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Is Alcoholism A Disease? Understanding the Stages of Alcoholism

man hugging and consoling a crying girl experiencing the stages of alcoholism

Is alcoholism a disease? What are the stages of alcoholism? What causes someone to become an alcoholic? These are among the most common questions many people have about alcoholism, and in today’s post, we’re going to answer all of them. 

Understanding Alcoholism and the Stages of Alcoholism

Before we dig into the specifics questions you might have about alcoholism, let’s first go over a definition of alcoholism from alcohol.org:

“Alcoholism is when one can no longer control their use of alcohol, compulsively abuse alcohol, despite its negative ramifications, and/or experience emotional distress when they are not drinking.1

AUD or alcoholism is a chronic, relapsing disease that is diagnosed based on an individual meeting certain criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

To be diagnosed with alcoholism, individuals must meet any two of the below criteria within the same 12-month period:

  • Using alcohol in higher amounts or for a longer time than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut down on alcohol use despite a desire to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Cravings, or a strong desire to use alcohol.
  • Being unable to fulfill major obligations at home, work, or school because of alcohol use.
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite negative interpersonal or social problems that are likely due to alcohol use.
  • Giving up previously enjoyed social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
  • Using alcohol in physically dangerous situations (such as driving or operating machinery).
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite the presence of a psychological or physical problem that is probably due to alcohol use.
  • Having a tolerance (i.e. needing to drink increasingly large or more frequent amounts of alcohol to achieve desired effect).
  • Developing symptoms of withdrawal when efforts are made to stop using alcohol.

Common Questions About Alcoholism

This definition paints a clearer picture of what it means to be an alcoholic. But we know you might still have a number of questions about alcoholism, including its stages and more, so we’ll cover those next. 

Is alcoholism a disease? 

Yes—alcoholism is considered a disease. Also known as alcohol use disorder, it is a disease that can be diagnosed when an individual meets certain criteria (which you’ll find in the definition above). Unlike many diseases, however, there is hope for overcoming and managing this disease. 

Part of doing so begins with understanding the stages of alcoholism. The sooner you can identify a problem, the sooner you can begin to get a hold on managing this disease.

What are the stages of alcoholism?

General speaking, there are five stages of alcoholism:

  1. Binge drinking and occasional use
  2. Increasing drinking
  3. Problem drinking
  4. Becoming dependant on alcohol
  5. Alcoholism and addiction

Breaking Down the Five Stages of Alcoholism

Next, let’s talk about each of these stages of alcoholism in further detail.

Binge drinking and occasional use

This stage typically involves experimentation with alcohol. It can include binge drinking, which usually means five or more alcoholic beverages within two hours for men and four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours for women.

Increasing drinking

Once people leave the first stage, they begin increasing the amount and frequency of their drinking. Not only will they drink at social events, but they may also begin to drink out of boredom, to alleviate stress, or to deal with emotions.

Problem drinking

The third stage of alcoholism is usually when people begin to experience numerous negative outcomes as a result of their drinking. For example, they may begin to miss work or other responsibilities. 

During this stage, they are also more likely to begin drinking and driving while also demonstrating other signs of erratic behavior. Relationships may begin to suffer and depression/anxiety are also common during this stage.

Becoming dependant on alcohol

The fourth stage of alcoholism is characterized by a dependence on alcohol. It’s worth noting the differences between dependence and addiction. After all, someone can be dependent on alcohol but not addicted to it.

There are a few telltale signs of dependence, including developing a tolerance to alcohol. Additionally, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol including nausea, tremors, trouble sleeping, sweating, and irritability. 

Characterizing alcohol dependence usually involves a physical dependence on alcohol. On the other hand, addiction to alcohol is marked by biochemical changes in the brain as a result of continued alcohol abuse.


The fifth and final stage of alcoholism is addiction. At this point, drinking is no longer for fun or enjoyment. It’s a physical and psychological compulsion to drink marked by compulsive behaviors associated with drinking. 

This stage is often when a number of physical consequences of alcoholism are noted.

These include:

  • Liver damage or fail
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart disease
  • Brain damage
  • Malnutrition
  • Mental health disorders, including an increased risk of suicide, depression, and anxiety

What causes someone to become an alcoholic?

Another common question about alcoholism is what causes it. Are there certain factors or circumstances that can lead to alcoholism? 

While anyone can become an alcoholic, there are also some notable risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing alcoholism. 

These include:

  • A family history of alcoholism
  • Starting to drink at an early age
  • Certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Combining medications with alcohol
  • Live in a high-stress environment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Growing up in a family or environment where heavy drinking is normal or even encouraged
  • Consuming 15+ drinks a week for men or 12+ drinks a week for women

How can I get help during different stages of alcoholism?

If you just read through the stages of alcoholism or the risk factors, you might be realizing you or someone you love is in the throes of addiction or dependence. Now you might be wondering how to get help for you or your loved one.

First things first: know that help is available. You should also know that there are different treatment options depending on what is right for you and your personal circumstances.

For some people, an in-patient recovery program for alcoholism makes sense. However, this isn’t always reasonable, possible, or the best course of action for some people. Instead, many people turn to the help of sober companions and escort services to help them during the early stages of recovery and for maintaining their sobriety.

Click here to learn more about sober companions.  

Learn More About Sober Coaching

In addition to sober companions or escorts, another option worth exploring is sober coaching. Whether it’s for you or someone else, sober coaching can play a powerful role in overcoming alcohol or drug addiction. 

A sober coach is a mentor to help you along in your path of recovery. Sober coaches from Elysian Sober Services are here 24/7 through the phone and will also meet face to face five times a week. They will quickly get you acclimated within the recovery community in your area.

Additionally, sober coaches aim to get you set up with sober resources in your area and will also set a service plan for you to follow. All goals set by our coaches are achievable and all work towards a healthy, sober, future.

To help you maintain long term recovery, your sober coach will help you build a recovery plan that includes:

  • Developing a recovery program catered to your needs
  • A daily email sent to loved ones and sponsor for progress and information about completed goals from your sober coach
  • Five-day face to face meet up with your sober coach to encourage the continued recovery process
  • Documentation of progress
  • Flexibility with scheduling and/or 7-day meet up

Whether you’re interested in sober coaching, escorts, or companions, click here to learn more. No matter which stage of alcoholism you or someone you love is in, we can help. Contact Elysian Sober Services in Jensen Beach, FL. today.

Did you learn a lot about the stages of alcoholism in this post?

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