Alcoholism is a common but devastating disease that is characterized by alternating periods of relapse and recovery. Over time, active alcoholism tends to progress, and its effects grow increasingly harmful. End-stage alcoholism is the most severe period in the disease and is hallmarked by full-blown addiction and compulsive alcohol-seeking behavior despite the incurrence of adverse consequences.
There are three recognized stages of alcoholism. When an individual reaches what is known as end-stage alcoholism, he or she has reached a point that may be dramatically different than the earlier stages. Whereas the initial stage may be characterized by periods of sobriety, during the end stage, however, the disease of addiction has fully taken over, and the person is no longer able to control their drinking habits.
Fortunately, regardless of the stage a person is in, alcoholism is very treatable using comprehensive mental and physical health resources such as rehab centers.
Early-stage alcoholism represents the beginning of a person’s chronic abuse of alcohol. It may begin with patterns of binging and is driven by the fact that at this point, alcohol consumption is enjoyable and relatively harmless. That is, the individual may not have occurred many adverse effects other than the occasional hangover.
Externally, a person in the early stage is not perceived as being sick. Instead, he or she appears to be fairly normal to those around them, except it may be evident that they are drinking more. Early-stage alcoholics can develop a high tolerance to alcohol and fly under the radar, so to speak, of most people around them.
When people drink beyond their tolerance level, they begin to show the signs of being intoxicated, such as slurred speech and motor skills impairment. When formerly casual drinkers advance into early-stage alcoholism, however, tolerance begins to increase. As it does, they begin to overcome some effects that other, less tolerant drinkers will suffer. They may consume the same amount as others who appear outwardly intoxicated while continuing to walk and talk seemingly unscathed.
At least initially, alcohol can boost dopamine levels and lead to feelings of increased sociability and confidence. Thus, burgeoning alcoholics may erroneously believe that they function while under the influence just as well or better than they do when sober. But then again, they are only really dealing with alcohol’s adverse effects when they are not drinking. In other words, staying intoxicated keeps them from examining the reality of their conditions.
In early-stage alcoholism, the person is gradually adapting their drinking behavior and tends to go unnoticed. As time passes during active alcoholism, their body will become increasingly dependent on alcohol as it grows accustomed to its continued presence and less able to function normally without it.
As the stage progresses, the individual will devise more excuses to drink more and in higher amounts. People may “upgrade” from beer to wine or liquor, thereby always increasing the degree of tolerance and dependence and likelihood of relapse.
During middle-stage alcoholism, the person has formed a robust dependence on alcohol. Drinking is now a requirement rather than an option, and every day alcohol consumption may be commonplace. At this point, organs are likely to be incurring damage, and some deterioration in health and well-being may be noticeable.
In other words, the person is beginning to experience significant undesirable consequences from his or her drinking. The person’s next drink is just as likely to be consumed to numb the effects of the last drinking episode as it is to achieve a state of intoxication.
Hangovers are mild forms of alcohol withdrawal. Such effects have led people to coin the term “having a hair of the dog that bit you.” It implies that having a drink or so when you first wake up is a viable solution to the adverse effects related to last night’s binge. When a person has developed a full chemical dependence on alcohol as they do in the middle stage, they will experience a lot more than routine hangovers. Withdrawal symptoms can be very severe and, in extreme cases, even life-threatening.
As alcoholism progresses, the cells in the body become increasingly resistant to the effect of alcohol. Cells adaptively alter how they function in an alcohol-infused environment. As this occurs, the person requires more and more alcohol to experience the effects they are seeking, which contributes to higher and higher levels of tolerance and dependence.
During middle-stage alcoholism, the disease has made it very challenging for the individual suffering to refrain from drinking. Strong emotional and physical signals, including cravings, motivate the person to continue consuming alcohol despite him or her being aware of the potentially dire consequences of doing so.
Common middle-stage alcoholism behaviors include non-social, frequent drinking, problems with relationships, employment, or legal matters, and withdrawal symptoms that onset when the person tries to abstain.
Also known as late-stage, end-stage alcoholism is full-blown addiction, and the person is spending much of their time drinking in service of the disease. The person is likely exhibiting both physical and mental health issues. They may be emotionally unstable, irritable, combative, and prone to mood swings and angry outbursts. Also, they may stop caring altogether about themselves, others, and their problem.
Physically, persons in this stage may look unkempt and lacking in proper personal hygiene. Malnourishment may also be present, and they may exhibit an overall appearance of poor health. The person’s body is likely to be deteriorating rapidly as weakened cells lose the ability to repair themselves or generate bone, tissue, and blood. The liver struggles to process nutrients and supply them to the rest of the body.
Nutritional deficiencies such as those related to thiamine can induce mental impairments and confusion. End-stage alcoholics often develop chronic and potentially permanent health conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver. These people also face a higher likelihood of developing certain cancers, such as those related to the mouth, larynx, esophagus, breast, and stomach.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
In most cases, it is possible to recover from end-stage alcoholism, although it may be more challenging than earlier stages. And although some health issues may be ongoing or irreversible, medical and mental health treatment can help mitigate symptoms and prevent the incurrence of future problems.
Just Believe Recovery is a specialized addiction treatment that features a variety of therapeutic options for individuals motivated to achieve abstinence and sustain long-lasting sobriety and wellness. Our comprehensive programs, including residential and partial hospitalization formats, offer a great deal of flexibility for those who need treatment but can’t take time away from family or work.
Programs include services and activities designed to promote the recovery process, such as the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Group support
- Life skills training
- Relapse prevention
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Experiential therapies
- Aftercare planning
You may already suspect that you or someone you know is an alcoholic. If so, it is vital to seek help immediately, regardless of which stage the individual is suffering. We urge you to contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options and find out how we can help!