Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who suffer from an alcohol addiction.

In fact, according to a recent study carried out by Alcohol Change UK, approximately 602,391 people across the UK are currently dependent on alcohol, although this number keeps changing. On top of this, only 18% are currently receiving treatment.

Approximately just over 20% of all adults across England and Wales are currently drinking over the recommended guidelines, with 27% of all people who drink admitting to binge drinking [1].

Whilst 20% of the UK population in 2017 reportedly did not drink at all, alcohol-related issues still permeate throughout society and in particular, the healthcare system [1]. Unfortunately, nearly 9,000 people died of alcohol-related deaths in 2020 [1] which is a 19% increase from the year before [1].

In fact, alcohol abuse is the biggest factor for death and poor health for those between the ages of 15 and 49 years old [1]. As you can see, alcohol abuse is a huge societal problem.

Whilst many people suffer from alcohol addiction, no two people’s addictions are the same. However, there is a tool called the DSM-5 which provides professionals with a list of factors they can use when diagnosing someone with an addiction to alcohol [2].

The DSM-5 tool consists of 11 factors or symptoms that are commonly displayed when someone is addicted to alcohol. If you show signs of two of these symptoms, then you will be considered to have a mild alcohol use disorder [2].

If you show five symptoms then you might be considered to have a mild addiction, and showing signs of six or more might mean that you suffer from a severe addiction [2].

Some of the DSM-5 factors are listed below:

  • Drinking so much that is has started to interfere with your family or work life, so much so that you are no longer keeping on top of your responsibilities
  • Drinking even though you know how much harm it is doing to you and those around you
  • Drinking whilst engaging in risky behaviour such as unprotected sex, swimming, fighting or drinking whilst driving
  • Developing an increased tolerance to alcohol, meaning that you have to drink more to experience the same desired effect.

What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction?

As discussed above, if you suffer from an alcohol addiction then you are either suffering from a mild, moderate or severe addiction.

Whilst your symptoms might develop at different stages depending on the severity of your addiction, below is a list of the most common alcohol addiction symptoms:

  • Drinking alone
  • Struggling to stop or cut down on your drinking even though you want to
  • Spending more time drinking than not drinking
  • Experiencing an intense craving to drink alcohol
  • Your alcohol use has started to affect your personal life, at work or school
  • Continuing to drink even though your friends and family members have asked you to stop
  • Stopping hobbies and spending time with friends so that you can drink alcohol
  • Taking part in risky activities when drunk
  • Feeling frequently depressed and anxious and continuing to drink anyway
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, such as depression, anxiety, restlessness, sweating or nausea

Stages of Alcoholism

Believe it or not, you do not wake up one day and find yourself addicted to alcohol. Alcohol addiction is a process and comes in stages.

The first stage of alcohol is the early stage, which will then progress into a chronic and then the end stage if no intervention is made.

Early Alcoholism

The first stage of alcohol addiction is formally known as the early stage of addiction. This is when someone displays only one or two symptoms of alcohol addiction.

This is when someone starts to drink frequently on a social basis, and they start to try different types of drinks when they drink with friends, work colleagues or family members [3].

They will also start to see how much alcohol they can drink in one sitting to see what their limits are and test them [3].

This stage tends to occur when you are a teenager or at college. This is because binge drinking is quite common during social events when you’re a teenager.

Whilst they might not drink on a regular basis outside of these parties and social events, binge drinking even once a week can do significant damage to your mind and to your body [3].

In order to be classed as a ‘binge’ drinker, individuals only have to drink for a few hours, and their blood alcohol content needs to be 0.08 or greater [4]. Usually, this equates to four drinks every two hours for a woman and five drinks for men [4].

Most people who find themselves binge drinking in the UK usually stay in this phase without progressing onto the next stage.

Those who do progress onto the next stage of alcoholism usually only do so because they are surrounded by other people who are addicted to alcohol or because they are genetically predisposed to become addicted to alcohol.

This is particularly true if your parents are addicted to alcohol, as children with parents addicted to alcohol are much more likely to become addicted to alcohol themselves [4].

In addition to this, you are also more likely to move onto the next stage of alcoholism if you suffer from a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or schizophrenia.

As you can see, binge drinking at a young age or any age increases your chances of becoming addicted and dependent on alcohol.

Whilst binge drinking as a student at university is very common, it is important to be aware of how drinking alcohol will affect your body and mind in both the long and short term.

