An alcoholic is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a person who suffers from “problem drinking that becomes severe.” Severe refers to uncontrollable alcohol intake and compulsive alcohol use. At this stage, the official medical diagnosis is alcohol use disorder or AUD, which directly affects approximately 16 million people in the U.S. However, it’s rarely a doctor who first identifies alcoholism.
Often it is recognized by the ones closest to you. Typically, it’s a friend or family member who has noticed an increase in your drinking habits. It may feel natural to immediately be in denial that you have a problem with alcohol, but try a self-assessment. Can you answer “yes” to any of the following questions? If so, it could be indicative that you are an alcoholic.
- Have you experienced a blackout and/or forgotten events as a result of drinking too much?
- Do you hide how much you drink from friends or family?
- Have you noticed a negative effect on your work or social interactions due to your drinking habits?
- Have you received a DUI or been arrested when alcohol was involved?
This is only a sample of identifying questions that could indicate alcoholism. Physical symptoms are also key factors of alcoholic behavior. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or shaking if you go without drinking for too long? Are you the last person drinking when out with friends? Do you often finish other people’s drinks? All of these are additional signs that point to problems with alcohol.
Experiencing one or two of these situations may not automatically mean you are an alcoholic, but it could be that you’re on a path that will end up there. If you or someone you know may be an alcoholic, there is help available to overcome the addiction and the challenges that come with it. It’s a progressive disease that destroys your body, mind, and spirit over time. The sooner you seek treatment for alcoholism, the more beneficial it will be to your long-term health and wellness.
5 Stages of Alcoholism: How to Identify “Problem” Behavior
There are five stages of problem drinking that eventually results in alcoholism. Not all alcoholics will go through each stage or follow them in order. However, knowing the habits that lead to alcohol addiction can help pinpoint where the root of the problem lies or prevent it from becoming worse.
Binge Drinking and Other Dangerous Drinking Habits
The first stage of alcoholism is binge drinking. Binge drinking involves drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. It’s common among teens and young adults who may drink to excess a few days a week. What may seem like innocent “weekend partying” can actually be a lead-up to more serious problems with alcohol down the road.
Drinking alcohol without allowing time for the body to fully process it leads to symptoms like blurry vision, disorientation, swaying, possible blackouts, and various other adverse effects. The rate at which the body can metabolize alcohol depends on how much is consumed, height, weight, and if the person has eaten anything while drinking.
Binge drinking can also lead to aggressive or abnormal behavior and alters a person’s decision-making ability. It puts the person who is binging in risky situations such as the chance for alcohol poisoning or getting behind the wheel of a car when drunk. While this behavior is more closely identified in people ages 18-22, this stage can and does occur at any stage of life.
The second stage of alcoholism includes more frequent drinking. For some, it may mean the change to drinking every day rather than a few times a month. For others, it could be mean consuming more alcohol on a daily basis than the usual glass of wine or beer per night. This stage is less about social socializing (as with binge drinking) and more about dealing with stress or boredom when alone.
More frequent drinking often is indicative of bigger issues which are being “numbed” by alcohol. By the third stage of “problem drinking,” habits have increased and now have started to affect others. Work problems like tardiness or consistently calling in sick can put your job in danger. Problem drinking could cause friction in personal relationships due to disagreements about how much or how often you drink. It can even lead to problems with the law such as drunk driving or other alcohol-related incidents. When such incidents happen, look for the common thread of alcohol use. Looked at separately, problems when drinking may seem inconsequential, but on the whole, you’ll see alcohol is the common thread.
These initial stages may be interchangeable from week-to-week. It can be difficult to identify someone as an alcoholic, especially if others are acting in similar ways. However, alcoholism is defined by your relationship with alcohol and how it defines you. Even if you are partaking in habits as friends or family members, the effects may greatly differ.
Alcohol Dependency and Addiction
The transition from stage to stage isn’t always immediately obvious or extreme. How long does it take to get addicted to alcohol? Alcohol dependency tends to slowly grow over time. If you have noticed a change in your behavior or have experienced negative consequences as a result of drinking too much, you may be alcohol dependent. This is the fourth stage before alcoholism.
The more you drink, the more your body builds a tolerance to its side effects. At first, two or three drinks might be enough to get you buzzed. After your body becomes dependent on alcohol, this number increases significantly. Are you constantly thinking about your next drink? Do you feel you are funnier, smarter, more yourself when drinking? If you can identify with these kind of scenarios, you may be alcohol dependent.
