Perhaps you’ve heard the stories and read the stats, but have you ever wondered exactly how alcoholism starts? Our page can answer that question and more.

Alcoholism, according to the American Medical Association is an illness defined by major impairment associated with the excessive and persistent use of alcohol. Impairment can be related to psychological, social or physiological dysfunction.

According to psychologists and medical professionals, alcoholism isn’t as much about how much a person drinks, but it’s more about the effects of their drinking. For example, if problems of any kind occur when you drink, then you could have a drinking issue.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), Alcohol Dependence and Alcohol Abuse are among the mental disorders that are most common. There is an estimated eight percent of adults that suffer from Alcohol Dependence, and five percent who have Alcohol Abuse problems.

Often when looking at how alcoholism starts, it begins as casual or social drinking, or maybe having a few drinks to relieve stress, and eventually the stages in which alcoholism develops become more apparent.

Below is an overview of how alcoholism starts, and how alcoholism progresses. When you understand how alcoholism begins and the stages in which alcoholism develops, it can be helpful to identify possible problems in yourself or your loved ones.

Alcoholism: When Does It Start?

Many people don’t realize that how alcoholism starts is often very common and innocent. People don’t start drinking and the next day have an alcohol use disorder. Instead, when looking at alcoholism and when does it start, you’ll see that most people started as a social or occasional drinker. This often begins when people are young, for example in high school or college.

These are times when drinking is seen as a social activity, and while someone might not regularly drink at this point, if they’re occasionally binge drinking they’re at a higher risk of eventually becoming an alcoholic or developing a substance use disorder.

Related Topic: Am I an alcoholic

Of course, there are many social and young drinkers that won’t continue following the stages in which alcoholism develops, but there will be those who will.

Many of the people who continue to drink heavily have a genetic predisposition or environmental factors that might contribute. For example, if you are the child of someone with an alcohol abuse problem, you’re four times more likely to have a substance use disorder. People who had difficult childhoods or have an underlying mental health disorder may also be more prone to move from an occasional, social drinker to someone who develops an abuse problem.

When someone remains a social drinker, they tend to be able to drink or not drink without giving it a second thought, and they don’t typically drink to the point where they’re drunk.

How Alcoholism Progresses

There are stages in which alcoholism develops, and the first one is often defined as the early stage, which is ultimately how alcoholism begins. During the early stage of how alcoholism progresses, the person will tend to start experiencing negative consequences related to their drinking. This can include hangovers, altercations with people when drinking, violence when drinking and blackouts.

As part of how alcoholism progresses and how alcoholism develops, when someone is in the early stage they tend to develop a higher tolerance and drink more to achieve the same effects, and they will tend to look for people and activities that will allow them to drink more.

Next of the stages in which alcoholism develops are the middle stages. Once someone has moved past the early stages of how alcoholism starts, their life starts to seem chaotic, and they tend to lose control. The person will often deny having a problem, which is characteristic of how alcoholism develops, but they will drink more and more.

Even when someone tries to stop drinking during the middle stages of alcoholism, they are often unsuccessful, and their work and personal life start to decline as a result. There are also often issues with bad hangovers every morning, and the person may start drinking earlier and earlier in the day to alleviate those symptoms.

As part of how alcoholism progresses, someone who has become a problem drinker may start to experience anxiety or depression, and despite the fact that they can have physical, emotional, and even legal troubles directly related to drinking, they’re unable to stop.

End Stage Alcoholism

As you look at how alcoholism begins and the stages in which alcoholism develops, you’ll then see something called end stage alcoholism.

When someone reaches this stage, they no longer have control of their lives. They have often experienced divorces or broken relationships, lost jobs, financial problems, and serious health complications.

Also, when you look at this point of how alcoholism begins and how alcoholism develops, you’ll see the person likely has a physical dependence on alcohol. This means that if they don’t drink, they will experience side effects ranging from tremors to seizures and delusions. As someone sobers up from alcohol during this phase of alcoholism, they will have withdrawals that can also include nausea, tremors, irritability, sweating and sleep problems.

There are many other details as to how alcoholism starts and the stages in which alcoholism develops, and it may look different depending on the individual, but the above information gives a general overview of how alcoholism develops and progresses.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.