Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that affects millions of Americans daily. In fact, about 5.3% of the population suffers from an alcohol use disorder.
To provide individuals with a better understanding of alcohol abuse, experts have identified three stages of alcoholism – early stage, middle stage, and end-stage.
While the early stages of alcoholism are typically accompanied by heavy drinking and frequent hangovers, middle stage alcoholism describes the point at which alcohol has become a normal part of a person’s daily life. However, late-stage alcoholism is characterized by an individual being completely unable to control their alcohol consumption.
Being able to identify the stages of alcoholism can help individuals find recovery before they experience the significant long-term physical and mental health consequences of end-stage alcoholism.
What Are The Stages of Alcoholism?
There are three stages of alcoholism, each characterized by a significant identifier that suggests an individual’s alcohol use has progressed. While each stage of alcoholism is treatable, early intervention is always preferred.
Early-stage alcoholism is considered the beginning of an individual’s transition from chronic alcohol abuse to clinical alcohol use disorder. While the individual is usually unaware of the harmful effects of their alcohol abuse, an alcohol use disorder is beginning to develop.
Common behaviors during the early stage of alcoholism include:
- Drinking more than normal
- Being more sociable while under the influence
- Coming up with excuses to drink alcohol in social settings
- Drinking to combat negative feelings like boredom, anxiety, or depression
During middle-stage alcoholism, individuals are no longer using alcohol as a quick fix for their uncomfortable feelings. Instead, alcohol has become a normal part of their everyday life.
The middle stages of alcoholism are often accompanied by increased tolerance, dependency, and the presence of withdrawal symptoms when the individual does not drink. Additionally, the individual is not only drinking in social situations but drinking alone as well. Oftentimes, this causes the individual to isolate themselves socially.
Common behaviors associated with middle-stage alcoholism include:
- Habitual drinking
- Issues and conflicts in relationships with friends, family members, and partners
- Decreased social activity and erratic behavior
- Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when drinking is not possible
- Cravings for alcohol
End-stage alcoholism is basically when the individual reaches a full-blown addiction to alcohol. This means that their withdrawal symptoms will become severe if they stop drinking alcohol suddenly, requiring professional detox.
Additionally, end-stage alcoholism is often the point at which an individual develops physical and mental health issues related to alcoholism. This could mean an emergence of co-occurring disorders, suffering from liver disease, and even dealing with heart failure as a direct result of long-term and heavy alcohol abuse.
A Deeper Look at End-Stage Alcoholism
End-stage alcoholism is the final stage of alcoholism. Usually, it takes years of alcohol abuse and dependency for individuals to reach this stage.
At this point, people may have developed numerous physical and mental health conditions as a direct result of long-term alcohol abuse. All other aspects of their life have been affected as well, often causing individuals to lose their jobs, experience financial distress, and even become completely socially isolated from friends and family members.
The common signs of end-stage alcoholism include:
- Risky behaviors like drinking and driving or getting into frequent physical alterations while intoxicated.
- Alcohol abuse has damaged the individual’s relationships, leading to isolation.
- Experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like tremors, anxiety, and even seizures.
- Physical changes like a puffy face, low levels of energy, red eyes, shaky hands, poor hygiene, and extreme weight changes.
- Developing alcohol-related illnesses like cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, heart attacks, strokes, and even various types of cancer.
Common Health Problems That Occur With End-Stage Alcoholism
Alcohol affects nearly every part of the body and every major organ. The health problems that can occur as a result of end-stage alcoholism can be extremely devastating, even leading to life-threatening complications in some cases.
Alcoholic Liver Disease (Cirrhosis)
End-stage alcoholism is notorious for causing cirrhosis of the liver. This occurs when the liver becomes unable to metabolize alcohol, sending it back to the bloodstream. As a result, the liver begins to harden and become scarred, which is known as cirrhosis.
According to the CDC, nearly one million people worldwide die each year as a result of liver cirrhosis.
The early signs of alcoholic liver disease (cirrhosis) include the following:
- Abdominal swelling
- Dry mouth
- Bleeding from enlarged esophageal veins
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Redness of veins and feet
- Issues with memory
- Numbness of extremities
When someone drinks alcohol frequently and on a long-term basis, the alcohol may begin to replace essential nutrients in their body. Long-term alcohol abuse is also known to cause issues with nutrient absorption, storage, and metabolization. As a result, the individual’s body does not have enough nutrients. This causes malnutrition, which is often accompanied by a lowered count of red blood cells (anemia).
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Alcohol-induced pancreatitis likely results from alcohol causing increased, viscous secretions that block small pancreatic ducts and by premature activation of digestive and lysosomal enzymes within acinar cells.”
In other words, long-term alcohol abuse causes extreme inflammation of the pancreas. This is extremely dangerous, often leading to pain, malabsorption of food, extreme weight loss, and diabetes. Additionally, chronic pancreatitis can lead to death if left untreated.
Alcohol abuse can cause an array of cardiovascular conditions once an individual reaches end-stage alcoholism.
Possible cardiovascular issues include:
- An inadequate blood supply to the heart (Angina)
- Damage to the muscle of the heart (alcoholic cardiomyopathy)
- High blood pressure leading to coronary artery disease
- Increased risks of heart attacks and strokes
- High levels of blood triglycerides increase one’s chance of heart disease
Alcohol affects the central nervous system in an individual’s brain. When alcohol is abused on a frequent and long-term basis, it is known to cause the development of various neurological disorders.
Some of the brain disorders associated with long-term alcoholism include:
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)
- Alcoholic neuropathy
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- Alcoholic Cerebellar Degeneration (ACD)
- Alcoholic myopathy
The damage that end-stage alcoholism does to an individual’s body is known to increase their risk of developing several cancers, including:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Throat cancer
- Mouth cancer
Does Treatment Work in Late-Stage Alcoholism?
Professional treatment works during any stage of alcoholism, even late-stage alcoholism. While early intervention is always recommended, sometimes individuals are not ready to accept treatment until they reach rock bottom.
While end-stage alcoholism is often associated with the development of severe health conditions, many of them are reversible if treated properly. However, some health conditions caused by alcoholism are not reversible or have reached the point of no return. If this is the case, attending professional alcoholism treatment is still important. The treatment provided during alcohol rehab can prevent those conditions from progressing even further.
Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today
If you or a loved one suffer from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it is time to seek professional help.
Moving Mountains Recovery Center is a top-rated alcohol addiction treatment center that combines evidence-based therapies, medical treatments, and holistic therapy to provide every patient with the help they need.
For more information on treatment for alcoholism, contact us today.