Most people don’t understand that alcoholism is a progressive brain disease. The stages of alcoholism may take years of abuse, however, if a person can get help in the earlier stages they may avoid some serious harm to their medical health.
Treatment may require a medical intervention to detoxify the body of alcohol to help the person clear their mind and body of the drug to have a renewed mind. The long-term risk of heavy drinking includes heart disease, brain damage, difficulty breathing, liver damage, mental health disorders, and malnutrition (alcohol can replace proper meals).
Families are torn apart, and there is also the loss of employment and more importantly the “loss of self.” Another serious harm from alcohol use disorder is the impact it has on babies who are born with congenital disabilities or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Furthermore, people who drink and drive place everyone’s life at risk.
- According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) in 2016 there were 10,697 people killed by drunk drivers. If you know of someone that needs help, you could save their life and the lives of others who could become victims of drunk drivers.
- According to research by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Over 50% of all fatal highway, crashes involving two or more cars are alcohol-related. Over 65% of all fatal single-car crashes are alcohol-related. And, over 36% of all adult pedestrian accidents are also alcohol-related.
Risk Factors for Alcoholism
Various risk factors may be taken into consideration to assess when an individual develops a habit of drinking and moves to an addiction.
A person will be more at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder if they are experiencing: low self-worth, high levels of stress, have mental health issues such as; depression, anxiety, or other mental illness, or have a close relative diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
Females who drink more than 12 drinks a week or male who drink more than 15 drinks are also at risk.
A person is also at a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic when they live with a family or in a culture where everyone drinks for all occasions, and drinking is supported and accepted.
- According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 80,000 people die each year in the United States from alcohol-related issues. Alcohol continues to be one of the most preventable causes of death, second only to tobacco and a poor diet/sedentary lifestyle.
My Best Friend is an Alcoholic: Jessica’s Story
Melanie reports that her friend Jessica has been drinking alcohol every weekend and now during the week even when she is home alone.
In the past, Jessica would drink at parties and would end up drinking four or more alcoholic beverages within two to three hours. Melanie said she never saw it as a problem and just thought that Jessica wanted to be the “life of the party.”
However, Jessica appeared to have a higher emotional attachment to drinking and to desire a drink to feel better about herself and life in general.
Jessica was in the Early Alcoholism Stage which is always difficult to detect. During this stage, Jessica’s body was building up a tolerance to alcohol.
Melanie stated that whenever Jessica smelled like alcohol, she still appeared to be functioning. She was able to drink alcohol during the day and still go to school and work.
However, Jessica’s personality was beginning to change, one minute she was happy and excited about life and other times she was angry and sad. If Jessica can get help from a professional during this early stage, she will have a better chance of recovery. With the noted shift in Jessica’s moods, she may be experiencing depression and using alcohol to self-medicate.
Melanie would talk with Jessica and see if she would be willing to talk to a counselor or talk with her primary care provider about the option of trying a low dose of an antidepressant to help her symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If Jessica has someone in her immediate family with an addiction to alcohol and drugs, then she is at a greater risk of becoming an alcoholic. Jessica began to see that she had the possibility of becoming an alcoholic. Melanie asked Jessica if her recreational drinking was turning into a strong desire or need to drink, and if so Jessica will want to get professional help and find ways to abstain from alcohol use.
If Jessica were to continue to abuse alcohol, she would be choosing a path of despair. She would be following a path to health problems, psychological problems, relational problems, and risk of loss of life. Melanie was able, to convince Jessica to get help, and she called a substance abuse treatment program to schedule an evaluation.
The Middle Stage of Alcohol Addiction is considered the stage where drinking leads to alcohol dependence. In this stage, an individual may become more depressed, anxious and lose sleep. During this stage, an individual has a higher risk of drinking and driving which can result in legal troubles or worse.
There are also noted relationship problems and hanging out with new friends who also drink alcohol to the point of getting sick or blacking out. An individual will begin to withdraw from other social activities and lose friends due to their erratic behaviors.
Also, during this stage, the individual will notice that they must drink larger quantities to get “drunk.” With increased amounts of alcohol more damage takes place to the person’s body and when they “sober up” they may feel some withdrawal symptoms such as; sweating, trouble sleeping, a racy heart, body tremors (shakes), severe headaches, enlarged pupils, clammy skin, nausea, and severe irritability.
At this stage, the individual may need a medical detox before continuing with inpatient or outpatient counseling.
“When I see a patient, who complains about physical symptoms, such as; unexplained sweating, racy heart, body shakes, and irritability or low mood, we begin our conversation with the damage that alcohol abuse can have on their overall health.” (Bill McFeature, Ph.D., Psychologist with Carilion Health in Virginia & Private Practice)
The Late Stage or End Stage of alcoholism is when the disease has reached the status of impacting all areas of a persons physical, social and mental health. In this stage, an individual will experience frequent blackouts and increased insomnia.
There are also serious medical conditions that are caused by alcoholism, such as; cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, pancreatitis, recurring respiratory infections, heart failure or brain damage. Now consider the phrase, “the person will probably drink themselves to death.”
Finally, accidents caused by drinking and driving which have caused serious injuries and at times fatal accidents for the drunk driver and others.
Melanie reached out to help her best friend. Now the rest of the story!
Melanie is a recovering alcoholic who has been abstaining from alcohol for five years. She knew firsthand how alcoholism had taken away her job, good health, and her fiancé’. Jessica never knew why Melanie never drank alcohol. Melanie had not shared all her past with Jessica.
Jessica and Melanie had been friends for three years. When Melanie shared her “whole” story, Jessica felt safe enough to talk about her problems with alcohol, and she began to open up to the possibility that she had an alcohol addiction.
Melanie was prepared to be a “shining light” for her best friend Jessica and to show her the path to recovery.