Alcohol use disorder impacts people in several stages, increasing in severity as time goes on and alcohol consumption increases. It usually begins with social drinking but develops into something much more serious.
After excessive alcohol use has been sustained for several years, an individual reaches end-stage alcoholism, the point at which the condition is at its most dangerous. Symptoms take a huge toll on physical and mental health and are potentially fatal.
At this stage of the condition’s development, alcohol has usually ruined an individual’s life. Their health, relationships, and professional life have all been affected, and yet they are still unable to stop drinking.
As well as health complications, end-stage alcoholism is largely characterised by the behaviours it provokes from an individual. They begin to act in a more irrational, risky way, and they become increasingly isolated from others.
The stages of alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder is such a dangerous condition because its risks increase as time goes on. It progressively gets worse as an individual consumes more alcohol, and this brings an escalating set of problems.
Most people consume alcohol as part of recreational social drinking. For some, this can go wrong and trigger a chain of increasingly excessive consumption that can potentially lead to end-stage alcoholism.
The first stage of alcoholism is always social drinking. An individual first gets the taste for alcohol while experiencing it within a recreational setting, celebrating or having fun with friends or family.
While an individual cannot become addicted to alcohol from sipping a glass while at a party or pub, social drinking often leads to binge drinking, which involves an individual consuming a large quantity in a short period of time.
It is common for young people to do this while out with friends, and it is this excessive ingestion of alcohol that can potentially spark addiction .
After drinking a lot within a social sphere, an individual may begin to like alcohol a little bit too much. The ‘high’ of being drunk becomes too tempting to resist, and so they begin drinking heavily.
This often occurs as a result of a mental health condition or traumatic event which an individual cannot effectively deal with themselves . Instead, alcohol seems to make them feel better, so they begin to rely on it.
A social gathering or event is no longer needed as a reason to consume alcohol, and an individual drinks more frequently as time goes on.
As this progresses, an individual begins to develop such a tolerance for alcohol that they feel fine as they drink. More of it is then needed to feel drunk, and negative effects are felt when they are not drinking. Withdrawal symptoms become a new motivation to continue.
After withdrawals symptoms have developed, an individual is trapped within the addictive cycle. They must drink in order to avoid their body having a negative reaction, but the risks only become more severe by continued drinking.
At this stage, more widespread negative effects begin to crop up. An individual becomes more isolated from their friends and family, they may struggle at work or school, and their health starts to degrade.
The final stage of alcoholism develops after several years of sustained alcohol consumption. An individual’s addiction has worsened over time and pushed them to consume even more alcohol, causing more severe complications.
The risks are at their highest at this stage, and the symptoms are potentially life-threatening.
The final stage of alcoholism causes a range of dangerous symptoms. These include:
- Liver disease and scarring, caused by excessive exposure to alcohol
- Increased risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, liver, or colon
- Cardiovascular health conditions, such as heart failure
- Brain damage, impacting memory and learning
- Eye muscle paralysis
While alcoholism does develop in stages, it is difficult to pinpoint when one phase transitions into the next.
In spite of this, a medical professional will be able to properly assess whether an individual is in end-stage alcoholism by looking for some of the key signs. These include:
- Unbearable cravings for alcohol
- Obsessive behaviour relating to the acquisition of alcohol
- Inability to stop drinking in spite of negative effects
- Inability to meet work or school requirements due to drinking
- Alcohol use in inappropriate or dangerous settings, such as before driving
- Extremely high alcohol tolerance
- Severe withdrawal symptoms
- Increased social isolation
- Abandonment of hobbies and friends
End-stage alcoholism is a very dangerous position to be in for an individual, but that does not mean there is no hope for treatment. Although the condition has developed to such a dangerous point, there are still options available.
Medically assisted detox
The first thing an individual will need to do is shake their body’s dependence on alcohol, and the most effective method of doing this is through detox.
Within a medical environment, an individual will stop their alcohol consumption and attempt to wean their body from needing it. Medical professionals will be on hand to monitor their health and condition as their body reacts to the lack of alcohol, ready to help in any way they can.
Detox usually fails when individuals do not have medical support because they cannot withstand the resulting withdrawal symptoms. Medically assisted detox is much more effective because the impact of these symptoms can be lessened.
One way of achieving this is through medicines such as Benzodiazepines, which can be prescribed to steady the body’s unsettled chemistry and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
While it is important to shake the physical dependence on alcohol to ensure physical wellbeing, it is also necessary to tackle the psychological aspect of addiction as well.
For most people, alcoholism develops as a result of their inability to handle stress. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can also play their part, putting individuals in difficult situations which they cannot effectively cope with.
As a result, recovery also involves the recognition of what situations make an individual feel like they need to drink.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good method of doing this. CBT teaches an individual to acknowledge the feelings and thought processes that push them to drink, and then work out different ways of handling them.
This can help them develop alcohol-free methods of staying calm or improving their mood, weaning their mind from seeing alcohol as the answer to their problems, and putting them in a much better position for handling their addiction in the period following recovery.