Learning library
Help with alcohol use
Stages of Alcoholism: Symptoms and Progression

Stages of Alcoholism: Symptoms and Progression

There are four stages of alcohol use disorder (AUD): pre-AUD, mild, moderate, and severe.

Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism always starts with just a sip, and before you know it, controlling the amount becomes challenging as addiction takes hold. This disease progresses through identifiable stages, each with its own set of symptoms that escalate in severity over time.

However, treatment is possible with tailored strategies that address both the physiological and psychological aspects of alcoholism.

In this blog post, we will delve into the stages of alcoholism, examining the symptoms and progression to better understand how intervention can be most effectively applied.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition where individuals struggle to control their drinking despite its harmful effects on their lives. It involves a strong urge to drink, even when it leads to health issues, strained relationships, and other negative consequences. AUD stems from alcohol's profound impact on the brain, making it challenging to break free from its grip.

The 4 Stages of Alcohol Dependency

Alcohol dependence involves four stages, each with its own problems to conquer:

Stage 1: Pre-Dependency

In this initial stage, individuals begin with social drinking and occasional bingeing, believing they have control. They may not fully grasp the potential risks associated with their drinking habits yet.

Stage 2: Early-Stage Dependency

Regular drinking becomes habitual, and individuals may rationalize their behavior, feeling guilty despite recognizing issues. Cutting back on drinking proves challenging, leading to strained interpersonal relationships.

Stage 3: Middle Alcohol Dependency

Consequences escalate, manifesting in health problems, strained relationships, and legal troubles. Failed attempts to curb drinking become more evident, and time spent seeking alcohol increases.

Stage 4: End-Stage Dependency

In this critical phase, severe health and mental issues emerge, greatly affecting daily life. Both personal and professional aspects suffer as obtaining alcohol becomes the main priority. Seeking professional help becomes essential at this stage.

Related: Denial of Alcoholism: Signs, Causes, and How to Overcome It

Book appointment

Next day availability for medications, therapy, and coaching, book your appointment now.

Book appointment

How Do You Know If You're Dependent on Alcohol?

Here are a few symptoms commonly seen in alcohol dependency:

Drinking Too Much

Excessive drinking, including binge drinking and heavy drinking, is a sign of alcohol misuse. For men, binge drinking means having five or more drinks in one sitting, while for women, it's four or more. Regularly binge drinking five or more times a month suggests heavy drinking, which could be a problem.

Building Tolerance

Those misusing alcohol often build a tolerance, needing more to feel its effects. Unlike occasional drinkers who feel tipsy after a drink or two, they may drink a lot without seeming drunk. This growing tolerance is a warning sign of alcohol misuse.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Feeling sick when not drinking is a sign of alcohol misuse. The body becomes dependent on alcohol, leading to symptoms like sweating, tremors, and trouble sleeping when detoxing. In severe cases, it can even cause seizures, showing how serious alcohol dependence can be.

Spending Too Much Time Drinking

Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from it suggests alcohol misuse. People dependent on alcohol may put drinking above everything else, neglecting family and personal responsibilities. When drinking takes up most or all of someone's free time, it's a clear sign of an alcohol use disorder.

Loss of Control

People with alcohol use disorder struggle to control their drinking once they start. Even if they plan to drink less, they find it hard to stop, leading to excessive consumption and negative outcomes.

Ignoring Consequences

Despite facing health, relationship, or work problems due to drinking, those with alcohol use disorder keep drinking. They may ignore how alcohol affects their lives, putting drinking ahead of dealing with these issues.

Drinking to Cope

Many people with alcohol use disorder drink to cope with stress or negative emotions. They use alcohol to numb pain or relieve stress, which worsens their mental health and creates a cycle of dependency.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, please consult your healthcare provider immediately. 

Importance of Early Intervention and Treatment

Taking action early and considering treatment options is the first step towards overcoming alcohol dependency and reclaiming a fulfilling life. Seeking support and guidance is crucial, as recovery is most effectively managed with someone by your side.

Here are treatment options you can consider:

Therapy and Counseling

Therapy sessions, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or motivational interviewing, offer a safe space to address underlying issues contributing to alcohol dependency. Counseling aids in developing effective coping mechanisms and strategies to manage triggers and cravings.

Support Groups

Joining support groups can be incredibly helpful. Sharing experiences with peers facing similar challenges fosters empathy, encouragement, and accountability throughout recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

For some, medication like acamprosate, naltrexone, or disulfiram may be prescribed to manage alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These medications, combined with therapy, support long-term sobriety.

Inpatient or Outpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient rehabilitation offers intensive, round-the-clock care in a structured environment, suitable for severe alcohol dependency or co-occurring mental health issues. Outpatient programs provide flexibility to attend therapy sessions while managing daily responsibilities.

Find a Provider

Meet our team of vetted providers and book your first appointment.

Get started

Alcohol Use Disorder FAQs

What does alcohol dependency look like?

Alcohol dependency is marked by a strong urge to drink, even when it causes harm to health, relationships, and daily functioning. People with this condition often put alcohol before their duties, may suffer withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, and find it difficult to limit their intake.

How long do people with AUD live?

The lifespan of individuals with AUD depends on factors like the severity of the condition, overall health, treatment access, and lifestyle choices. AUD can harm health and raise the risk of early death from issues like liver disease or accidents, but recovery and proper management can improve health and increase life expectancy.

How long does it take to recover from AUD?

AUD recovery varies based on severity, commitment to treatment, support, and health. It's a lifelong journey, with individuals progressing at their own pace through treatment stages, therapy, and ongoing support. Some may see rapid improvements, while others require more time for sustained sobriety and well-being.

Let Us Guide You to a Healthier Future

Understanding alcohol dependency stages and symptoms is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) relies on severity, commitment to treatment, and support. Remember, recovery is possible, and seeking help is a sign of strength.

At Confidant Health, we offer personalized support and effective treatments tailored to your needs. Our dedicated team is ready to guide you at your own pace. With virtual access to treatments like alcohol rehab, you can get the help you need right from home.

We’re here to provide care and support – reach out to us today and take the first step towards a healthier, happier life.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

Book appointment
Confidant mobile app screens
Get immediate access to the care you need today

Scan the QR code below to download the app.

QR code to download the app
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play