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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) develops gradually. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the “stage” of alcoholism.
It is important to know the signs that develop during each stage to ensure your loved one seeks treatment for their addiction early on. The earlier they seek treatment, the better their chance of successful recovery.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a brain disorder that impairs someone’s ability to stop or control alcohol use. The term AUD encompasses all alcohol-related conditions, including:
A person with AUD will drink alcohol excessively despite knowing the occupational, health, and social consequences.
There are different types of alcoholics, alcoholic personalities, and tolerances, but the health effects are the same, especially long-term. Prolonged and heavy alcohol consumption permanently changes brain chemistry. This makes you more dependent on alcohol over time.
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The five main stages of alcoholism include:
The primary symptom of stage one is the development of alcohol tolerance. This stage of alcoholism is difficult to notice, even for the person misusing alcohol.
During the pre-alcoholic stage, a person may:
The individual can stay in this stage for many years but eventually start showing more disordered behaviors.
The primary symptom of stage two is increasing alcohol tolerance. During the early stage of alcoholism, the individual becomes more dependent on alcohol. During stage two of alcoholism, they may:
The primary symptoms of stage three include high tolerance to alcohol, physical symptoms, and more obvious drinking behaviors. The middle stage of alcoholism is when drinking interferes with everyday life.
At this point, an individual has developed an AUD. Middle-stage alcoholics may:
Physical symptoms also develop during this stage. They are typically obvious to others, including coworkers, family members, and friends.
The most common signs include:
The primary symptoms of stage four include all-consuming alcohol use, health problems, and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. End-stage alcoholism, also known as late-stage alcoholism, is the most severe.
Late-stage alcoholics drink all day and are unable to keep steady jobs. They may:
Without treatment, late-stage alcoholism can lead to the following medical problems:
An end-stage alcoholic will experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. This is why detoxing should be done with a medical professional's supervision at an addiction treatment center.
Common withdrawal symptoms associated with end-stage alcoholism include delirium tremens (DTs), vomiting, nausea, sweating, shaking, and seizures.
If willing, a person with an AUD can get stabilized with recovery. This step aims to transition from drug use to detox to treatment. From there, you will work on maintenance (learning to live sober) and, finally, transcendence or full recovery.
Those more at risk of developing alcoholism include:
You may have an AUD if you’ve experienced two or more of the following in the past year:
There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction, including:
Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring.
These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days. Most will offer aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide similar services to inpatient programs. Services include:
At a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.
Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient treatment or partial hospitalization programs. They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover but cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school.
These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.
Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.
Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. These medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.
When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.
They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.
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