Chronic Alcoholism

Chronic alcohol use is the second stage of alcoholism. In order to reach this stage of alcoholism, you need to show at least five or six symptoms of alcohol addiction. In order to recover from this stage, you will need to undergo some form of treatment, unlike in the early stage of alcohol addiction.

You can reach this stage of alcoholism whilst still remaining a ‘high-functioning alcoholic.’ This means that you can still suffer from an addiction to alcoholism whilst also functioning well on a day-to-day basis, by attending classes, working or looking after loved ones [2].

A high-functioning person will be able to act like everything is fine and normal on a day-to-day basis, and they might even exceed your expectations in some aspects. They might not show obvious signs of alcohol addiction, which means that you might not notice them easily [2].

In fact, 20% of all those addicted to alcohol are classified as high-functioning alcoholics. Unfortunately, this level of drinking can easily escalate and get worse.

Physical and mental health issues play a huge part in this type of alcohol addiction, and can easily make things worse at this stage.

Some of the below illnesses often make this form of addiction worse:

For some people, alcohol abuse might make these conditions worse, but they do not cause them. Alcohol might mean that these conditions last longer than they need to, their symptoms are made worse or can cause a ‘flare up.’

However, alcohol has been known to cause some other diseases, which often start to develop during this stage of addiction. Some of these diseases with a link to alcohol addiction include mouth cancer, liver issues and certain heart conditions.

End Stage Alcoholism

Finally, the last stage of alcohol addiction is known formally as end-stage alcoholism. During this stage of alcoholism, you are fully dependent on alcohol and it has started to interfere and take over your day-to-day life.

If you are suffering from end-stage alcoholism, you will display most of the above symptoms of alcoholism. Rather than living to drink, individuals find themselves having to drink in order to live.

This means that their bodies are fully dependent on alcohol in order to function and survive.

At this stage, if you stop drinking then you will experience some rather unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which makes people want to continue to drink excessively in order to avoid these withdrawal symptoms.

You might also develop some serious diseases from prolonged alcohol abuse and use. You might have developed mouth or liver disease, or even cirrhosis of the liver.

Your liver will be particularly damaged at this stage. This is because the more alcohol you abuse, the more star tissue will grow in replace of healthy liver tissue.

The build-up of this particular type of tissue makes it harder for your body to maintain a healthy blood flow around the rest of the body.

The build-up of this scar tissue also makes it harder for your body to rid itself of any toxins that might enter the blood.

As a result of this, you are much more likely to develop illnesses and pick up infections and you will also struggle to absorb any nutrients. At this stage, you will also suffer from a lack of balance and coordination, which might result in injuries.

Finally, someone at the end stage of alcoholism might also suffer from mental health problems that could result in them self-harming. It is easy for people at this stage to feel overwhelmed and out of control at this stage, which easily leads to depression and anxiety.

What does alcohol recovery look like?

If you have read the above section on the stages of alcoholism and think that you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol, then you should try to seek help and treatment. Below is a list of the alcohol rehabilitation process.

Alcohol & Drug Detox

Alcohol detox is the first stage of the alcohol recovery process. This process only happens if the drugs you are addicted to are physically addictive, meaning that your body is dependent on them.

The alcohol detox process involves withdrawing from the addictive substance for long enough so that the body no longer craves that addictive substance anymore.

Unfortunately, this means that you will experience some rather unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

However, some medical doctors will be able to prescribe you certain medications to help you overcome this nasty stage, one of which is called Librium.

It is important that you undergo this stage of the recovery process in the comfort of a rehabilitation centre, surrounded by doctors and other medical professionals.

If you suffer from a moderate or severe addiction to drugs or alcohol, then you might be asked to withdraw from the addictive substance in small stages, so that you do not shock or overwhelm your body from withdrawing too quickly or too suddenly.

Alcohol & Drug Rehab

The next stage of the recovery process for anyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is to attend rehab. Once your body no longer craves the addictive substance, thanks to the detox, you are now in a position to start focusing on the mental side of your addiction.

The mental side of your addiction is huge, and not an easy one to overcome. This is because lots of people turn to drugs and alcohol when they are going through a hard time and might already be suffering from a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or other issues.

Alternatively, drugs and alcohol have been known to cause some mental health issues too, including depression, paranoia and schizophrenia.

When someone suffers from a mental health issue alongside an addiction, this is known as a dual diagnosis. When you suffer from a dual diagnosis, you will first be treated for the physical side of your addiction, and then the mental side of your addiction.

There are two main types of rehab in the UK, including inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab.

