Alcohol is a potent drug with serious consequences for misuse. Every year, 2.5 million people die from alcohol-related causes, with many more millions suffering illness or injury from its effects. Nearly 4 per cent of all deaths are related to alcohol.

You may be concerned about whether you (or someone you know) have any early warning signs of alcoholism. We talk about that here.

Types of Drinking

There are four types of drinking:

  • Moderate or Social Drinking
  • Heavy or Hazardous Drinking
  • Problem Drinking
  • Alcoholic/Addictive Drinking.

While the first type describes how most people who drink alcohol handle it, the last three types are increasingly problematic. Heavy Drinking and Problem Drinking are NOT the same as Alcoholic Drinking, but they can easily lead to it over time.

Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism happens in three stages, all of which have their particular symptoms.

Stage 1: Behavioral Changes

Someone in the first stage of alcoholism is often what is called a “functional alcoholic.” He/she shows no outward signs of being addicted and continues to function as if everything were fine. Some symptoms of Stage 1 alcoholism are:

  • The drinker no longer uses alcohol on just a social basis. He or she may start to drink alone.
  • The drinker starts to use alcohol as a means of dealing with emotional problems or to improve mood.
  • The drinker sees his/her tolerance for alcohol increase. They can drink considerably more than their friends can.
  • The drinker does not appear drunk even though he/she has consumed a lot of alcohol.
  • The drinker does not appear to suffer bad effects from drinking too much such as hangovers or related physical issues.
  • The drinker may start to lie about how much and how often he/she drinks.
  • The drinker becomes defensive when questioned about his/her drinking.

Stage 2: Alcohol Dependence

Someone in the second stage of alcoholism is dependent on alcohol but not yet addicted. The drinker has an attachment to alcohol (dependence) that is beginning to take precedence over his/her daily routine. Some symptoms of Stage 2 Alcoholism are:

  • The drinker may be aware of the bad effects of alcohol on his/her health but feels unable to limit consumption.
  • The drinker must drink more and more to get a “buzz” or feel drunk.
  • As the alcohol wears off, the drinker will experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, tremors, sweating, irritability, etc.

Stage 3: Alcohol Addiction

The final stage of alcoholism is addiction. This is characterized by the physical and psychological compulsion to drink rather than choosing to drink for pleasure. The addicted drinker in this stage will go to almost any length to obtain alcohol.


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