There is some debate over how many stages there are in alcoholism, but let's go with the three major stages--early (a.k.a. adaptive), middle, and end (a.k.a. late). It's important to understand the main parts of each stage.
How does the early stage work?
- The early stage is the hardest to detect, since it's mostly physical and unseen. Your body is developing a higher tolerance level to alcohol, which means you can drink more alcohol and still function.
- You don't appear to have any problems with performance at work, school, and/or social activities due to drinking.
- You probably aren't aware you're in this stage, because you can't easily tell what's happening to your body.
Am I in the early stage?
- Ask yourself: Where do you most often drink? Why do you drink? Does anyone notice anything different about you?
- If you most often drink in social situations but not for social reasons or drink to deal with stress or problems, but no one notices anything very different about your behavior, you are likely in the early stage of alcoholism.
How does the middle stage work?
- Here's where your ability to function in the early stage goes out the window. You're physically dependent but might not be aware of it yet.
- Your body suffers from withdrawal. You physically crave alcohol.
- You may have blackouts -- you continue to function but you can't remember what happened, because your brain either can't store memories or stores them improperly.
- Your work, school, and/or social activities are affected by drinking. You might miss work or school, perform poorly on tasks, or have behavioral issues with peers. You may also care less about your appearance and attitude.
- You can also remain stable and pleasant at work and school, but you hide how much you drink.
Am I in the middle stage?
- Ask yourself: Do I crave alcohol? Do I have tremors if I don't drink? Am I able to concentrate? How often do I make mistakes? How many day-to-day tasks do I finish? How often do I use sick leave? How much effort do I put into my appearance? How do I act with other people? How often do I drink? Do I have blackouts? Do I hide alcohol?
- If you feel a physical craving for alcohol or seem to put alcohol before your day-to-day activities, you may be in the middle stage of alcoholism. Sometimes it's hard to tell if you're in this or the early stage depending on your tolerance. You're also likely to deny you have a problem, which makes recovery difficult. You may justify drinking because of problems in your life.
How does the end stage work?
- You experience physical, mental, and social suffering from drinking. You have lost control because you're obsessed with drinking. You may avoid friends, family and things you used to enjoy in order to drink.
- You are under threat of serious medical issues, including heart failure, fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, malnutrition, pancreatitis, respiratory infections, and even brain damage.
- You frequently blackout or pass out. Drinking alcohol may be one of the only ways you can fall asleep.
- If you stop drinking, you shake, which is caused by a nervous disorder. If you have hallucinations, you could have delirium tremens and seriously need medical help.
- You may be able to still hold a job, be pleasant with other people, and keep up your appearance, but you spend most of your energy and thoughts on drinking. You may also hide alcohol.
Am I in the end stage?
- Ask yourself: How often am I sick? Do I shake when I stop drinking? Do I put alcohol above friends, family, or other activities I enjoy? Do I hide alcohol? Where do I spend most of my time? Am I able to manage my work life and finances?
- If you are frequently ill, shake or have hallucinations if you stop drinking, or put alcohol first, you are likely in the end stage of alcoholism. You could be a functioning alcoholic--you have adapted alcoholism to your day-to-day life and will suffer long-term health issues. If you're still in denial, think seriously about what you can do to face your addiction.
Whichever stage you or someone you know may be in, many of the effects can be reversed over time with a healthy lifestyle, while others may be permanent. In any stage, you have a chance for recovery.
Learn more at Alcoholism ResourcesCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun