How Does Alcoholism Start?

treatment for alcoholism

Alcohol can affect everyone differently and anyone can become addicted to alcohol. However, it takes more than someone taking a sip of alcohol in order to become addicted. Someone who even only drinks socially may not experience addiction. Most people who become addicted to alcohol did not plan on it.

That social drinker may begin drinking more and more frequently, displaying signs of abusing alcohol. Alcoholism is considered a chronic brain disease defined by impairment caused by frequent and excessive use of alcohol. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse, it is important to seek help.

What Role Does Genetics Play?

Alcoholism can actually be embedded in someone’s genes. This means that they have a higher predisposition to develop the disease. This could happen if their grandparents or parents struggled with alcoholism. Genes can account for up to 50 percent of the likelihood that someone may develop alcoholism.

While genes play an important role, they are not the only indicator. Someone who has a high genetic risk may not end up suffering from alcoholism. The opposite is also true for someone who has no genetic risk at all. Other indicating factors could be certain personality traits, peer pressure, environmental influences, and mental health disorders.

Stages of Alcoholism

It is common to view alcoholism as a switch in the brain that suddenly one day gets flipped on. However, that is not how alcoholism develops. Alcoholism most often is caused by the abuse of alcohol over a long period of time. Becoming aware of these stages could help you seek treatment before the abuse turns into an addiction.

Stage #1: Occasional Drinking

This stage can also be referred to as experimentation. Someone in the first stage of alcoholism may want to try new forms of alcohol and are likely unaware of their limits. If they are familiar with their limits, they may enjoy testing them or pushing past them. Pushing past their limits is most frequently in the form of binge-drinking. This is when there is an overconsumption of alcohol in a short amount of time. Many teens and young adults engage in this behavior. However, binge-drinking is very dangerous, even though it may only be done occasionally. It can lead to someone passing out, alcohol poisoning, or may even be fatal.

Stage #2: Frequent Consumption

If someone is in stage two of alcoholism, that means that they drink more than just occasionally. The person who only would drink at a few parties may now be drinking more often. The defining factor in this stage is that this person is not just drinking because they like to have a beer with their dinner. They are drinking to make themselves alleviate feelings of sadness or stress.

Stage #3: Effects Of Abuse Set In

If someone has entered stage three, it means that they began experiencing consequences because of their frequent drinking. This could be physical, mental, and even social changes that the person is having to go through due to their drinking. The person may be aware or unaware of the damage they are causing.

However, a person in this stage will continue to drink heavily regardless of how it is affecting them. A person in this stage may be drinking and driving, not worried about the consequences it may cause because the effects of alcohol feel too good for them.

Their personal relationships, such as that of a spouse, may begin to become strained. Due to their heavy drinking, the person abusing alcohol may also experience nausea, insomnia, and anxiety. The person will feel an intense need or desire to continue drinking. They are also likely to engage in dangerous activity after they have been drinking, which is not exclusively limited to teenagers and young adults. Behaviors such as this could include bar fights, trying to operate machinery, swimming, or even engaging in unprotected sex. People in this stage will feel that alcohol and having fun are synonymous.

Stage #4: Tolerance Raises

In stage four, the person’s tolerance will begin to raise. At this point, the person will be experiencing severe consequences for their actions. However, they will disregard them and continue to consume alcohol. During this stage, a person’s body may begin to show signs of becoming addicted to alcohol. As their tolerance rises, their need for more alcohol grows as well. This is because your body is becoming accustomed to having a certain amount of alcohol, so the effects you were used to experiencing before will now require more alcohol.

Thus, a person will begin consuming even more alcohol than before. This overconsumption can have dangerous effects as the tolerance level rises. A person may begin experiencing severe liver damage, as well as damage to their heart and kidneys. Withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating and body tremors, will also be present during this stage. Alcohol can make your body act in erratic ways, which can be life-threatening.

Stage #5: Physical & Psychological Need to Drink

The end stage of alcoholism is an addiction. Your body and mind now intensely crave alcohol. Consequences do not matter to you now that you are addicted. Your brain has gone through changes, which may be permanent, in the dopamine reward pathways. This causes behavioral changes, such as compulsiveness, memory impairment, and impulsivity. When you began experiencing the effects of alcohol, your dopamine levels shot through the roof. Since drugs and alcohol affect your brain in adverse ways, it is impossible for you to get the same experience from anything other than drugs and alcohol when you are suffering from addiction. This brain rewires will begin to affect every facet of your life. However, there is always hope for recovery.

Any level of alcohol abuse is not safe. The Arizona Addiction Recovery Center has a dedicated team of understanding and supportive professionals that will walk you through the treatment process. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction, it is never too late to begin your road to recovery.