Common stages of alcoholism

Are you showing signs of an alcohol addiction? – If so, what stage are you at?

If it’s you, you may be ‘secretly’ searching what the signs of alcohol addiction are. You’re suspecting that you’ve got a problem. You’re wondering if you’re suffering from a miserable condition that has probably already affected your mental and physical well-being. Perhaps your relationship, your friendships and your ability to work have suffered too. You’re discovering that alcohol abuse causes a great deal of unhappiness all round.

I’m going to assume that you are indeed a problem drinker. I want you to know right away, though, that there’s no judgment on my part. Imagine you’re sitting across from me at my kitchen table, opening up – finally getting it all off your chest.

Can you tell me what stage are you at?
Have you tried to stop drinking without much success?
Or have you succumbed completely – no longer being able to function without some alcohol in your blood?

How long have you walked around wondering: “Am I an alcoholic?”

I’m going to help you answer that question. Read on to discover what’s happening to you. This article is one in a series:

What are the alcoholism stages?

Infographic: Stages of recovery
These are your stages of recovery!

I’m going to cover this from three different perspectives.

First, from your perspective (though your personal experience may differ of course).

Then, I’ll reveal how the professionals translate the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse into different stages.

Lastly I’ll go on to let a recovering  alcoholic tell you what it has really been like for him.

But first, do watch this video – you may recognise the thoughts…

What Happens in Your BRAIN with addiction

How you may have experienced the different stages of alcohol addiction

Stage 1

First of all, you’re unlikely to have been aware that you were developing an addiction (Pre-contemplation).

Stage 2

Over time you might have started becoming aware that you might have a problem, but convinced yourself that you’ve got it ‘under control’, and yet… You do wonder sometimes if you perhaps do need some help (Contemplation).

Stage 3

You’re now no longer contemplating whether or not you need help. You’re determined to get some sort of therapy or treatment and beat that addiction (Determination).

Stage 4

You’re focused on your recovery and take whatever action necessary to overcome your addiction (Action).

After initial treatment, including a detox, if you’re a late-stage alcoholic, you’re slowly arriving at what is called the maintenance (or sometimes: recovery) phase.

Stage 5

You now have to stay determined and focused on your recovery, however hard that struggle may be (Maintenance).

You may, during any of these stages, relapse if you’re no longer actively using all the help, tools and support you’ve been given.

Drawing of brain with text: What if...? I'm okay.

How professionals divide alcohol abuse symptoms into different stages

Professionals differentiate between different stages of alcoholism like so:

1. Early-stage of alcoholism

You’ll know how to down a pint or two, or three or four, or a bottle of wine, in a short space of time. And you can tolerate it. You’re becoming more alert to ‘opportunities’ to drink without looking like a ‘problem drinker’. You reach for the bottle to deal with the stresses and disappointments of everyday life. You still manage to function well enough though.

2. Middle stage

Your body now needs alcohol. You can feel it, and your friends and partner know it. If you don’t drink, you feel irritable, miserable, sick and suffer from mood swings. You’re increasingly difficult to live with. Your dependency has led to relationship problems and a possible breakup.

3. Late or end-stage of alcoholism

You’re breaking down – physically, emotionally and mentally. Your relationship has almost definitely broken down also, even if your partner is still with you. You’re in the process of developing life-threatening diseases.

4. Treatment

This can take various forms, which I cover in a different article.

5. Relapse

Relapse is always discussed in a supportive manner. It’s part and parcel of any treatment. You’ll want to be prepared for where and how to access help if your addiction catches up with you again. This increases the chance that you’ll seek help in a timely manner, rather than flounder on your own out of shame and guilt.

What now?

Do watch the following video if you think you’re becoming addicted to alcohol, or indeed any other substance. You’ll be able to identify what’s waiting for you. That is… unless you take decisive and effective action.

Addiction Video – original

You can also connect with a professional, licensed therapist. It’s now very easy to set up an online session, regardless of the device you’re using. For further information, see my page on online mental health counselling.

