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Alcohol Addiction: Understanding Its Progression and Healing Paths

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Alcohol addiction is a complex condition that progresses through stages. It begins with experimentation and slowly leads to dependency.  Understanding this progression is crucial for effective intervention. Initially, you may consume alcohol in social gatherings or to cope with stress, but over time, your tolerance to alcohol builds up, requiring increased consumption to achieve the same effects. When you stop taking alcohol after dependence, it is marked by withdrawal symptoms. In this article, you will learn everything about alcoholism, its progression, and how you can recover from alcohol addiction. 

What is Alcoholism?

In simple terms, alcoholism means being unable to control your consumption of alcohol to a level that starts impacting your daily life. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is classified into three types: mild, moderate, and severe, with myriad symptoms and side effects. 

When you are addicted to alcohol, you may develop a belief that you need alcohol to function normally in daily life. With alcoholism comes a wide range of issues that not only impact your personal and professional life but also affect your mental and physical health. 

However, with the right mindset and treatment, you can overcome alcoholism and get your life back.

Understanding the Gradual Transition from Social Drinking to Alcohol Abuse

Most people do not realize when their alcohol consumption has gone from normal use or socializing to drinking for the purpose of avoiding and running away from their problems. This is alcoholism or alcohol abuse.

The development of alcoholism is based on many factors, such as your environment while growing up, your current social environment, and present emotional health and stability. If you are close to or related to an alcoholic, you are more likely to develop drinking problems. You may also go through alcoholism if you are a heavy and regular drinker or if you have mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, etc. because in such situations, you are more likely to self-medicate and become susceptible to alcoholism.

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholism

As mentioned above, alcoholism comes with a wide range of symptoms, and some of these symptoms indicate that you are developing an addiction to alcoholism. Here are some warning signs of alcoholism.

  • Temporary black-out and short-term memory loss: Alcohol disrupts the brain’s ability to create new memories, leading to temporary black-out and memory loss, making it difficult for individuals to recall recent events or actions.
  • Extreme irritability and mood swings: Individuals display heightened irritability and unpredictable mood swings, which can escalate quickly, affecting their relationships and interactions with others.
  • Make drinking a priority over responsibility: Engaging in compulsive drinking behaviors, where obtaining and consuming alcohol becomes the primary focus, overshadowing other important aspects of life, such as work, family responsibility,  or financial commitments.
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends: Social isolation becomes increasingly common as individuals prioritize drinking alone, often to conceal the extent of alcohol consumption or to avoid judgment.
  • Feeling hungover if not drinking alcohol: Alcohol dependence eases withdrawal symptoms, leading to a cycle of drinking to avoid these discomfort and feeling hungover when not drinking.
  • Spending more money on alcohol than you can afford: Engaging in excessive spending on alcohol, often beyond one's financial means, neglecting other essential expenses such as bills, groceries, or savings, leading to increased debt and financial hardship.
  • Missing work or school: When an individual becomes addicted to alcohol, it leads to absenteeism, tardiness, or decreased productivity, as the priority now changes to drinking over school and work.
  • Need more alcohol to feel the same effect: Alcoholism leads to tolerance to alcohol, which makes people drink more alcohol to achieve the desired level of intoxication.

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Reasons Why People Drink

Numerous factors contribute to the risk of developing alcohol abuse. Often, individuals start drinking for one reason and gradually find themselves reliant on alcohol. For instance, using alcohol as a coping mechanism during challenging times, like the loss of a loved one or job, can lead to long-term alcohol dependency.

While the reasons for initiating alcohol use vary, some common motivations include:

