It is very seldom the case that someone goes from a completely sober and functioning individual into the depths of alcoholism all at once. That is simply not the way that alcoholism generally works. There is a process that most people go through when they are struggling with alcohol addiction. It is important to note that not every person takes the exact same path when struggling with alcoholism, but there are some signs that concerned loved ones should look out for if they are worried that someone they care about may have an alcohol addiction issue.
Stage 1: Pre-Alcoholic
The pre-alcoholic stage is the toughest to identify because it doesn’t necessarily exhibit any outward signs of there being a problem. Many people who are in the pre-alcoholic stage of their addiction have only just begun to experiment with alcohol. They may use alcohol as a way to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and other challenging emotions.
Approximately 85% of all adults aged 18 or older have drunk alcohol at some point in their life. Just under 70% say that they have had a drink in the last year. It is important to keep in mind that those statistics are for adults aged 18 or older even though the legal drinking age in the United States is 21. Thus, the percentage of people age 21 or older who have tried alcohol is even higher. What this means is that the public often views the experimentation that people do when they first start drinking as something like a rite of passage. They don’t think of it as a big deal at all, and many even think that it is odd if people don’t drink alcohol. Unfortunately, this attitude allows for some problem drinkers to slip through the cracks undetected.
Stage 2: Early Stage
An alcoholic who is still in the early stages of their addiction may begin to show some signs that there is a problem. Common things seen in early-stage alcoholism include:
- Using social gatherings as an excuse to go and drink
- Drinking to deal with negative consequences of previous drinking (such as hangovers)
- Drinking more frequently to escape negative emotions
These are all scary signs that someone in the early stages of alcoholism may start to show. We have to hope that loved ones will step up and take notice when things like this start to occur, but that is far from a guarantee. Unfortunately, many people still feel like such things are none of their business and that they should not intervene even when they see someone they care about struggling. We need to do what we can to change the perception that this is none of our business. The truth is, it is everyone’s business when someone they care about is giving off such clear signs that they are struggling.
Stage 3: Middle Stage
The middle stage of alcoholism is perhaps one of the scariest. This is why it is also known as the “loss of control” stage. It presents as a tipping point when the alcoholic ultimately starts to lose total control over their life. At this stage, the sufferer is drinking consistently and perhaps even at inappropriate times. They may begin their day with a drink or may sneak in a drink during work hours.
Someone going through this stage often has strained relationships with their family, and they may also start to feel the burden of their drinking from a health perspective. It is entirely possible that someone in the middle stage of alcoholism will feel sick on the days that they are not drinking.
It becomes much more obvious that someone in the middle stage of alcoholism has a real problem, and it is also true that someone who has reached this point desperately needs help. Standing by passively at this point does not do the alcoholic any favors, and it may allow them to continue down a dark and dangerous path. You don’t want to be the one who has to feel guilty and responsible for not doing more to help them when you had the chance.
Stage 4: Late Stage
This stage hits when the drinker feels that they must drink to carry on with their day. They have lost complete control over their life and may suffer from health issues on top of social issues such as:
- Estrangement from family
- The loss of friends or social contacts
- The potential to have their children taken from them by a court
- The inability to keep a job
When someone gets to this stage, it is often incredibly sad and also fairly obvious that they needed help long ago. Unfortunately, once someone reaches the late stages of alcoholism, it is so much harder to get them the help that they need. This is not to say that it is impossible, but they will need more serious intervention than what might have been necessary if someone had stepped up sooner. This is why there is so much pressure to do something earlier on when things are still progressing. The sooner that someone intervenes, the less damage there is going to be overall.
There are still many things that you may be able to do to help a person suffering from alcoholism no matter what stage they are in or what they have had to go through in order to get to this point. You just need to be aware that someone going through this struggle needs your help, and you should not take their suffering for granted. They are struggling with something that is bigger than most of us could ever imagine, and it is always nice to have help from people who are loving and caring. Then, and only then, is it possible for someone to start taking their first steps towards recovery.
Here at Sober Partners, we work with all people who want to make positive steps in their life toward recovery. We don’t judge them about where they have been or what they have done in the past. It is all about helping them to find the help that they need right now in the present. In that type of atmosphere, people can explore who they are and where they want their life to go. That is what we seek to provide to them.