Alcoholism is a widespread, chronic disease that affects over 18 million adults according to the National Library of Medicine.
There are different stages of alcoholism. When an alcoholic reaches End Stage Alcoholism, they have reached a point that is dramatically different than the initial stages. During the early stages of the disease, the alcoholic drinks heavily, and in between drinking episodes experiences hangovers just as anyone who drinks heavily would expect to experience. During the end stage, however, the addiction has taken over, and the person can no longer control their drinking impulses.
Are you currently struggling with alcoholism? Or do you have a friend or loved one who is? If so, you may have questions about this disease, many of which can be addressed from this page, including:
- How long do alcoholics live?
- What is chronic alcoholism?
- What are the physical signs of alcoholism?
- How do you die from alcoholism?
Essentially, the disease is in the driver’s seat, and urges to drink can’t be controlled and the alcoholic succumbs to those urges.
Regardless of the stage, alcoholism is treatable. The nuances of treatment do evolve and any program should be catered to an individual’s need. To best understand End Stage Alcoholism, an overview of the entire progression of alcohol addiction provides the best guide.
Table of Contents
Article at a Glance:
- There are three stages of alcoholism, which is a chronic and widespread disease affecting over 18 million adults
- End stage alcoholism almost always requires alcohol detox to treat the physical and mental issues.
- The body rapidly deteriorates during end state alcoholism due to its inability to repair cells, leverage nutrients and maintain the central nervous system.
- Heart, liver, gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders occur with end stage alcoholism.
- Recovery is possible at any stage of alcoholism with holistic treatment.
Stages of Alcoholism
There are four major stages of alcoholism, which are detailed below:
Stage 1: Early Stage Alcoholism
Early Stage Alcoholism is the beginning of the alcoholic’s chronic use and pathway to abusing alcohol.
The disease begins to feed itself, based on the fact that in contrast to other conditions, the alcoholic’s experience isn’t negative, it is positive.
Alcohol provides a positive experience for the user. Externally, the alcoholic does not appear to be sick—they appear to be normal to those around them with the exception of the perception that they are drinking more. Early Stage alcoholics exhibit a high tolerance to alcohol and nominally go unnoticed by most around them with the possible exception of those who are around them the most.
When most people drink to their tolerance level, they begin to exhibit the signs of being drunk. Those signs include trouble with their speech, such as slurring their words, and have dulled motor skills, often noted by loss of balance or coordination.
When casual drinkers move into Early Stage Alcoholism, their tolerance begins to rise. As it does, they overcome these signs that casual drinkers exhibit, being able to hold conversations without stuttering or slurring, having challenged coordination or motor skills, or being affected by other normal signs that makes it easy to spot someone who would be considered to be drunk.
It should be noted that many factors effect propensity for tolerance to alcohol including biochemistry, race, ethnicity, body mass and how an individual consumes alcohol (Wikipedia – Alcohol Tolerance).
Alcohol’s role taking hold
Counterintuitively, the alcoholic feels, with good reason, that they function better when under the influence. This is because they only deal with the negative effects when they stop drinking. The Early Stage alcoholic adapts their drinking behavior and often goes unnoticed. As time passes by, assuming they maintain or increase their alcohol usage, their body becomes more and more dependent on alcohol as the cells in their body begin to require alcohol.
As the stage progresses, the disease takes hold and progresses to Middle Stage Alcoholism.
Common early stage alcoholism behaviors
- Drinking more than normal
- Being more social and relatable when drinking than when sober
- Creating reasons to incorporate alcohol into more and more social settings
- Drinking to combat stress, boredom or loneliness
Stage 2: Middle Stage Alcoholism
The primary way early stage alcoholics differ from middle stage alcoholics is that alcohol is no longer leveraged for a quick high. For middle stage alcoholics, drinking is a requirement, not an option.
A physiological trap
Many individuals share in physiological traps that spiral an early-stage drinker into a deteriorating health spiral. Alcohol is no different. During Middle Stage Alcoholism, the body’s organs are being actively damaged.
Consequentially, the drinker feels the negative effects of his or her drinking. The next high, or drink, is often to forget the last drinking episode. When high levels of alcohol aren’t present in the alcoholic’s system they feel physically horrible. Only when they are intoxicated do they feel well.
Tolerance and cell resistance to alcohol
As alcoholism progresses, the cells in the body become more and more resistant to the effect of alcohol.
Adaptively, cells change how they function in the environment where they are overloaded with alcohol.
If the alcoholic surpasses their alcohol tolerance, they will become drunk. Again, contributing to the downward spiral, if the person stops drinking, their body experiences a type of shock as the cells themselves require alcohol for them to function.
Visible signs of alcohol addiction taking hold
Middle Stage Alcoholism is when the visible signs of alcohol addiction are apparent. The overwhelming need for the body to operate with alcohol in its system beings to really put the disease in the driver’s seat.
The individual loses the ability to resist drinking due to the strong physiological signals their body provides to intake alcohol. When they do attempt to stop drinking, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Consequential behaviors based on cravings and overcome self-control and restraint.
Common middle stage alcoholism behaviors
- Habitual drinking in non-social settings
- Relationship issues including changes in friends and difficulty engaging with strangers
- A decrease in social activity and/or erratic behavior
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking such as nausea, sweating and severe irritability
Related Video: What’s the difference between social drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependency?
Stage 3: End Stage Alcoholism
Late stage, or End Stage Alcoholism, is full-blown addiction almost without exception requiring alcohol detox for recovery. The diseased now spends the bulk of their time servicing the disease by drinking. In this last stage of alcoholism, the individual exhibits both physical and mental health issues. On the physical side, malnutrition and their physical condition are noticeably weakened. The mental impairments are pronounced. The addict no longer comprehends the damage the disease is causing them and denies that it is a cause, not an effect of other forces.
The end stage alcoholic and deterioration
At this point, the alcoholic’s body is deteriorating at a rapid rate. Weekend cells lack the ability to generate bone, tissue and blood as a healthy system would. Compounding on the body’s challenges is that the cells lack the ability to properly repair themselves. The liver struggles to leverage nutrients and supply them to the body. Nutritional deficiencies instill mental challenges including emotional stability, the ability to remain alert, and even mental confusion. Massive deficiencies can cause central nervous system diseases in extreme cases.
End stage alcoholism and associated health disorders
End Stage Alcoholics often develop heart, liver, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders. The list of conditions is long and includes:
- Alcoholic Hepatitis
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Hearth Failure
Is it Possible to Recover From End Stage Alcoholism?
The disease’s progressing is concurrent with the challenges of recovery, but recovery is possible at any stage of alcoholism. There are no quick-fixes to addiction, and alcoholism is no different. The safest course of action is to seek treatment in a safe environment that is catered to the individual needs, preferably with treatment that is holistic.
We encourage you to learn more about The Recovery Village’s approach to health and wellness during alcohol treatment and to seek help, especially if alcoholism has reached end-stage alcoholism.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.