The 4 Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a complex and chronic disease affecting millions of people worldwide. Alcohol addiction does not develop overnight. Rather, it progresses over time through several stages. By understanding the 4 stages of alcoholism, we learn the importance of early intervention and treatment. Therefore, it is crucial to know the warning signs of alcoholism, its symptoms, and potential interventions for each stage. 

The Development of Alcoholism

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that 29.5 million people ages 12 and older (10.6% in this age group) reported having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year. Naturally, alcoholism affects people from all walks of life. Often, it starts as an occasional social drink, but it gradually becomes the norm. Eventually, the body is no longer able to function without alcohol. Some people consume alcohol for fun and to fit in. Still, others drink alcohol as an easy way to escape from problems, stress, or grief. 

The development of alcohol addiction depends on many factors including the frequency and the amounts of alcohol intake. Additionally, it is subjective with many risk factors for each person. Certain people are at a greater risk of developing an AUD. This includes their emotional predisposition, their environment, drinking at an early age, genetic factors, as well as co-occurring mental health disorders or trauma. Alcohol produces feelings of pleasure and well-being in the brain and reduces unpleasant ones. Therefore, many people often self-medicate with alcohol.

The 4 Stages of Alcoholism

Understanding the progressive stages of alcoholism is vital for early recognition and intervention. By identifying the signs and symptoms of the 4 stages of alcoholism, individuals, families, and healthcare professionals can take appropriate action to address alcohol abuse and promote recovery. Each stage has its warning signs and symptoms. As someone who may be struggling with alcoholism or knows someone who is, it is crucial to understand the four stages of this disease to seek the right treatment option.

Stage 1—The Pre-Alcoholism Stage

The first stage of alcoholism, known as the pre-alcoholism stage, is defined by occasional, moderate drinking. During this stage, individuals may drink alcohol as a means of relaxation or to cope with stressors. They may have an increased tolerance to alcohol. Thereby, needing larger amounts to achieve the desired effect. Social drinking may become a regular occurrence. However, it is still manageable and does not interfere much with daily life or relationships.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Increased alcohol tolerance
  • Increased frequency of alcohol consumption
  • Using alcohol as a coping mechanism
  • Minimal negative consequences


Intervening during the pre-alcoholic stage can be crucial in preventing the progression of alcoholism. Therefore, educating individuals about the warning signs of alcoholism, promoting healthier coping strategies, and encouraging responsible drinking habits are key interventions at this stage. Seeking support through counseling or therapy can also be beneficial.

Stage 2—The Early Alcoholism Stage

As alcohol addiction progresses, individuals enter the early alcoholism stage. Alcohol consumption becomes more of a problem and impacts various aspects of their life. Also, during this stage, individuals begin to experience a loss of control over their drinking habits. Thus, leading to binge drinking episodes or increased frequency of heavy drinking. They may start neglecting responsibilities, such as work, family, or personal obligations. The negative consequences of their alcohol use become more apparent.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Frequent binge drinking episodes
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Increased secrecy surrounding alcohol consumption
  • Mood swings, irritability, and defensiveness


Intervening during the early alcoholism stage is crucial to prevent further damage and encourage the individual to seek help. Warning signs of alcoholism will be more noticeable. Loved ones should express concerns and encourage open communication. Professional interventions, such as counseling, support groups, or outpatient treatment programs, provide the necessary guidance and support to address alcohol abuse.

Stage 3—The Middle Alcoholism Stage

Stage 3 is the chronic alcoholism stage. Alcohol dependence becomes more pronounced and drinking habits profoundly impact the individual’s life. At this stage, individuals often experience physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. They may show a high tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit or cut down on drinking. Social and personal relationships may suffer. Moreover, their overall physical and mental health deteriorates from prolonged alcohol abuse.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Loss of control over drinking habits
  • Withdrawal symptoms (tremors, sweating, anxiety)
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Legal and financial problems


Intervening during the chronic alcoholism stage can be challenging due to the strong grip alcohol has on the individual’s life. However, it is not impossible. Professional intervention, such as inpatient rehabilitation programs, detoxification, and counseling, is often necessary at this stage. Support from loved ones with a non-judgmental and empathetic approach helps to encourage the individual to seek treatment.

Stage 4—The Late Alcoholism Stage

Stage 4 of alcoholism is marked by severe physical and psychological consequences. This stage is often characterized by a rapid decline in overall health, including organ damage, cognitive impairment, and an increased risk of life-threatening conditions such as liver cirrhosis or pancreatitis. The individual may experience severe emotional distress, depression, and isolation. Without intervention, the late stage of alcoholism can be fatal.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Severe physical and mental health deterioration
  • Loss of employment and housing
  • Frequent hospitalizations
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior


Intervening during the late stage of alcoholism is critical to saving lives. Medical intervention, such as hospitalization and detoxification, is often necessary. Comprehensive rehabilitation programs, long-term counseling, and ongoing support are crucial components of treatment at this stage. Family and friends can provide a support network to facilitate the recovery process.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Spirit Mountain Recovery

The effects of alcoholism devastate individuals, families, and communities. Knowing the 4 stages of alcoholism and understanding which interventions are most effective for each stage helps individuals struggling with alcohol dependence to get the help they need. At Spirit Mountain Recovery in Eden Valley, Utah, we help people take back control of their lives from alcohol. Our comprehensive, whole-person approach to recovery is effective no matter which stage of alcoholism someone is at. 

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can help.

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