What Are the Four Stages of Alcohol Addiction?

Word addiction written on bar wood indicating first stages of alcohol addiction.

Alcoholism is a type of addiction that is characterized by the abuse of alcohol. It is known as a progressive disease, which means that it worsens over time. It is one of the most common forms of addiction in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2019 14.5 million citizens 12 and older of the U.S. suffered from alcoholism. The common misconception surrounding alcohol abuse is that it must be extremely severe to be considered diagnosable. Even if a person does not drink every single day, or hasn’t experienced negative consequences due to their drinking, they may still have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Understanding the four stages of alcohol addiction could help you or your loved one from progressing even deeper into the disease. Early intervention is highly suggested in cases of alcoholism in order to avoid the lasting and sometimes life threatening consequences of continued alcohol abuse. 

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that displays itself through the continued abuse of alcohol. Individuals who are diagnosed with alcohol addiction have the inability to control their frequency and level of consumption of alcohol. Symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • A strong urge to consume alcohol also known as cravings 
  • Continued drinking even after negative consequences
  • An inability to regulate consumption of alcohol
  • An inability to reduce the level of frequency that they drink 
  • Physical dependency of alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping drinking
  • The inability or desire to stop drinking 

An individual does not necessarily need to display all of these symptoms in order to meet the diagnostic criteria of alcoholism. If someone is in the early stages of alcohol addiction they may only have a few of these symptoms, as opposed to someone who is in the late stages of alcoholism who normally displays all of these symptoms. In order to cover the wide range of symptoms and identify alcoholism as early as possible, physicians have divided the alcohol addiction into four stages. The four stages of alcoholism have allowed mental health professionals to recognize the stage that their client is in and provide them with the correct level of care and therapeutic services they need in order to recover.

What Are the Four Stages of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol abuse commonly worsens over time, which is why it is considered a progressive and chronic disease. Alcoholism affects all aspects of an individual’s life including their emotional well being, physical and mental health, relationships, employment, and ability to function as a productive member of society. Alcoholism is broken down into three levels of subcategories, mild, moderate, and severe. Additionally there are also four stages of alcoholism. These four stages are defined by a person’s history of alcohol abuse, the frequency of their drinking, the consequences of their drinking, and their level of consumption when drinking. So what are the four stages of alcoholism? Below we go over each stage and the characteristics of them.

Early Stage Of Alcohol Addiction 

The initial stage of alcoholism is known as the early stage. The early stage begins with a pattern of increased drinking. This means that an individual will start to drink greater amounts of alcohol and more often. Normally the early stage involves what is known as binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks within two hours for men, or having four or more drinks within two hours for women. The early stages of alcoholism can even begin in adolescence or in young adulthood. Some other symptoms of the early stages of alcohol addiction include:

  • Drinking when bored
  • Drinking as a coping mechanism 
  • Increased level tolerance for alcohol
  • Blacking out due to the level of alcohol that’s consumed

Middle Stage Of Alcohol Addiction 

Once the middle stage of alcohol addiction begins a person will begin to experience more obvious signs of alcoholism. Their loved ones may start to notice and bring up their unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The cravings for alcohol throughout the day will begin and start to become more frequent. As the level of drinking increases, they may also begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not drink. Signs of withdrawal include, but are not limited to agitation, tremors, sweating, anxiety, cravings, and increased heart rate. 

Once a person has reached the middle stage of alcohol addiction negative consequences begin to start. Individuals will normally start to have difficulty performing at their jobs, attending school, or other daily responsibilities. Their mood, physical health, and mental health begin to be impacted by their drinking. 

Late Stages Of Alcohol Addiction

During the late stages of alcohol addiction the individual will experience both physical dependency and mental addiction to alcohol. Once a person is in the late stages of alcoholism they normally meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis of alcohol dependency. They will experience at least some of the multitude of negative consequences of alcohol abuse, including:

  • The inability to regulate when and how much they drink
  • Problems with employment
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Continued drinking despite negative consequences
  • Making drinking a priority over other things
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Participating in risky and/or impulsive behaviors while drinking
  • Building a tolerance for alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Once a person reaches the late stages of alcoholism, their addiction will be impacting every facet of their daily life. Their emotional and mental health will plummet and they will no longer take care of their physical health as they previously did before they started drinking excessively. It is important to try to seek treatment before the late stages of alcohol addiction, but if you or your loved one has unfortunately reached this stage then it is imperative that you contact a licensed addiction treatment program for an evaluation. 

End Stage Of Alcohol Addiction 

Once people reach the end stage of alcohol addiction they normally understand that they have lost complete control over their drinking.Their physical health has normally been dangerously impacted by their alcohol consumption. Some of the physical consequences of long-term alcohol abuse include kidney damage, liver damage, cognitive decline, and heart problems. People also normally develop co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Individuals in the end stage of alcohol addiction need to seek treatment immediately. If they do not get the help they need, then they will inevitably face permanent and potentially deadly physical health problems.   

Treatment For Alcohol Addiction in Birmingham, Alabama 

Birmingham Recovery Center offers a comprehensive and effective alcohol rehab program in Birmingham, Alabama. Our program entails multiple therapeutic modalities, medication management, and a variety of levels of care to ensure that every single one of our clients has the services they need to begin their path towards long-term recovery. Our goal is to offer supportive and compassionate care to all of our clients and to see them go on to live fulfilling and productive lives free from the chains of addiction and alcoholism. If you or a loved one is showing signs of one of the four stages of alcohol addiction, reach out to our admissions team today so we can help you get your life back on track.


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