4 Stages of Alcoholism

Uncategorized Sep 05, 2022

Everyone’s story is different. For me, there was no experimentation or social drinking. From my first drink at thirteen, I was hooked and thought I had found utopia. And then things took off from there. Others may develop a full-blown addiction in adulthood after experiencing a tragic loss. Whatever the situation, for those predisposed to addiction, and despite the differences in causes and timeframes, the disease follows a specific pattern with four stages. 

If you identify with one of the four stages and your drinking continues, you move from one stage to the next. This happens subtly, like gliding from one to the next overnight.  Once you cross the line, you can never return to a previous stage. And the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. 

Alcohol addiction is a tough habit to break. Getting help anytime interrupts the cycle. The person who can stop this cycle is YOU.

1) Pre-alcoholic stage

2) Early-stage alcoholism

3) Middle alcoholic phase

4) End-stage alcoholism 

1. Pre-alcoholic stage

I was an alcoholic waiting to happen, and the pre-alcoholic stage began before I even started drinking when the seeds of addiction were planted. Others in this stage may enjoy drinking more than those around them, but it hasn’t progressed to being overly noticeable. Just hanging out, relaxing, and having fun, but perhaps drinking a bit more than most. Those who are susceptible to addiction move to the next stage. 

2. Early-stage alcoholism

People with early-stage alcoholism are binge drinkers. I was shocked to learn that binge drinking is considered four drinks within two hours for women and five for men. That was barely enough to whet my whistle. In this stage, my drinking became a pattern of starting, not being able to stop, and blacking out most of the time. I would swear never again, and next thing, I’d have a drink in my hand. I was constantly trying to find ways to control my drinking, such as not mixing my drinks or drinking only on weekends. If you obsess about and cannot stop drinking, recognize you are in early-stage alcoholism. Getting help and stopping at this phase is very beneficial because the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. The person who can stop this cycle is YOU.

 3. Middle alcoholic stage

The periods between my drinking sprees began to shorten, and the hangovers were frequent and brutal. I started drinking more, learned to hide it, and led this double life. If those closest to me commented on my drinking, I would snap their head off. The short list of consequences include missing important family functions, meetings at school and work, stomach issues, heart palpitations, anxiety, depression, and significant gaps in memory.

 4. End-stage alcoholism

Some people, known as functioning alcoholics, manage to somewhat hold it together at home and work. However, most people in this stage have declined to the point where drinking and thinking about drinking becomes a full-time job. This stage is the most serious, where all aspects of life are affected, including family, finances, relationships, and physical and mental health. My life was a mess, I thought about suicide all the time, yet the crazy thing, I couldn’t imagine life without alcohol. At this stage, people are drinking to self-medicate the fear, depression, and anxiety and to forget about their life crumbling around them.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these stages?

If yes, please understand that alcoholism is a progressive disease that always gets worse. Addiction is no laughing matter and I encourage you to seek help. There are options for treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous, a free program that saved my life.

The first step to quitting is recognizing and admitting to yourself that you have a problem, followed by an honest desire to quit. Then, the good news is, just as addiction is progressive, so is recovery. After you stop drinking and the fog begins to clear, a new life begins to emerge. Yes, it is hard work, but you already know hard. Choose your hard.

If you are thinking about quitting and have been drinking large quantities of alcohol for a significant time, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Please talk to your doctor and seek medical care as you go through the detox process. It is important to note that addiction may also mask mental health disorders that someone is drinking to self-medicate, such as depression or anxiety.



Ward, J.H. et al. “Re-Introducing Bunky at 125: E.M. Jellinek’s to Alcohol Studies.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. May 17, 2016.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder. Fact sheet. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/DSMfact.pdf

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Partying and getting drug. Guides and publications. https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/guides-and-publications/partying-and-getting-drunk

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Stages of Alcoholism. March 13, 2019. https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/stages-of-alcoholism


Are you looking for help to deal with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs? If you struggle, please get help before 20 years pass by as I did. My GendHer® program can help you create the life you desire and deserve. Click here for more information on my next course.


Janet Christie is a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach. My goal is to help women quit drinking and transform their lives. I am not a clinician or a psychologist. I teach others what I have learned as a coach and woman in recovery. The information I provide is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.



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