Understanding the Different Stages of Alcoholism and Abuse Part I

An alcoholic man sitting on the pavement
November 24, 2014
|   Updated:
August 13, 2023

No one turns around one day and is suddenly an alcoholic. Alcoholism is progressive, with the addiction becoming more destructive over time. The speed of progression is different for each individual, and some fall deeper into the addiction before deciding to get help. After treatment, many dependent drinkers can look and see that they went through several distinct stages in their drinking. This blog will look at the early signs and stages of alcoholism. In another article, we will discuss the facts about alcoholism.

Alcohol Abuse

In American society, it is socially acceptable to drink alcohol on a regular basis. It’s even considered a rite of passage to drink heavily during your teens and early twenties. This leads to a lack of understanding about just how damaging alcohol can be. It makes it easy to become a heavy drinker without even considering that it could become a problem.

Women who consume more than three drinks in a day and men who consume more than four are, by definition, heavy drinkers. So are binge drinkers who have more than seven per week for women or fourteen per week for men.

Heavy drinking is considered alcohol abuse when it leads to one of more of these consequences:

  •     It harms the health of the user.
  •     It puts them in dangerous situations, i.e., DUI, falls, fights, risky sex.
  •     It negatively impacts their work and social relationships.

Some alcohol abusers never advance further into early-stage alcoholism, often because they have suffered one or more of these consequences. Their priorities start to shift, and alcohol becomes less important than pursuing a career, starting a family, driving a car safely, being respected in the community, etc.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

For others, alcohol stays front and center, though they may not realize it at the time. They continue to abuse alcohol to the point where the three trademarks of addiction start to appear: cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal.


The person’s day starts to revolve around alcohol and how to get it. He or she may stop socializing in places where alcohol is not available. Thoughts of alcohol start to dominate the brain.


This person can drink a lot and outwardly show no effects. Bystanders may not even be able to tell they are impaired after they’ve been drinking heavily. It takes a lot for an early-stage alcoholic to get drunk. Some consume cases of beer single-handedly.


Some early-stage alcoholics feel anxious or depressed when they’re not drinking. At this point, these feelings could be from withdrawal, or they could simply be the feelings they sought to mask with alcohol in the first place. Either way, hangovers become more extreme and more difficult to recover from.

Stages of Alcoholism Summary

Most individuals in the early stages of alcoholism deny that they have a drinking problem, and many of their loved ones believe them when they say they can stop whenever they want. This is unfortunate, since an intervention at this point saves a lot of future heartache for all involved. In part two, I will go over the more advanced stages of alcohol dependence.

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