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The Five Stages of Alcoholism

At Victory, we frequently work with patients who struggle using substances such as alcohol. Drinking alcohol in moderation is not necessarily bad for you – however, if the consumption is too much and too frequent, an addiction and dependence can develop. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 17 million adults in the US have alcohol use disorders. On top of that, over 850,000 children ages 12-17 also struggle with alcohol use disorders. The key to preventing these disorders is to recognize the signs of dependence early on. By understanding the stages of alcoholism, we can prevent the negative actions and behaviors that contribute to addiction. 

The first stage of alcoholism involves occasional use along with binge drinking. During this stage, users will essentially experiment with alcohol to see just how much they can tolerate. Frequently, this stage often involves young adults and even teenagers who are experimenting and rebelling. Along with this experimentation comes binge drinking. Binge drinking typically means consuming more than four or five drinks within a two-hour period. There are many people who experiment with alcohol, especially in their teenage years, yet they don’t develop an alcohol use disorder. However, as we see first-hand here at Victory, many of these people do suffer with the effects of alcohol use that began in the first stage. 

The next stage refers to “increased drinking”. This differs from stage one, because rather than just drinking occasionally at a party, the user will now be drinking more frequently, such as every weekend. The user will begin using alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety and alleviate boredom. As you begin using alcohol more frequently, to essentially help with your mood and emotions, alcohol use is no longer occasional, and the use starts to become problematic.  

The third stage of alcoholism involves “problem drinking”.  During this stage, the user will feel the negative side effects arising from an increase in alcohol consumption. For example, your anxiety and depression may increase, along with issues with your friends and family. Relationship issues may also occur. During the problem drinking stage, you may also drink at times when you shouldn’t. For example, drinking and driving may result in you receiving a DWI, or even result in a car accident that could be deadly. As a result, legal troubles may also arise during this stage. Drinking and driving is never acceptable, and at this stage, the user must realize that they really do need to seek professional help. 

During the fourth stage, the user will become dependent on alcohol. However, it is important to note that being “dependent” and “addicted” are not necessarily the same. During the dependence stage, alcohol would have taken over your regular routine, and you will have no control over when and how much you drink. Additionally, you will have built up a tolerance, meaning that it will take a greater consumption of alcohol to achieve the “buzzed” feeling that you were previously able to reach must faster (with a smaller consumption). At this point, the health effects are damaging, and dangerous. If left untreated, a full-on addiction may occur.  

Stage five, the final stage, is alcoholism and addiction. At this point, drinking is no longer something you participate in for fun or to be social. It becomes an overwhelming and time-consuming part of your life. There is both a physical and psychological need to drink. Unfortunately, during this stage, physical cravings also develop for alcohol. This is similar to the physical cravings that occur with other drugs, including the nicotine found in cigarettes. Receiving professional help, such as from Victory Recovery Partners, is certainly recommended, and highly important. During this final stage, if you are left untreated, serious health effects can occur. This includes damage to the brain, heart, and liver.  

Alcohol use is OK in moderation. However, if you notice that your use is becoming more frequent, and that you are drinking alcohol uncontrollably just to feel “normal”, it is important to seek professional help. Victory Recovery Partners is a network of five addiction and recovery treatment centers on Long Island, New York. We help our clients overcome their addictions to drugs and alcohol, allowing them to live a drug-free and healthy life. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, we would like to help. Please visit our website to learn more.  

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