Overcoming your alcohol problems takes courage

One man’s very personal experience of the different stages of alcoholism –
by Chris A.

Below are my personal thoughts, feelings and experiences during my time as an active alcoholic.

1. The ‘you wouldn’t have known’ stage

When I started drinking I just looked like another teenager, new to drinking, enjoying it. I was still able to refuse a drink. Although if the truth be known, I’d have preferred not to refuse it.

2. Daily drinking, but doesn’t everyone?’

I was at university. Uni – a license to drink as much as I liked. Of course, this is well camouflaged, as everyone does it – at least, that’s what you tell yourself.

3. The ‘lazy boy’ stage

Still at university, only now I often didn’t go to lectures or hand in assignments. If it was a choice between the library and the pub, the pub won every time. Otherwise, I was just bored with life.

Some part of me knew that what I was doing was wrong (even if I could justify it: – I’ll hand in my work later or I’m in a bad mood), but it started to erode my self-esteem (see also: How to build self-esteem)

4. The ‘I’m bored’ stage of alcoholism

I was drinking because I was bored. Drinking in itself seemed to constitute an activity. Worthwhile and esteemable activities such as study or what had been enjoyable sporting pursuits took less than a back seat.

5. ‘’I’m a loser’’

The ‘I’m a loser’ and  ‘I’m bored’ phases ran alongside each other. This was perhaps when I started to lose my sense of identity.

I quit uni and decided that I’d cut down on my drinking and get a job. Instead, I continued to drink on a daily basis.

I often found myself drinking lager at the edge of a soccer pitch, watching my friends play. I would be thinking: I used to be like that. I used to be good at this game. Has it come to this? A deepening of my low self-esteem.

Photo: Woman with umbrella, looking down. Text: Need help? Click here.
Chat with a licensed therapist to get some reassurance, support and help with your depression. It can be such a relief to get things of your chest and get the advice you need.

6. Lying to work because of drinking

Excessive absenteeism – sometime in my mid-twenties. Not only was I drinking every night, but also during the day – if I could think of a good enough lie to get out of work. Apart from increasingly feeling too sick to work, I found that I couldn’t face going into work and being around people.

Even though I felt guilty, I couldn’t stop. I told myself that I was just being a bit cheeky. Having just told work another lie, I would then find that I had the rest of the day on my hands – time to drink.

7. The character in a book/film alcoholism stage

If I didn’t have a good enough reason to drink I’d tell myself that I was just like a certain character that happened to be drinking a lot in the book I was reading or film I was watching.

Brick from A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is my favourite example of this.  He was still young and athletic, but spent all day lost in an alcoholic haze. This appealed to me.

8. Looking for answers

By now I was becoming aware that something was wrong with my drinking.

Far from admitting I was an alcoholic, I began to pay attention to anything with alcohol as its subject. It might have been an article in a men’s magazine – I’d turn straight to it. Or if Oprah had an alcohol special I’d put it on immediately.

With hindsight, I can see that I was looking for answers. Not just for why I was drinking a lot but why I seemed to feel so bad all the time. Miserable and unsure of myself. Life seemed so unfair.

9. Wanting to want to stop

This stage is only a half-truth.  I didn’t really want to stop drinking. I just wanted to be able to drink as much as I liked and not have any consequences. To be able to do all the stuff that my friends seemed to do so effortlessly (and which I was beginning to resent them for) – party happily, go shopping when I liked, form a meaningful relationship.

But I was beginning to sense that when I wasn’t drinking and even managed some periods of sobriety, that I felt better. This made me think…

10. The ‘beginning of the end’

I resolved to quit drinking. Maybe get some help. Everything would be OK once I stopped drinking. Life would become worthwhile again. I’d be better at my job, get a girlfriend and somehow become even more socially adept than before. Oh dear….

After a 3 month period of sobriety life did indeed seem to be improving. Unfortunately, this is what AA members often refer to as a ‘Pink Cloud.’