  1. Stress Relief: Stress is one of the main reasons why people develop alcohol addiction. You may experience stress for multiple reasons, such as the loss of loved ones, hardship, issues in relationships, etc. Though alcohol can provide temporary relief from emotional pain, in the long run, it can cause anxiety, sleep problems, liver damage, and many other mental and physical problems. 
  2. Seeking Pleasure: When you drink alcohol, it triggers the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals like dopamine and endorphins in your brain, which make you feel more relaxed and confident. But again, in the long run, it will impact many aspects of your life.
  3. Grieving and Loss: Losing loved ones can cause severe emotional pain, which can impact both physical and mental aspects of individuals. Such situations make people take refuge in intoxication, including alcohol, which can spiral into alcohol addiction.
  4. Managing Anxiety: In the above section, we discussed how the brain releases chemicals that make you feel good, motivated, and confident. Some people are naturally anxious, and alcohol can temporarily boost their confidence, making them less anxious. 
  5. Seeking Connection: Some of us find it difficult to mingle and connect with others socially. However, when someone’s life is controlled by alcoholism, they believe that alcoholism can make social interaction easier for them. However, it’s just the opposite.
  6. Dealing with Trauma: Studies have found that traumas such as childhood trauma and interpersonal relationships are two of the significant causes of alcoholism in individuals. For individuals experiencing trauma, alcohol works as a coping mechanism, though a short-term solution with severe risk. In all these cases, seeking help is necessary.

The Difference Between Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse?

At the outset, alcoholism and alcohol abuse may seem similar, but there's a key distinction. 

Alcohol abuse describes someone who drinks excessively, causing negative consequences like relationship strain, missed work, etc. However, they might still be able to control their drinking to some extent. 

On the other hand, alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a medical condition wherein people become dependent on alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop consuming it. Their drinking significantly disrupts their life despite negative impacts. While alcohol abuse can progress to AUD, not everyone who abuses alcohol becomes an alcoholic.

Health Risks Associated with Alcohol Abuse

Similar to alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse too poses many health risks. Short-term consequences of alcohol abuse can lead to poor judgment, accidents, minor to severe injuries, risky sexual behavior, blackout, short-term memory, and can cause sleep disturbance. 

Long-term risks of alcohol abuse can lead to numerous organ problems, like liver disease, cirrhosis, and pancreatitis. It can also cause chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke and is one of the leading causes of many types of cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, and breast. 

Accessive use of alcohol can also become a reason for many mental health issues, like dementia, and can weaken your immune system. Plus, alcohol abuse can cause alcohol dependence or alcoholism.

What Are the Stages of Alcoholism?

Individuals are known to undergo these three distinct stages of alcoholism, each marked by increasing severity and impact on one's life. The journey through these stages is not always linear and can vary greatly from person to person. Understanding these stages is crucial for recognizing the signs of alcoholism, either in oneself or in loved ones, and for seeking timely intervention.

These 3 stages of alcoholism are- 

  1. The asymptomatic drinker
  2. The alcohol abuser &
  3. The alcohol-dependent

As the name suggests, the asymptomatic drinker is an individual with a habit of heavy drinking but does not exhibit symptoms of alcoholism. There might not be any adverse consequences of drinking. This stage may persist without any change over the years; however, it has the scope to evolve into alcohol abuse.  Alcohol abuse is characterized by a harmful pattern of drinking that persists for at least one month, leading to difficulties in social or work-related activities and resulting in health problems.

One-third of alcohol abusers do not evolve further, as one-third return to asymptomatic drinking, and about one-third to one-half evolve into a dependency that has a repetitive loss of control of drinking with impairment in social or occupational functioning due to alcohol use.

Process of becoming an alcoholic: alcohol addiction signs

1. Pre-alcoholic symptomatic phase: The pre-alcoholism usually starts with one or two casual drinks at a social gathering or function. Some may start drinking to chase away their worries or stress from their day-to-day lives. Soon, they will start associating drinking with pain relief, and this will lead to quite a frequent alcohol intake ritual.

2. Prodigal phase: In this phase, there is an increase in both the frequency of drinking and the quality of the drink. However, with this comes the guilt factor. The individual is aware that he has reached a stage of alcoholism that has direct implications for his personal, physiological, and social obligations.

3. Crucial phase: In this phase, drinking becomes conspicuous. In this stage, the individual starts to rationalize his drinking behavior and shows no signs of ceasing consumption. The individual is even agreeable to evading personal or social encounters and starts alienating himself from peers and close ones.

4. Chronic Phase: In this phase, drinking becomes an obsession, and the individual does not feel time-bound. Prolonged intoxication, impaired thinking, indefinable fears, and loss of certain skills are some of the after-effects. The individual reaches a stage where he feels restless without alcohol consumption.

What Are the Treatments for Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a real addiction, like drug abuse. It is harmful and can lead to self-destruction. However, it is curable.

The first step to overcoming alcoholism is to accept that you have a drinking problem and seek help. Denial is one of the major reasons why alcoholics often do not receive the treatment they need.

