If you suffer from alcohol addiction, you are not alone. As of 2015, over 17 million people deal with alcohol abuse or dependence every day. Addiction is a sneaky disease that tricks you into thinking you’re in control while tightening its grasp on your life. What starts as harmless experimentation can evolve into dependence, which quickly turns into abuse. No aspect of the addict’s life is left untouched. Relationships crumble, health is put at risk, and dangerous choices are made. Recognizing each of the stages of alcoholism can prevent you or a loved one from slipping farther down the hole of addiction and getting help before it’s too late.
Stages of Alcoholism: Binge Drinking
The road to alcoholism often starts with small steps. Binge drinking is common in young adults who are new to alcohol and likely to experiment. Social situations may increase the pressure to drink, and boundaries are tested by drinking large amounts in a single sitting. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as more than five drinks in two hours for men, and four for women. The average binge drinker consumes an average of eight alcoholic drinks per binge. Even though binge drinkers are rarely considered alcoholics, the habit is still problematic. According to the American Medical Association, binge drinking is more likely than other types to cause an accident on the road. Regular binge drinking can lead to cycles of debilitating blackouts and memory lapses. Risky behavior is more likely to take place, sometimes having lasting consequences and devastating impact. During this stage, tolerance to alcohol is gradually increased. Drinkers will require more and more alcohol in order to feel drunk, which can heighten the risk for problems.
Drinking to Cope
Do you tend to feel the need for a stiff drink after a long day? If so, you might be at risk of falling into the second of the stages of alcoholism. Drinking as a response to stress or strong emotions is a red flag behavior. When you drink in a relaxed state, the alcohol triggers your dopamine receptors more powerfully than when you’re stressed out. When you turn to a drink after a lousy day, it won’t have that calming effect you’re looking for. You’ll naturally want to drink more as a way to seek those feel-good hormones, and it can be hard to stop. The addictive properties of alcohol and the way drinking to cope impacts the body in times of stress is not an experience limited to humans. The effects of alcohol, stress, and dependency have also been tested in animals, with shocking results. In one study, rats were given an alcoholic solution of ethanol and sugar water. When scientists exposed them to the stress of shocks, the rats became depressed and helpless. Their drinking increased, but not just during the shock experiment; in fact, their alcohol intake remained higher for weeks. Another study found a clear link in animals between childhood trauma and alcoholic tendencies. Monkeys who were raised by their peers instead of their mothers were found to be twice as likely to turn to alcohol. The same was found in rats who were not handled as babies as opposed to those who were. Connecting alcohol with emotional relief is a slippery slope to dependence.
In this stage, alcohol begins to move to the forefront of the addict’s life with potentially devastating impact. Consequences begin to build as a result of drinking. Legal issues can result from reckless behavior, most commonly driving while intoxicated. People often lose their driving privileges and sometimes their jobs. Alcohol can start to have negative effects on personal relationships at this point. A person at this stage might avoid spending time with loved ones so he can drink, but also avoid judgment. This can lead to neglect and frayed relationships. Intimate relationships are especially vulnerable to problems caused from drinking. Trust and stability can be put at risk, and affection may become difficult as a person begins to pull away into their disease. Unhealthy codependencies may begin to develop, and the risk of domestic violence increases. Without intervention, the relationship could soon become irreparably damaged. Sexual consequences often begin during this stage as well. In men, erectile dysfunction issues can start to occur. Women may experience a drop in libido as well. In many, feelings of powerless and insecurity paired with lowered inhibitions can result in promiscuity. Depression is common among addicts at this point. Previous hobbies and interests are often abandoned in favor of drinking. Eventually, personal hygiene and basic self-care may begin to suffer, and the addict may sink into feelings of hopelessness and despair. Liver damage can start to become an issue here as well. Metabolizing alcohol kills small amounts of liver cells that are unable to regenerate due to the effects of alcohol on the liver. Over time, this can cause irreversible damage, culminating in hepatitis or cirrhosis.
End Stage Deterioration
In this stage, serious damage has been done. The addict is completely consumed by their disease. People suffering from this stage are often unable to hold down a job. Their behavior is erratic, and their waking hours are filled with thoughts of alcohol if not actually drinking. The addict no longer holds any control over his drinking. He must drink to function or he will become sick from severe withdrawals. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include nausea, tremors, extreme irritability, and even hallucinations. End-stage drinkers are at high risk for diabetes, many types of cancer, high blood pressure, and ulcers. The liver may scar to the point of cirrhosis, and drinking must stop completely in order to halt the damage. At this stage, a full detox is necessary, and treatment for addiction should begin immediately.
When left unmonitored, alcohol use can quickly lead down a dangerous path to life-changing consequences. You can lose your family, your job, and even your life. Know the stages of alcoholism to make sure you and your loved ones don’t fall victim to the terrible disease of addiction. If you’re struggling with substance abuse or dependency, please contact us now to see how we can help.