While alcohol addiction starts in a wide variety of ways, the progression of alcoholism actually follows somewhat uniform stages. These stages of alcoholism are not perfectly defined, but they can help individuals determine whether or not they are addicted to alcohol.
And that’s important, since veterans are at an increased risk to use alcohol as a coping tool. So if you’ve wondered whether or not your drinking is healthy, examining the stages of drinking can give you answers.
Alcoholism Symptoms and Stages
Alcohol addiction is defined as alcoholic drinking that involves problems controlling your drinking habits, an obsession with alcohol, continuing to drink even when you have good reasons not to, and developing a tolerance to alcohol. While most people do not start with all of these issues, as they move through the stages of alcoholism, people tend to develop more and more problems.
Since alcoholism is a progressive disease, it’s normal for people to start drinking “normally” and then progress to less healthy drinking habits. While there are various models to demonstrate this, the most popular model includes four stages of alcoholism.
Stage One: Pre-Alcoholic Drinking
The first stage of alcoholism includes the behaviors that lead to alcohol addiction. At this stage, an individual may not be fully addicted to alcohol. This typically starts with social drinking, which then transitions into drinking for stress relief. This is especially dangerous for military personnel, who may live with post-traumatic stress and use alcohol to cope with symptoms.
This stage is where individuals may toe the line between alcohol abuse vs dependence. It starts with drinking to deal with stress and other unpleasant feelings, which is alcohol abuse. And from there, more and more alcohol may be needed to feel drunk, and alcohol becomes a priority in life, which is the definition of alcohol dependence.
If you drink only moderate amounts of alcohol and only drink for light socializing, you are most likely not at this stage. But if you drink to deal with negative emotions, you are most likely in the first stage of alcoholism. And if your drinking patterns continue, you’re likely to progress even further.
Stage Two: Early Alcoholism
There is no clear line between the first and second stages of alcoholism, but you will notice a shift in behaviors and drinking attitudes. Specifically, you may start to realize that alcohol isn’t good for you. You may see yourself creating problems by drinking, but it will feel hard or impossible to quit drinking alcohol.
If you find yourself lying to people around you about your drinking habits, you are at least at the second stage of alcoholism. You could also engage in dangerous drinking habits like binge drinking. For this reason, even going several days or even weeks without a drink does not mean you cannot be an alcoholic, particularly if you are thinking about alcohol a lot when not drinking it.
Finally, due to the progressive nature of alcoholism, your tolerance for alcohol will get stronger. You may notice yourself drinking more and more to deal with pain, and alcohol will likely offer less and less comfort over time. In this way, you may also experience a decline in your overall emotional and mental wellness.
Stage Three: Middle Alcoholism
The first of the final stages of alcoholism comes with clear defining criteria. Notably, your friends and family will start noticing that you have a drinking problem. You may start missing work or social events so you can stay home and drink, and you might drink at inappropriate times, such as while driving or around children.
This increase in drinking can also come with mental and behavioral changes. You may find yourself feeling increasingly irritable, especially in situations where you don’t have much cause to be. If you have been drinking to cope with a mental health condition, those symptoms will likely feel even worse now, and alcohol will offer little relief.
At this stage of alcoholism, symptoms of alcohol addiction make become physical. You may experience weight gain or weight loss, bloating, loss of energy, and reddening in the face. At this stage, professional addiction treatment can do a lot of good, and your dependence on alcohol may be severe enough to require an alcohol detox program. Without a proper detoxification program, you may face a high risk of immediate relapse as alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear.
Stage Four: Late Stage Alcoholism
Also known as “end stage alcoholism,” this is where alcohol addiction is most apparent. At this stage, you probably spend more waking hours drunk than sober. If you have not lost your job in earlier stages, then job loss is very likely here, since drinking becomes an all-day activity.
You may also develop addiction-related illnesses, such as liver cirrhosis. You may also feel a near-constant sense of paranoia. This is doubly true if you’re dealing with post-traumatic stress, since you’ll be struggling with both alcohol’s effect on the brain and an untreated mental health issue. At this stage of alcoholism, you are likely to need a residential rehabilitation program to address the various effects that alcohol has had on your mind and your body.
Residential rehab is where you will be able to get help to quit drinking, learn how to avoid the pitfalls of addiction, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for mental health issues. Our veteran rehab in DeLand, Florida offers specialized care for veterans to address the unique challenges presented by invisible wounds of war. In this way, we provide help to all veterans and at any stage of alcohol addiction.
Break Free from the Stages of Alcohol Addiction
There is always a way to quit drinking alcohol; you just have to take the first step. At Heroes’ Mile, we’re committed to helping veterans beat alcohol addiction for good. And no matter what stage of alcohol addiction you’re in, the best time to seek professional addiction treatment is always right now.
Would you like to learn more about how we can help? Our friendly admissions specialists are waiting to chat at 888-838-6692 or ask your questions online. You’re not in this alone, and we’ve got your six!