Stages of alcoholism: How drinking ruins your life

Feb 25, 2019

It can be hard to stop drinking after just a couple of glasses, especially if there is a good reason for celebration: a birthday, a wedding or a party with co-workers. It seems to be a harmless way to have fun, relieve stress and enjoy the spotlight for a short while. Everyone does that. However, it is especially easy to lose control when you are agitated: you constantly want to drink more often, and each time the amount you drink increases. Then one morning you have a terrible hangover, your head aches terribly, the memory of the previous evening is hazy, and the only way to bring yourself back to your senses is by taking more alcohol on board.

Alcohol addiction is a common problem. As this addiction develops, one’s behavior model also changes: a person starts to organize their life so that they always have an opportunity to drink.

There are various theories connected with the development of alcohol addiction. In this article we are going to look at the stages of alcoholism as described by professor I. N. Pyatnitskaya and addiction psychiatrist A. A. Portnov.

There are 3 stages: first, the craving for alcohol establishes itself on a psychological level, then you develop a physical addiction, and at the third stage comes physical, mental and social degradation.

Three stages of alcohol addiction

Initial stage

Middle stage

Final stage

Psychological defense leads to denial

Values and moral principles adapt to constant drinking

Alcohol becomes the only value and an essential requirement for survival

The development of alcohol addiction: change in psychological mode of behavior

Let’s see which psychological and physical symptoms appear at each stage, and which external signs help us observe when the addiction grows worse.


  1. Initial (neurasthenic) stage of alcoholism
  2. Middle (addictive) stage of alcoholism
  3. Final (encephalopathic) stage of alcoholism
  4. Consequences of alcoholism
  5. How to overcome addiction


Initial (neurasthenic) stage of alcoholism

This stage is often referred to as the “rose” period, as the person at this stage does not even notice they have an addiction, as if wearing rose-colored spectacles.

Drinking brings a sense of happiness and euphoria. It seems to be an easily accessible source of pleasure. Thus each occasion becomes a reason to open a bottle, and the mere anticipation of a drinking party boosts the mood. This way a person starts drinking regularly, at least once a week.

Psychological state

Here a person shows clear signs of psychological defense: at the first stage an individual generally denies having an addiction, not realizing the problem. A new, destructive mode of behavior begins to form.

A person is convinced that they drink in moderation, while they have actually begun to consume alcohol more and more often.

Inner defenses fall: after each glass a person becomes more confident, feels more handsome, acts in a more relaxed way and begins to lose restraint. Everyone likes to feel “at the top of the game”, which is why it is so easy to get addicted to alcohol.

Physical state

Physical addiction has not yet developed, but the first symptoms begin to manifest themselves. The body becomes more tolerant to alcohol and hangovers become less and less severe.


Society generally approves this form of alcoholic addiction by following the logic “everyone does that.” At first, this conceals the already existing problem, while the addiction picks up momentum.

Middle (addictive) stage of alcoholism

At the second stage a person with the addiction experiences mixed emotions. On the one hand, they still enjoy drinking, on the other, they start to experience the way alcohol governs their life. They start to crave alcohol more often, and so he/she stops waiting for the weekend or a suitable occasion.

The main feature of this stage is the fact that on the morning after heavy drinking only a new dose of alcohol will help to ease a hangover and bring back a pleasant mood. This is when a physical addiction forms.

Psychological state

A person begins to allow themselves to break moral principles and personal convictions for the sake of drinking. This allows him/her to maintain the illusion of being free from any problems.

At this stage, other bad habits can also become worse.
A person with alcohol addiction may start smoking more as well as overeating or drinking excessive amounts of coffee. An addict often invokes these addictions simultaneously in order to get the maximum effect.

Depending on the person’s physiology, they may experience systematic memory loss (amnesia): after drinking an addict cannot remember most of the events that happened. Others may develop depression after abstaining from alcohol for a long time.

Physical state

At this stage an individual’s body already adapts to alcohol intake, so natural mechanisms of alcohol rejection stop working. The body just stops resisting. Tolerance to alcohol reaches its peak and can stay at that level for several years. Reaching the desired state of “mellowness” may require a bottle of vodka.

There is now a physical addiction to alcohol. While sober, people experience abstinence, or withdrawal symptoms. They feel nausea, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite and noticeable loss of coordination. People have difficulty sleeping, they feel pain around their heart and liver and the digestive system starts to fail.


People begin to notice distinct changes in their external manifestation and their thoughts become jumbled. When sober, an individual is in a depressed mood and the world seems gray.

