage Alcoholism
The second stage is known as Middle-Stage Alcoholism. In this stage, alcohol abuse is more problematic. Moderate use of alcohol may create an emotional or psychological attachment to drinking, thus placing you at a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder.
In this stage, you are significantly more affected by alcohol abuse. You may become disinterested in daily activities that you once enjoyed. You may continue drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The manifestation of withdrawal symptoms marks the beginning of the withdrawal-negative-affect stage, where you may experience negative consequences on a more potent level. The withdrawal symptoms are more evident when alcohol use is discontinued. This may drive further drinking. There is a loss of control over one’s alcohol intake. These users may show three to five of the eleven symptoms of the DSM-5.
You may or may not be physically dependent on alcohol yet. If a person repeatedly relies on drinking to have a good time, they may eventually develop an alcohol use disorder. If you become dependent on alcohol, it will be hard to stop drinking due to alcohol dependence.
Many professionals believe that it is not a good idea to perform an at-home detoxification program. It would be better to talk with a professional about the best course of action, as they have experience in treating individuals such as yourself. It might be necessary to have a prescribed medical detoxification program.
3 Stages of Alcoholism: End-Stage Alcoholism
This third stage occurs after years of abuse. It is characterized by extreme cravings and loss of control. A person in this stage may be left feeling powerless and experience painful withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms may severely inhibit one’s ability to perform daily tasks.
Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Shaky hands
- Nausea or vomiting
A severe reaction may include fever, hallucinations, or seizures. During withdrawal, you will likely neglect important responsibilities. Six or more of the eleven symptoms of the DSM-5 may be present. There is a definite need for immediate treatment intervention.
A growing body of evidence indicates a strong connection between prolonged excessive alcohol consumption and increased anxiety and stress. Alcohol is seen as a persistent stressor. Use often results in dysregulation and restructuring of brain reward and stress systems. Normal homeostatic limits are disrupted, resulting in changes in brain stress pathways.
Such changes in the brain’s structure underlie extreme withdrawal symptoms, particularly recurring anxiety that undermines the ability to perform essential tasks. The alleviation of some symptoms prompts the desire to continue the consumption of alcohol. This cycle of alcohol use can prove devastating to the affected person as well as their loved ones.
Further negative aspects of alcohol abuse are poor health, relationship issues, financial troubles, and employment matters. There is a definite risk of self-harm. Cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, depression, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, and gout are just a few of the severe health conditions that may develop. Alcohol may also aggravate previous health conditions.
Cirrhosis of the liver is just one serious health consequence of alcohol abuse. After years of damage, the liver produces scar tissue. This scar tissue stops the constant flow of blood in the body. The body loses the ability to clean toxins from the blood, process essential nutrients, and absorb vitamins. Cancers and damage to the brain are also associated with alcohol. Your health may decline rapidly if excessive drinking continues.
It is also necessary to consider the dangers that your alcohol consumption may pose to others. When driving under the influence, the risk of a car accident is dramatically increased. Alcohol will curb your instincts and slow reaction time. Injuries, sexual assault, homicide, and suicide are far more likely when alcohol is involved. Drinking during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The depression that accompanies alcohol abuse is crippling. However, help is always available to those who need it.
Ways to Get Help
Each of the 3 stages of alcoholism has its side effects, but these effects are treatable. Experts have conducted thorough research on its consequences. Rehabilitation services help with medical detoxification. Through psychological help, a professional can restore a person’s well-being. Additionally, there are many resources online that can help you become aware of your drinking patterns and seek help in altering them.
It is crucial that you are mindful of your health status. You should take a self-assessment to determine if you are at risk.
Consider whether there is an interference with your responsibilities as a result of alcohol. You should also examine whether you continue to drink alcoholic beverages in spite of the negative effects on your relationships. You should consider whether you are engaging in any risky behavior after drinking. These behaviors could include fighting, swimming, or driving while under the influence. Finally, you should consider whether you need more alcohol to reach the desired effects.
It is important to remember that it is never too late to get help.
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