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Posted by The Ohana Hawaii @ Wed Sep 29 2021

Stages of Alcoholism - How Long Does It Take to Become Dependent?

According to NSDUH, over 14 million people suffer from alcoholism in the US. Many people start drinking because of social events and believe that social drinking is not a form of alcoholism. However, social drinking can lead to alcohol dependency and cause damage over time.

Are you worried about the alcohol consumption of yourself or a loved one? Below we will go through the different stages of alcoholism.

Pre-Alcoholic Stage: Social Drinking

The first stage of alcohol dependency is difficult to spot. However, it is essential to know what this stage is before it escalates and becomes a bigger problem. 

The pre-alcoholic stage is characterized by social drinking. While social drinking within safe parameters is ok, it becomes a problem when the consumer cannot attend a social event without drinking. 

Alcohol interacts with certain chemicals that are naturally released in our brain. They are called GABA and glutamate. These two chemicals release neurotransmitters that either relax you or excite you. That is why sometimes alcohol can help you sleep better, while other times it boosts your energy.

When we drink on a regular basis, our body comes to rely on ethanol to release these chemicals, making it harder to fall asleep without a drink or enjoy a party without the enhancement of alcohol.

Early Stage Alcoholism: Binge Drinking

The term binge drinking is usually associated with teens and party-goers. Many young people like to experiment with different drinks and test the limits of their bodies. Typically, those who binge drink like to drink until they blackout. 

When a person binge drinks, they usually drink 4-5 drinks in two hours. If you are concerned that a loved one is in the early stage of alcoholism, try talking to them one on one for a plan to get help.

Many people still don't consider this stage to be an issue. They often try to make light of it and deny that it can become a problem.

To determine if you or your loved one are in the early stages, you'll likely notice that they often drink to the point of a blackout. They will joke that they will no longer drink that much again.

Middle Stage: Alcohol Dependency

This stage is easier to identify. However, when a person is in the middle stage, they will likely try to downplay the amount they drink.

Usually, they will drink at inappropriate times, such as at work, while watching children, or driving their vehicle. You will also recognize physical signs associated with alcohol dependency. These signs include facial redness, shaking, sweating, and memory blackouts. 

A tell-tale sign that a person is in this stage of alcohol addiction is that drinking becomes their priority. As a result, the performance of your loved ones will decline significantly. If you notice that they don't prioritize the things that mattered to them before, you may want to seek help for them.

End-Stage: Alcohol Addiction

At this stage, you'll notice that the dependency has become an addiction. A person in this stage may be a functioning alcoholic, but you can see noticeable impacts on your life. Alcoholism impacts many aspects of your life, but the most concerning is your health.

When you suffer from alcoholism, you will notice several health issues develop over time.


As mentioned above, alcohol interacts with chemicals in your brain that are responsible for relaxation and excitement. As a result, you'll notice a change in your behavior. You can become irritable, angry, and overall moody.


When you are in this stage of alcoholism, your heart is affected. It can cause several different problems such as:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Stroke
  • High blood Pressure
  • Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy causes your heart muscle to droop and stretch. It makes it harder for your heart to pump blood through your body. 

Arrhythmias is the term used when the electrical impulses that make your heart beat don't work properly. 


The fact that drinking causes liver issues is common knowledge—the liver filters out toxins in your body. Since alcohol is a toxin, your liver will need to work overtime to rid your body of the extra toxins.

Common health issues involving the liver include:

  • Steatosis
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Steatosis is when the liver retains a large amount of fat, while hepatitis causes liver inflammation.

Fibrosis causes abnormal scarring of the liver caused by drinking. Cirrhosis, on the other hand, is an advanced stage of fibrosis. 


The pancreas is responsible for producing enzymes that help your body digest. When alcohol interacts with the pancreas, it can produce toxins that can eventually lead to pancreatitis. 


Studies have shown that drinking alcohol increases the risk of several cancers. For example, the following cancers are common and often related to alcohol consumption.

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

There are also some studies that show that consuming alcohol can decrease the risk of certain cancers. However, the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits as it highly increases the risk of the cancers mentioned above.

Are You Worried About the Different Stages of Alcoholism?

If you are worried that you or a loved one will fall into these stages of alcoholism, it is best to get help immediately. Even though the first stages are very common, the risk of the stages escalating towards a larger problem is too high.

The first step towards getting help is acknowledging the problem. The risk is too high to ignore the problems.

Contact us today to start your journey to recovery.

#hawaii treatment
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