At any time such a person may go on a drinking spree and also smoke and eat more.

They may try to lead a social life and join with companions (who are, of course, also drinking). Problems at work are likely to appear: it becomes harder to concentrate and the intelligence level drops.

Elena Krasnova, psychologist of the Russian branch of the Institute of remote psychology:

“People with alcohol addiction may not recognize their problem even at the third stage.

Just recently I was consulting a man (41) who was seeking treatment after a two and a half month drinking spree. On the last day of that spree he found himself in an unknown place without money or any documents. However, when I asked him if he considers himself an alcoholic, he flatly denied it.

The thing is, he thought that alcoholics drink all day, live on the street and go through garbage in search of food. Many people share these views. However, a lot of alcohol addicts live lives that are far from this image. You can have a well-paid job and a family, and still have an addiction. Stereotypes merely allow people to find excuses and create an illusion that there is no problem. A person may well be convinced that they can quit anytime and may even try to prove it to others.

Final (encephalopathic) stage of alcoholism

This stage brings on mental, physical and social degradation. Both body and mind start to crumble. Whoever the person was before, whoever they were for their friends and family, simply disappears. Without alcohol, a person feels an unbearable, nagging discomfort. Everything loses its meaning: family, work and friends lose their importance in relation to the constant “thirst”.

An addict may go on short-term or long-term drinking sprees.

Even if they continue to work, they can often earn very little. A person with addiction is always on “standby” and can only think about the time they can start drinking again.

Psychological state

One’s alcohol intake becomes the crux of existence and all other values and principles become irrelevant. Destructive and even suicidal thoughts start to appear. A person realizes that they need alcohol immediately. However, drinking itself does not bring lasting pleasure. Alcohol provides just a basic sense of comfort and improves the mood minimally.

One’s personality starts to decay and a person loses values and principles. Now comes severe bouts of depression. Appearance, food and relationships become irrelevant and unimportant. An addict does not feel any attachment to anything or anyone other than alcohol and the next drink.

An addict might even think that the whole world is against him/her. They will do anything to have a drink and can easily start a conflict or become violent.

While sober, the addict may experience persecutory delusions, anxiety attacks and delirium tremens followed by hallucinations.

Physical state

The body starts to decay: it cannot function any longer without alcohol. But new doses do not bring the body back to normal. Alcohol tolerance completely disappears.

The internal organs and nervous system develop diseases including alcoholic encephalopathy (brain cell destruction), alcoholic psychosis, digestive disorders, muscular hypotension, contracted liver etc.

A loss of coordination makes some people unable to even rise from their beds.


A person isolates themselves from the outer world. They become indifferent or aggressive towards family and friends. An addict will neglect his appearance and hygiene. The only drive for socializing lies in searching for a new dose of alcohol.

At the third stage, a person with alcohol addiction displays significant changes in their social behavior and relationships. They become egoistical, vane, crude and unable to compromise in all situations.
Moreover, a person becomes aggressive and sometimes displays an intention to isolate themselves from social life.

Consequences of alcoholism

Alcohol addiction is a severe disease, which can even be fatal if not treated in time. According to estimates made by WHO in 2018, every year 3 million people die from excessive alcohol consumption.

Addicts are more prone to heart attacks and strokes. A common cause of alcohol-related death is a contracted liver. The damaged organ stops performing its detoxing functions, causing death from self-poisoning. Some addicts may experience bleeding from the digestive canal, which is almost impossible to stop.

Aggression and loss of focus can lead to drunken brawls or traffic accidents. There can be various external factors, but inevitably alcoholism will result in a premature death.

It is exactly the case when inaction brings irreversible consequences, so you cannot sit around twiddling your thumbs.

How to overcome addiction

Understanding the development of addiction helps to realize the situation, which is the first step in the process of overcoming it.

There are many ways to treat alcoholic addiction.

7Spsy behavior modification technique is one of the newest methods. Its main difference from other methods is that it treats addiction not like a disease, but rather a problematic mode of behavior, which can be resolved with an individual behavior modification program.

In order to start living without alcohol, it is important to change the mode of behavior.

  • At the first stage doing so is quite simple, so it will take about 2 weeks.
  • At the second stage it becomes more difficult, so overcoming addiction may take around 6 weeks.
  • At the third stage even more time is required to change the mode of behavior.  After 6 weeks of correction a person will need to go through a period of rehabilitation in order to recover health and restore all internal systems. This can last up to one year.

The earlier you discover the problem and start searching for a solution, the faster you can overcome addiction and enjoy an alcohol-free life once again.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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