With the right kind of treatment, alcoholism is curable. Two of the most common treatments for alcohol dependence are detoxification and rehabilitation:

  • Detoxification: Detoxification is the help given immediately after the discontinuance of your consumption of alcohol, and can result in withdrawal seizures and hallucinations, which are managed professionally
  • Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation involves counseling, guidance, and medication given to a recovering alcoholic to help her/him continue being sober

A recovering alcoholic must be self-driven and put in an effort to recover. If you are going through this stage, you will require regular support and motivation so you can stop your cravings for alcohol. You can get support by joining support groups for recovering alcoholics, such as 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous, or speaking to a professional therapist/counselor.

Alcohol Addiction Facts Influencing an Individual’s Alcohol Use:

Early influences

  • Key learning experiences and early life
  • Genetic make up
  • Personality


  • Peer group influences
  • Family parental drug use
  • Culture

Immediate antecedents

  • Expectations
  • Mood state
  • Withdrawal states


  • Social pressure/relationships
  • Availability
  • Demographic factors


Disposition to use alcohol-Alcohol use  Reinforcing consequencesAversive consequences.

  • Mood elevation
  • Psychosocial facilitation
  • Relief of withdrawals


  • Toxic effects, illness
  • Psychosocial dysfunction

This write-up will help family members, and friends identify the severity of alcohol use in their loved ones so that they can help them realize that they are having a problem or may develop a problem and guide them to seek alcohol addiction treatment from professionals.

Overcoming Stigma and Seeking Help: The Path to Recovery from Alcoholism

The stigma surrounding alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency is forced upon us by society, friends, and family. Most assumptions made when you think about an alcoholic are negative, such as being depraved, unemployed, having had a bad upbringing, dropping out of school, not completing your education, and being involved in shady pursuits such as prostitution, betting, etc. Alcoholics are assumed to consume drugs as well.

It is very important for a recovering individual to overcome this stigma and reach out for professional help to treat alcohol dependence.

If you are searching for a solution to your problem, Cadabams Anunitha’s De-Addiction Centre can help you with its team of specialized experts. We have been helping thousands of people live healthier and happier lives for 30+ years. We leverage evidence-based approaches and holistic treatment methods to help individuals effectively with alcohol addiction. Get in touch with us today. You can call us at +91 96111 94949.


Book screening with our director of triage,  Kamlesh Verma

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1. Is alcoholism hereditary?

Alcoholism can have a genetic component. Research indicates that genetics can play a role in the likelihood of developing alcoholism. However, it's important to note that genetics is just one factor. Factors such as environmental influences, personal experiences, and individual choices also play a significant role in increasing the risk of alcoholism. Therefore, while a family history of alcoholism can increase risk, it does not guarantee that someone will develop alcohol use disorder.

2. What are the early signs of alcoholism?

Early signs of alcoholism include increased tolerance to alcohol, drinking more to feel the same effects, frequent drinking, and drinking in larger quantities than intended. Other early indicators can be prioritizing drinking over other activities, neglecting responsibilities due to drinking, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms like irritability, anxiety, or nausea when not drinking. Identifying these signs early can be crucial for seeking timely help.

3. What is alcoholism, and how is it different from casual drinking?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is characterized by an inability to control or stop alcohol use despite negative social, occupational, or health consequences. It often involves a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. Casual drinking, on the other hand, typically refers to moderate alcohol consumption without an inability to control use, and it doesn't interfere with daily functioning or cause distress.

4. What are the stages of alcoholism?

The stages of alcoholism typically include:

  • Early Stage: Characterized by increased tolerance and consumption of alcohol.
  • Middle Stage: Marked by physical dependence and drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Late Stage: Involves severe health problems, loss of control, and significant impacts on one's life and relationships.

These stages are not always linear and can vary from person to person.

5. How can I support a loved one struggling with alcoholism?

Supporting a loved one with alcoholism requires compassion and patience. Encourage them to seek professional help and be there for them during recovery while also setting boundaries for their own well-being. Avoid enabling their behavior and consider joining support groups for families. For specialized assistance and treatment options, reach out to Cadabam's, where a dedicated team can guide you and your loved one through recovery. Visit Cadabam's website or contact them for more information.

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