Call American Addiction Centers for help today.

(888) 287-0471
Close Main Menu
Main Menu
  • Find a Rehab Center
  • AAC Facilities
  • Find Treatment
  • Paying for Treatment
  • Substance Abuse
  • About AAC
    Back to Main Menu
    Main Menu

The Stages of Alcoholism – Signs, Effects, and Treatment

Questions about treatment?
  • Access to licensed treatment centers
  • Information on treatment plans
  • Financial assistance options

Most people can handle moderate alcohol consumption without it becoming problematic, but for those with certain risk factors, it can become an uncontrollable addiction. The stages of alcoholism can progress to the point that it can have serious consequences for the addicts as well as those around them unless intervention and proper treatment comes into play.

Early Symptoms of Alcoholism

Like other types of addiction, alcoholism is a progressive disease. Most people are unaware that they are crossing the line from habit to addiction until it is too late for them to stop on their own. The classic signs that recreational drinking is turning into alcoholism include:

  • A very strong urge or craving for alcohol.
  • The inability to stop drinking once you have started.
  • The onset of withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness, nausea, and sweating, when you have not had a drink for a while.
  • The need to drink larger amounts of alcohol to overcome the tolerance your body has built up.

alcohol addiction As addicts progress through the different stages of alcoholism, they are often confronted with serious medical issues, including significant damage to the liver, the brain, or other organs or the development of cancer. The effects of alcoholism, however, are not exclusive to the addict. Pregnant women who abuse alcohol risk having babies with birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome, and everyone is at risk when an alcoholic experiences an alcohol blackout or gets behind the wheel of a car.

Most experts classify the progression of the disease in three stages: early, middle and end/late-stage alcoholism. Some classify the disease into four stages, including the adaptive stage, dependence, progression and conclusion. If you have alcohol addiction or trying to help someone who is, it can be helpful to understand how alcoholism presents itself throughout each of these stages.

Early Addiction Stage

The early stages of alcoholism are often difficult to detect as there may not be any obvious impairment or dysfunction. During this stage, the addicted person’s body is building up a tolerance to alcohol, so they may be able to drink larger quantities without losing control. The key to identifying this stage of the disease is to understand the social aspects of it. If others notice something different about you, even if they cannot readily identify what it is, or if you find yourself consistently drinking to deal with stress or other problems, it is possible that you are in the early stage of alcoholism.

The Middle Stage and Its Effects

During alcoholism’s middle stage, you will start to notice the physical and social effects of drinking. Alcoholic blackouts may occur after excessive drinking. You will develop a strong craving for alcohol and may experience symptoms of withdrawal if you cannot have any. Physical withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Enlarged pupils.
  • Severe headaches.
  • Clammy, pale skin.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Shakiness and tremors.

“Alcoholic blackouts may occur after excessive drinking.”
Alcoholism also affects you psychologically, and you may find that when you do not drink, you suffer from anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, mood swings, and nightmares.

At this point, it may become obvious to those around you that you have a problem with alcohol, and you may also start to recognize that there is an issue. Many people addicted to alcohol begin hiding the amount they drink or making excuses for it during this phase. You may also have problems completing tasks at work, home or school, and your relationships with others may start to crumble. Many alcoholics stop worrying about their appearance during this stage.

Alcoholism’s Late or End Stage

The end or late stages of alcoholism are when you have lost total control, and the disease starts to impact you physically, socially, and mentally. By this point, you have probably become so obsessed with drinking that you have allowed it to interfere with or destroy your relationship with friends and family. Alcoholic blackouts happen more frequently, and you cannot fall asleep at night without drinking.

Many alcoholics are still able to hold down a job at this stage but not for long. Even if they are able to physically get the job done, all of their mental focus is on their next drink. Work will start to suffer eventually.

Whether you realize it or not, you may start experiencing medical problems due to the excessive drinking. Alcoholism can cause hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, recurring respiratory infections, and pancreatitis. In severe cases, alcoholism can even cause heart failure or brain damage.

Unsure where to start? Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.

Did You Know?

More than 33,000 deaths in 2015 were directly attributable to alcohol. This number excludes accidents and homicides where alcohol may have played a role.

Get Help for Alcohol Abuse

The stages of alcoholism don’t progress overnight. It often takes years of abuse before moving from one stage to the other. If you think you may be an alcoholic, consider getting addiction treatment before the disease causes you serious medical harm.

Alcohol Is the Most Commonly Treated Substance

most-treated-substances Alcohol is one of the most abused substances among recovery treatment attendees, according to a Recovery Brands survey in 2017. 68.85% of respondents engaged in treatment for alcohol abuse, and 52.87% of people who took it reported that alcohol abuse treatment was their most common recovery goal. Regardless of how many substances a person has had problems with, alcohol is one of the most worrisome to the user. Luckily, alcohol abuse treatment is readily available.






We're here to help you find the treatment you deserve.
Substance Abuse Assessment
How our treatment is different?
American Addiction Centers photo
Editoral Staff
The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
Reach out to us day or night

Our supportive admissions navigators are available 24/7 to assist you or your family.

Call 888-287-0471
There was an error fetching your data