What are the Stages of Alcoholism?
Although the course of the disease may be individual there are often common elements that can be found as alcoholism takes hold of an individual’s life. Alcoholism may already be present in the individual and is activated by the use of alcohol. In other words, some folks will experience the devastating effects of alcoholism after just a few drinking episodes while for others it may take years to interfere with the quality of one’s life.
If you suspect that alcoholism may be a problem then a formal assessment by a qualified professional is in order. Because of the many advances in the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism it is best to seek help from an organization that has a long history of providing state-of-the-art treatment.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) includes questions about the frequency of consumption of alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, whiskey, brandy, and mixed drinks. For the purposes of the survey, a “drink” is defined as a can or bottle of beer, a glass of wine or a wine cooler, a shot of liquor, or a mixed drink with liquor in it. For this NSDUH report, estimates for the prevalence of alcohol use are reported primarily at three levels for both males and females of all ages as follows:
Current (past month) use – At least one drink in the past 30 days.
Binge use – Five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least one day in the past 30 days.
Heavy use – Five or more drinks consumed on the same occasion on each of five or more days within the past 30 days.
With these NSDUH definitions in mind, the “classic alcoholic” tends to fit within the following model:
Stage One: Social drinker
The initial stages of drinking may be occasional. These could be linked to holidays and small family celebrations for the Older Adult. They could eventually become more frequent for Baby Boomers such as attending increasingly more social gatherings after work. During this stage, the recreational drinker’s body is building up a tolerance to the alcohol. The user may soon find that they need more drinks to achieve the same desired physical sensation.
Stage Two: Moderate/heavy drinker
This intermediate stage of drinking can quickly progress to very high amounts. The person’s increased levels of intake may no longer occur just at social gatherings but at home when he or she is alone. The individual may begin to experience intense cravings for a drink. He or she may begin to feel the effects of physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Additionally, blackouts may begin to occur. Friends and family in the individual’s social circles may notice changes in behavior and indicate their growing concern. Older Adults and Baby Boomers at this stage may start to not care anymore about their appearance.
Stage Three: Continual drinker
The advanced and late stages of alcoholism are when an individual drinks continuously, sometimes for days and weeks on end with no regard whatsoever for time of day. Blackouts may occur much more frequently and the person’s health and physical safety is at a serious risk. At this stage the individual is so obsessed with their next drink that nearly all relationships and social interactions have ceased or suffered greatly. Again, for the Older Adult or Baby Boomer who is already dealing with life changes and loss, this social isolation is particularly dangerous.
Atypical or binge drinker
These alcoholics can often abstain from drinking for substantial periods of time. However when they do decide to start drinking, it tends to be very intense and in great quantities to a problematic extent.
Whether you are of the classic variety or the binge drinking variety, or some other classification entirely, the tie that binds all alcoholics together is the fact that once you ingest an amount of alcohol, you generally have no true idea of when you will actually stop drinking… if at all. Coupled with the overpowering inability to stop drinking altogether, this combination can be baffling to Baby Boomers and Older Adults alike particularly if they are used to being in control of their lives.
While an Older Adult or Baby Boomer alcoholic has likely experimented with other substances throughout their lifetimes, those were mere additions to the liquid elixir that was central to their life in addiction. The alcoholic always found the greatest comfort in a bottle of vodka, a can of beer or a glass of wine.
Quite often, we hear stories of people who swore to themselves that they would not drink on a particular evening because of some commitment like an important meeting the next morning. It wouldn’t be long, however, until this resolve lessened and they decided it was acceptable to drink but only in limited amounts such as, “I’ll only have two.”
Unfortunately, most everyone knows how this situation ends. Once the alcohol hits the brain the resolution to drink in modest quantities quickly dissolves; consideration for the happenings of tomorrow is gone. The best-case scenario is a mild hangover at the meeting in the morning, whereas often the reality is generally much worse.
If this has happened to you, it may be time to ask yourself:
- How many times have you emerged remorseful after a drinking session with deep regret for your behavior?
- How many times have you tried to figure out a way to control your anger or emotions while drunk, only to fail yet again?
Perhaps you’ve attempted to address this by becoming a shut-in and drinking quietly and alone. It’s also quite possible that your alcoholism manifests differently than in the behaviors described above.
Ultimately, continuing to drink in spite of an incentive (negative or positive) not to do so is the defining feature of alcoholism. Please know that you are not alone in your failed attempts to either temper your amounts of drinking or to quit it altogether. Alcoholism is a self-induced central nervous system disorder. It is as real as any other disease, however it’s generally the only disease an alcoholic believes they can cure alone, without the help of others.