Real-life returned with a bump. Nothing spectacular, it was just real life. The very thing that everyone else seemed to manage so well and I seemed to fail so dismally at.

I decided that nothing had really changed (I was more right than I realised) and my resultant sulk lead to me picking up the first drink. Why not? It was the only method I had for achieving happiness – except it didn’t make me happy anymore.

11. Suicidally depressed

Alcoholism and depression go hand-in-hand. Every drink I took I felt I was taking myself a little bit further away from anything deserving and worthwhile in life. Yet I would still defend my actions and ‘Right to Drink’ to the hilt.

Low self-esteem? Self-Pity on steroids more like. I just couldn’t see the point in living anymore. I was suicidally depressed. Life was a curse and God was punishing me. (I didn’t believe in God but had a habit of blaming him anyway. Hmmm, consistent?)

12. The realisation

I was still drinking every day. Work was short and I was in debt.  My last relationship, not a happy one anyway, was over. I’d had a row with my ex-girlfriend (because she’d done something that I didn’t like, but wasn’t really my business anymore) and I had just finished my last can of lager. I was fed up with being fed up and I hated myself.

Suddenly the thought came into my head that my ex-girlfriend wasn’t to blame for the way I drank. Neither were any of my other life experiences (that I haven’t gone into here), even the nasty ones. The next thought was… ‘You did this to you. You are the only one responsible.’

Moments of clarity are great but they need to be followed by constructive action. All my thinking about sobriety and relatively few actions towards it had proved insufficient. I needed help. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous to get it.

Getting help

At AA I came to further realisations.  One of them was that simply quitting drinking is not enough, not for an alcoholic. The illness of alcoholism runs much deeper than that and must be addressed mentally and even spiritually.

Physically I wasn’t that bad (bit shaky, bit sweaty), but mentally I was beaten (psychologically damaged, even though I wouldn’t have told you that at the time).

Spiritually I was broken – this isn’t meant religiously. What I mean is I hated who I was.  I saw no value in myself or that I could contribute to the world in any positive way.

This has all now changed. I have been sober for several years now. Getting dry was a beginning. But of far more importance, I have learnt (and continue to learn) how to be happy. I am now a happy bunny. A sober happy bunny.

How you may be able to stop drinking alcohol – at the early stage

You’ve landed on this page because you’ve got an alcohol problem. I very much suspect you need more help than I can offer you here.  There are so many different ways of getting help and it is important that wherever possible, you find it. Recovery from any addiction is so much more likely to succeed if you’re not trying it alone. Alongside external support, here’s something else that you can use to help…

In the early stage of alcoholism, you may still be able to manage the addiction with the use of hypnosis. Hypnotherapy is one of the ways to stop drinking alcohol by self-help.

  • It is a ‘painless’, comfortable form of treatment.
  • No visits to professionals are required if you use a professional self-hypnosis download. Though I very much hope you would get professional help.
  • You may feel less ‘exposed’ as there’s no need to join a group. However, I do want you to know that support groups for addicts are completely accepting of whatever state you find yourself in when you join. I promise you won’t be judged. You’ll find people to be enormously supportive.

You could start with Moderate My Drinking and use it alongside any other help you can get.  See my page: Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads Drinking

Give yourself no more than a month to see how it goes. But, I hope you’ll be prepared to seek further help to stop your drinking if necessary. Heed the complaints and advice of your partner and friends.

You can also connect with a professional, licensed therapist. It’s now very easy to set up an online session, regardless of the device you’re using. For further information, see my page on online mental health counselling.

Trust that you do have the strength you need to seek help and overcome this addiction. I believe in you, and you don’t have to battle alone.

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Your problem is never too small or too big, too silly, too embarrassing or too complicated to get personal advice (anonymous if you want) from a licensed, professional counsellor. They’ll be happy to help.

Images courtesy of Renee Bigelow and John Hain