Understanding Alcoholism: Stages, Signs and Effects
Alcohol addiction afflicts nearly 18 million adults in the United States, but many people do not understand the signs of alcoholism or its stages, causes and effects. Caused by many interconnected factors, alcohol addiction produces far-reaching symptoms that affect one’s relationships, work, social life and health.
Signs of Alcoholism
Drinking is a common aspect of many cultures around the world, and most people can consume alcohol within limits and without serious consequences. Alcoholics, conversely, drink to the point that alcohol has serious negative effects on their lives and feel the need to drink to simply feel functional.
The causes of alcoholism vary but may include mental health issues and a family history of the disease.
No matter the cause, common signs of alcohol dependence include the following:
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, school or home due to drinking.
- Drinking in dangerous situations, like mixing medications with alcohol or driving while intoxicated.
- Experiencing legal issues due to drinking.
- Continuing to consume alcohol even when it presents problems in work, relationships or school.
- Using drinking as a way to de-stress or relax.
- Increased tolerance of alcohol and needing more and more to feel the desired effects.
- Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including anxiety, insomnia, sweating, shakiness, irritability, headache or fatigue.
- Drinking more than intended and a sense of loss of control over drinking.
- A desire to quit drinking but an inability to abstain.
- Spending much time thinking about alcohol, drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
The stages of alcoholism are used to describe an addict’s behavior and level of dependence. In stage one, drinkers may binge and start to become dependent on the effects of the substance. In stage two, alcohol consumption grows more frequent, and drinkers have a greater emotional attachment to the substance. By stage three, it is clear that drinking has become problematic, and drinkers may experience depression, anxiety or lack of sleep. At this stage, alcoholics start to develop relationship issues and reduce social activities that don’t include alcohol. The fourth stage is hallmarked by a true dependence on alcohol to feel normal, an increased tolerance and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal after drinking. The fifth and final stage is characterized by a deep psychological and physical need to drink.
The Effects of Alcoholism on Relationships and the Body
People who abuse alcohol are more likely to get divorced, live in poverty, lose their jobs and experience domestic violence than people who do not drink or consume less alcohol. Addiction of any type, including alcoholism, also puts a significant strain on loved ones, and family members or friends may be burdened by a sense of obligation to “cover” for an alcoholic, lie on their behalf or work hard to reduce the negative consequences of drinking. This can cause long-term emotional trauma, stress, fear and resentment.
Alcoholism also takes a serious toll on the body. Drinking too much one one occasion or over a period of time can change the workings of the brain, effect coordination and thinking, damage the heart, cause strokes, lead to a number of liver issues, cause cancer and weaken the immune system.