Inpatient rehab involves moving into a rehab facility temporarily, whereas outpatient rehab allows individuals to remain living at home during their treatment and recovery, by visiting rehab centres on a frequent basis to receive treatment.


Once at rehab, whether that is outpatient or inpatient rehab, you will undergo different forms of therapy.

The primary aim of therapy is to help you to overcome the psychological side of your addiction. Therapy tries to identify the underlying causes or triggers of your addiction so that you can understand them better and therefore be better equipped to overcome them.

Your therapy sessions will help you learn how to overcome triggers and avoid stressful situations that might trigger you to use drugs or alcohol again.

There are many different types of therapy techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy, one-to-one therapy, group therapy or holistic therapy.

Therapy sessions can last a few weeks or a few months. For some outpatient patients, you might continue your therapy sessions for months and months after attending rehab, to ensure that you are supported.

Alcohol & Drug Recovery

Alcohol and drug recovery is the final stage of the recovery process. At this stage, your body and mind no longer crave the addictive substance. However, you will still have to work hard in order to ensure that you stay on track to recovery.

At this stage, individuals are encouraged to continue any therapy sessions they might be having and to work closely with doctors and therapists to make sure that they do not relapse.

This should help them to avoid any triggers or cravings they might be exposed to feel. There are a number of self-help groups that you can attend in order to stay on track, including alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous.

Psychological stages of recovery

Man taking off his glasses and rubbing his face

As you would have read above, there are different stages to recovery. However, it is important to remember that when it comes to any form of addiction, the mental side of your addiction cannot be underestimated. Just like with a physical addiction, the mental side of your addiction also happens in stages.

1. Precontemplation Stage

People who are in the pre-contemplation stage of recovery are yet to fully admit and accept that they need to recover from an addiction. They might even be defensive around their recovery and addiction and will try their best to justify their behaviour.

They will struggle to see the damage their addiction is doing to their body and to those around them and will be focussed solely on the positive feeling they experience when they abuse drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, lots of people stay in this stage because they aren’t educated on addiction, and they might also be demotivated due to previous failed attempts. They might think that recovery just isn’t for them.

2. Contemplation Stage

The next stage is called the contemplation stage. Individuals enter this stage of recovery when they accept that they need help and start thinking about how to get the help that they need.

They now accept that they need help and are fully aware of the damage they are doing and the pros of engaging in recovery methods.

3. Preparation Stage

During the preparation stage, they now feel the need to get help urgently in order to recover. They will now start taking the steps to recovery, including getting in touch with a rehab centre, joining a gym or seeking out treatment and therapy.

4. Action Stage

During the action stage, they will now make the changes they need to in their lives to recover. During this stage they will most likely be in rehab and will start to make changes to their daily habits and thoughts.

5. Maintenance Stage

The final psychological stage of recovery is the maintenance stage. During this stage, the individual will have to work incredibly hard to maintain their sobriety.

They will have to continue therapy sessions or attend self-help groups such as alcoholics anonymous or narcotics anonymous in order to remain sober. Otherwise, all the hard work they did in order to recover in the first place will be wasted.

At this stage, individuals should try to stay fit and healthy by attending the gym, taking up new hobbies, cutting ties with older friends who might be a bad influence and prioritising their self-care.

This stage of the psychological process can take anywhere between a few months and a few years. For some people who have previously suffered from a severe addiction, it might last their entire life. The aim of this stage is to avoid relapsing by avoiding triggers and cravings.

Therapy treatment options

Talk Therapy

The most popular type of therapy is one to one, talking therapy. This is basically having a one-to-one conversation with your therapist where they try to get to the bottom of your triggers and cravings.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy is another form of one-to-one therapy. This type of therapy focuses carefully on helping you to overcome the reasons why you became addicted in the first place.

CBT will try to identify any negative thoughts, behaviours and habits and try to replace them with healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

Another really popular type of therapy often used to help sufferers overcome an addiction is dialectical behavioural therapy. This is very similar to CBT but is used when an individual suffers from extreme emotions and feelings. Like CBT, DBT focuses on the idea that everything is connected and influences other things. DBT focuses on helping you to make positive changes and live a healthier and more balanced life.

Get in Touch with OK Rehab

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, whether they’re at the early, chronic or end-stage then it is important to get help.

If you or a loved one need help with an addiction to drugs or alcohol then speak to someone at the OK Rehab team on 0800 326 5559.


[1] https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics

[2] https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics

[3] Cherney, Kristeen. (Aug 2017). Stages of Alcoholism. Healthline.

[4] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking Levels Defined.