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What Are the 3 Stages of Alcoholism?

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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism is the reduced ability to stop or manage alcohol consumption, even when it causes problems in one’s personal or professional life. AUD is now considered a mental disorder that exists on a spectrum, and it ranges from mild to severe.

Alcoholism affects people of every socioeconomic status, age, and location. Almost 55% of Americans over 18 admit to drinking at least once a month, and the rate of consumption can be concerning for some. If you’re worried about yourself or someone who may need treatment for alcoholism, knowing the symptoms and stages of alcohol use disorder can help.

Early or Mild AUD

The preliminary stage of alcohol use disorder is characterized by a rapidly increasing tolerance, which shows that the brain is adjusting to the constant presence of alcohol. At this point, many start to doubt their ability to ‘hold their liquor,’ and feelings of guilt and shame start to creep in.

Those in the earliest stages of AUD may experience blackouts, which are lost memories of events occurring while drinking, and some become preoccupied with finding and consuming alcohol. While loved ones may voice their concerns, you may deny having a problem—and it would be hard to distinguish you from someone who merely binge drinks occasionally.

Mid-Stage or Moderate AUD

At the midpoint on the AUD spectrum, consequences will start to build. You may call out of work frequentlyand you may become less interested in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable. During this stage, many drink alcohol to limit withdrawal symptoms or to alleviate hangovers.

If you’re in the middle stage of an alcohol use disorder, you may lose the ability to control your consumption. With intense cravings and painful withdrawal symptoms, along with frequent memory lapses, the middle stage of AUD quickly gets worse.

Late-Stage or Severe AUD

In the latest stage of alcoholism, your life will become unmanageable. Most people with late-stage AUD show symptoms of medical issues like pancreatitis, liver disease, and high blood pressure, and many suffer from depression and insomnia.

If you’ve reached this point, you may be obsessed with finding and consuming alcohol, going to great lengths to avoid activities and people that keep you from drinking. Financial and legal problems may arise, creating a vicious cycle of self-medication and regret.

While you may want to stop drinking at this stage, doing so can be dangerous. Many in late-stage AUD experience whole-body tremors known as DTs or delirium tremens, and quitting without medical help can be fatal. Despite these risks, an alcoholic at this stage may deny the problem.

There’s Hope for Recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder

Regardless of the stage of AUD you’re in, there’s a chance of successful recovery—and it will take professional treatment to put you on the right path. Most treatment programs begin with supervised detox and medications that manage the intensity of tremors, cravings, nausea, and other withdrawal symptoms.

After medical detox, various therapies are used to address the underlying causes of AUD. Treatments may include CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps patients identify their self-destructive behaviors and replace them with healthier coping mechanisms.

Whether you’re in the beginning or late stages of an alcohol use disorder, the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem. If you or someone you love suffers from AUD, seek professional help at a local rehabilitation center.