Alcoholism is a disease that affects millions of people across the country. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that roughly 16 million people in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder. More than 15 million adults and more than 620,000 adolescents had an alcohol use disorder in 2015.
Alcohol use disorder is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease where people experience a compulsion to use alcohol, lose control over their alcohol intake, and experience negative emotions when they don’t consume it.
To consider whether you have an alcohol use disorder, NIAAA provides a list of questions about drinking to ask yourself.
You do not need to answer “yes” to all of the above questions to meet diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Answering affirmatively to just two questions can qualify as a mild alcohol use disorder. The more questions you answer “yes” to, the more severe your alcohol use disorder is likely to be.
There are five main stages of alcoholism that range from occasional overdrinking to full-blown alcoholism. Understanding each stage can help you assess your situation and level of risks for experiencing dangerous unintended consequences. If you are considering quitting drinking, knowing which stage of alcoholism you are in can also help guide you toward appropriate treatment, as needs will vary by stage.
The best way to identify which stage of alcoholism you are in is by evaluating how much you are drinking, how often, and what kind of consequences you face when you stop or cut back on drinking.
Binge drinking is defined by consuming more than five alcoholic drinks for men, and four alcohol drinks for women in about two hours, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although people who binge drink are abusing alcohol, most of them do not have alcohol dependence.
If you have noticed an increase in your drinking patterns, such as drinking more often or consuming higher quantities of alcohol than you used to, it is essential to evaluate your behaviors related to drinking and options for cutting back. Decreasing your alcohol intake before your drinking progresses to the next stage of alcoholism will greatly reduce your risks of developing dependence and addiction to alcohol.
No matter which stage of alcoholism you are in, consuming too much alcohol at any given time can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Not everyone will have the same experience with alcohol. However, there are many factors that affect how the body responds to it. Factors such as age, gender, physical health, body mass, metabolism, and drinking history all influence how alcohol affects you.
Some common effects of alcoholism include:
The longer your history of excessive drinking is, the greater your chances of developing any of the above long-term problems. If you believe you are struggling with any of the stages of alcoholism, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The more symptoms you exhibit, the more serious your problem is and the greater the urgency for seeking treatment.
Consulting with your doctor is a great place to start to gain an understanding of which phase of alcoholism you are in. Your doctor can also make referrals to appropriate treatment.
If you are struggling with an alcohol use disorder, the good news is there are many well-established and evidence-based treatment options available. According to NIAAA, fewer than 10 percent of people struggling with alcoholism seek proper treatment. Those who do receive treatment, however, benefit greatly.
If you recognize that you (or someone you know) is in any of the five stages of alcoholism, it is important to get help now so that your physical and mental health aren’t further harmed.
Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Medline Plus: U.S. National Library of Medicine. from https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html
(October 2018). Binge Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
(September 2018). Not All Problem Drinkers Are Alcoholics. Verywell Mind. from https://www.verywellmind.com/problem-drinker-63280
(November 2016). Stages of Alcoholism. Healthline. from https://www.healthline.com/health/stages-alcoholism