What Are The Stages of Alcoholism?
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Alcoholism doesn’t develop in a day. It isn’t something that comes about overnight. In reality, alcohol addiction is a progressive condition. What starts as casual drinking advances into dependence and addiction over time. The majority of people who struggle with alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), took months or years to reach that point.
Additionally, no two individuals have identical reasons that lead them to develop alcohol use disorder. Despite the variation in specific causes and timeframes from person to person, the disease itself follows a pattern.
If you or your loved ones need help to identify the signs of problem drinking, four stages of alcoholism have been identified: pre-alcoholic, early alcoholic, chronic alcoholic, and end-stage alcoholism. These categories were developed because it’s vital to help people understand alcoholism as an illness rather than a moral failing.
If you can identify with one or two stages, please understand that alcoholism is a progressive disease. People rarely spend an indefinite time in the early stages of alcoholism; it almost always progresses eventually.
Additionally, the DSM 5 journal indicates 11 diagnostic criteria for determining the presence of an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse of any kind puts people at a greater risk of developing more serious problems over time. Someone who experiences even 2 of the 11 criteria qualifies as having a mild disorder. 6 or more criteria denote a chronic alcohol use disorder, otherwise known as alcoholism.
What does the progression through the stages of alcoholism look like?
The History of the Alcoholism Research
Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are not new conditions. People who struggle to control their consumption have likely existed for as long as alcohol has been around. The public understanding of alcohol addiction, however, is a newer concept. Knowledge surrounding the causes of alcoholism was still scarce until the mid-1900s.
Little research on alcohol and alcohol addiction existed in the early 1900s. There were plenty of people who couldn’t control their drinking but doctors couldn’t explain why at the time. The disease concept of alcoholism hadn’t yet been introduced. Many thought that drinking problems were the result of weak willpower or a lack of self-control.
The field of alcohol science progressed further after Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s. Researchers conducted more studies to help them learn and understand why, regardless of the consequences, some people cannot control or stop drinking. This new phase of research laid the groundwork for how we understand alcohol addiction today.
The Origins of the Stages of Alcoholism
Morton Jellinek was a scientist whose research helped form a better understanding of alcohol addiction today. In 1946 he published a paper on the progressive nature of alcoholism based on a small study of members of Alcoholics Anonymous. He proposed the idea that problem drinking follows a common trajectory through various stages of decline.
Throughout the following years, Jellinek conducted another study on a wider sample size which led to another piece. He published a follow-up paper in 1952, “Phases of Alcohol Addiction,” that built upon his original ideas. He outlined the unique stages of drinkers categorized by their drinking behaviors.
Jellinek looked at the way alcoholics started in the pre-alcoholic stage, drinking in a casual, social manner. They drink socially with friends or while out for dinner. As they continue drinking, though, they move from a point where their reasons for drinking are no longer social but psychological. Whether they realize it or not, they’re beginning to lose control of their drinking. If they do not stop drinking, they continue progressing to the point of alcohol dependence and then finally to the point of chronic alcohol use.
Jellinek’s studies and publications eventually led to the formation of the Jellinek Curve. It illustrates the symptoms seen during a person’s progression through the stages of alcoholism. The four main stages include:
- Pre-Alcoholic Stage
- Early-Stage Alcoholism
- Middle Alcoholic Phase
- End-Stage Alcoholism
His contributions helped frame the way the medical community understands alcohol addiction to this day. Continue reading to learn more about the four stages of alcoholism.<