Alcoholism is when your body is addicted to alcohol. It’s when you feel like you can’t function without having a drink. This fifth and final stage is also identifiable by the withdrawal symptoms experienced. Since the body is now used to having alcohol in the system, without it, painful side effects ensue. These may include migraines, vomiting, and other aches and pains. Reaching this level makes it difficult to quit drinking on your own. That’s where the help of a caring alcohol rehab staff and medical professionals can help you. You don’t have to fight the addiction on your own. Detox is the first step in regaining your health and reaching your sobriety.
Detox Treatment for Alcoholism
Many people believe they can quit drinking whenever they want to, but that’s not the case with alcoholism. When the body becomes addicted, it changes how your brain normally functions. Your decision-making skills are compromised. Alcohol addiction makes you “think” you need to drink in order to get through your day-to-day life.
As a result of sudden abstinence from alcohol, you will experience painful and uncomfortable side effects. This makes it difficult to become sober, especially if you are trying to detox on your own. Relapse is not uncommon during the detox phase because of the unpredictable way the body may react. The support of a qualified staff can help guide you through the detox process and subsequent treatment for alcoholism as safely and comfortably as possible.
You will be monitored in a secure environment with access to medical treatment if necessary. Certain medications can help alleviate some of the withdrawal side effects and pain. You will receive a customized health plan that outlines what you need in order to reach and maintain sobriety. Each person deals with alcoholism and recovery differently. Although the treatment process is the same, what works for one person may not work in the same way for another.
For examples, the detox timeline depends on a variety of factors, such as your history with alcohol use, how much you drink on a daily basis, and physical characteristics like your age, weight, and current state of health. Typically, it takes a week to fully detox from alcohol. However, your sobriety plan is designed specifically for you and the progress made through each stage of treatment.
Being in the care of others during detox helps you reach the next stage of treatment. If you do relapse, consider it a setback and not a failure. Keep pushing forward toward a healthier future. Alcoholism is challenging to overcome. Take advantage of the support of those experienced with helping others reach sobriety. They can also help you.
Rehab and Recovery: Choosing Inpatient or Outpatient Care
Following detox, rehabilitation is the next step of treatment. This includes inpatient care, outpatient care, or a combination of both. Inpatient care requires a temporary residency at a rehab facility. The benefit of this option is that you’re able to fully focus on your sobriety without the interruptions and temptations from your current life.
Many inpatient treatment facilities are located in peaceful areas conducive to healing. Alcoholism can cause chaos in your everyday life, and rehab is meant to provide a sense of calm while you recover. The environment you’re in while you are going through treatment makes a difference in the program’s success. As part of an inpatient care program, you’ll receive individual counseling as well as take part of group therapy. You will learn about where your addiction is rooted, so you may start at the source of the problem to find ways to heal. A rehab program also includes areas of care that will help you maintain your sobriety once treatment is complete. This includes learning how to handle future alcohol temptations, identifying resources to turn to outside of treatment, and preparing for your return back to daily life newly sober.
There is also the option of outpatient care, which involves similar methods of care. With outpatient care, you do not become a resident of the facility. You can choose to stay at home or in the care of someone close to you. This could be a good option if you already have a strong support system in place or if you have obligations that don’t allow for an inpatient stay. Both forms of treatment are impactful but are only as good as the effort you give to the program.
Get the Care You Deserve
It may seem like you have a handle on your alcohol intake. You may not always experience the symptoms of alcoholism. It’s true; every person reacts to alcohol in a different way. Your level of alcoholism may not be as severe as someone else’s, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less harmful to you.
If you experience side effects of alcohol use disorder and need to have alcohol to get through the day, it’s likely you are an alcoholic. Regardless of the label, alcoholism is a serious disease and one that can have damaging effects to your health. The best thing to do is seek treatment as soon as possible.
As a friend or family member of an alcoholic, helping your loved one seek this treatment may be a challenge. Turn to an intervention specialist who can help you through the discussion with your loved one. Without help, alcoholism progressively gets worse. The conversation may not be a welcome one, but it is necessary in order to help get the help you and your loved one needs.
One of the biggest parts of recovery is understanding what it means to be an alcoholic. How does it affect you specifically? What are the triggers that cause you to drink? As you uncover these answers through treatment, you’ll know how to cope with future situations in a healthier way. Long-lasting sobriety takes daily recognition of the negative effects of alcoholism and doing what it takes to maintain good health.
No one should have to go through treatment alone. We are here to support you every step of the way. From detox to post-rehab care, there are people and resources available to help you achieve sobriety. With the help of our team, you can live a sober, fulfilling life. We are ready to start as soon as you are. The time is now to take care of your health.