Signs of Early to Final Stages of Alcoholism

By Nicole .A | Last Edited: May 21, 2020 | 4 Sources

Stages of Alcoholism
Late Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism Final Stage

There are three stages of alcoholism, getting help before the late stages of alcoholism raises the possibility of a positive outcome

From the outside an addiction to drink seems messy and unpredictable. In fact it is possible to see three distinct alcoholism stages.

alcoholism stages

The effects of alcohol addiction could seem messy and predictable, but the reality is that these could be classified from early to the final stages of alcoholism. Most, if not all alcoholics, progress through the three stages of alcoholism. The Johns Hopkins Test for alcoholism is effective at identifying which of the three alcoholism stages the drink dependent is at.

Having said that it is not really important to know exactly which alcoholism stage someone is at. What is important is that the drink dependent person gets help as early as possible.

The time it takes to progress from one phase to the next varies from one individual to the other. Generally it takes 15 years to go from early to alcoholism final stage.

It is important to note that these stages do not occur separately, they overlap and combine.

Life, and particularly alcoholism, isn't neat.

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The Early/Adaptive Stage

The first signs of alcoholism become apparent at this stage.

Drinking is no longer social.

The individual drinks as a way to deal with their emotional problems or to make themselves feel better.

As they drink more so their tolerance increases and they can drink lots more than their 'normal' drinking friends.

Many at this alcoholism stage are able to drink a lot and not appear drunk at all.

Often those in the first stage do not get hangovers.

Physically there are no outward problems- at least not for now.

The drinker in this first stage is usually a functional alcoholic. This means they manage to hold down their job, any relationships they have and continue with interests and hobbies. Although, a lot of the time they may well be lying about the quantity they are drinking and how often.

The individual is usually not aware that they have a problem at this stage- they are in alcoholic denial.

The Middle Stage

In this stage of alcoholism the person starts to act and seem more like the stereotypical drunk.

They now lose control of their drinking. Starting earlier in the day and drinking alone become normal.

Their drinking companions, if there are any, are fellow alcohol abusers.

There is no longer any joy in drinking only pain and misery. Feelings that the alcoholic manages by drinking more. A vicious circle.

It is a terrible state to be in.

The craving becomes more intense and practically impossible to control. Part of the reason for this is that the individual's body has become so attuned to drink that it can't manage without it.

If the body can't get alcohol it reacts alcohol withdrawals result in the addict suffering from intense anxiety, sweating, shaking, hallucinating and a whole lot more. There is no respite except for a drink.

Alcoholic blackouts also occur. Large periods of time pass which the individual can't remember. The brain, riddled with alcohol, fails to record experiences. Anything and everything can occur during these periods- there are stories of people taking cross country road trips, having business meetings etc. and not recalling anything.

Alcohol related health problem also begin appear at this stage of alcoholism. Alcoholic gastritis, bad hangovers etc. become more common

Whereas in the adaptive stage the individual managed to perform in his job and maintain relationships, now it all begins to unravel. They get into trouble at work and at home.

The alcoholic is now on the edge of a precipice, if they don't get help soon they will fall and things will get a whole lot worse.

Final Stage Alcoholism/Alcoholism Final Stage

It is called end stage alcoholism because it is the end. Either the end of the life of the person or the end of their drinking days.

Although a life-threatening condition, end-stage alcoholism can be treated, read Treating Advanced Alcoholism for more details.

If they do not stop drinking soon they will die. It's as simple as that.

The final stages of alcoholism are not pretty.

For the sufferer and those living with the alcoholic or witnessing his or her decline.

In the late stages of alcoholism, the individual's body has been poisoned to such an extent that it is suffering. There are many physical problems that can appear at this stage such as heart disease, fatty liver, cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, pancreatitis, malnutrition, brain damage and so on.

All of these are SERIOUS, if not life-threatening conditions.

Vitamin deficiency, particularly in B-1, can also cause many other problems

Not only are there physical problems but mental too. The individual will, at this stage, be suffering from delusions, is mentally confused and perhaps psychotic. In short, very unwell.

Relationships have, in most cases been irreparably damaged. Jobs have been lost. Drinking is now the sole focus of the individual- nothing else matters. All other needs are ignored- food, shelter, warmth, water etc.

Astonishingly, many people at this stage are still in denial about their condition. They still blame everything for their problems except alcohol.

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The Fourth Alcoholism Stage?

There is no fourth stage because we are at the end of the road for the alcoholic- death is the most likely outcome unless help is asked for. Unfortunately, in most cases, the only person who can ask for it doesn't think they have a problem.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:

Return from Alcoholism Stages to What is Alcoholism

Return from Alcoholism Stages to Alcoholism Help Homepage

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

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