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Do you keep trying to stop drinking but end up inebriated every night? Does your teenager come home every Saturday night falling down drunk? Is your partner’s drinking having an effect on your family life, bank account and general peace of mind?

You may be experiencing the effects of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a mental disorder which affects 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Experts report that alcoholism progresses through four basic stages, gradually increasing in consumption and negative impacts on health, career, and family. If you can identify this disease in one of its earlier stages, you may have better success at arresting its progression and finding relief from its negative ramifications.

Here is a list of the four stages of alcoholism. These descriptions may help you identify and address the problem in your own behavior or that of a loved one. Realizing there’s a problem is the first step towards getting help.

1. Increased Drinking and/or Binging

One of the primary signs that you are living with an alcoholic or that you yourself may be suffering from this disease is the increased consumption of alcohol.

Instead of drinking a single glass of wine at dinner, do you find yourself finishing off an entire bottle every night? Does your husband purchase cases of beer every weekend with not one left on Sunday morning?

Some drinkers do not drink every day, but they engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration to high levels in a short amount of time: typically four drinks for women and five drinks for men in less than two hours.

2. Blacking Out, Lying and Obsession

The second stage of the four stages of alcoholism is characterized by using booze as a coping mechanism. Maybe your partner comes home every night and needs a martini to unwind. Your mother gets drunk every weekend because she says she needs to let loose after a stressful week.

Some indications that the disease has progressed to this level include using drinking as an excuse to get together with friends or to go out to a bar, to alleviate boredom, or to feel less lonely or bored. Some drinkers may insist that they “deserve to get drunk.”

When someone hits this stage, they are beginning to become consumed by thoughts of the first drink. They will always be thinking about when and where they can get it. Because they may have a feeling that this obsession is unhealthy, they may begin to lie about it.

It’s not unusual for someone in this stage of alcoholism to begin to experience blackouts. Because their tolerance to alcohol has increased, they need to drink more to feel any effect. This eventually results in loss of memory.

If you or someone you love is using alcohol in any of the ways described in stage two, you might consider attending a twelve-step meeting or speaking to someone about recovery.

There’s no reason a potential alcoholic should hit rock bottom before getting help.

3. You Can No Longer Hide It

By the time an alcoholic reaches stage three of the disease, they’re no longer able to hide it. They’re drinking every day, and may even begin much earlier in the day than anyone who takes a social drink.

They may attempt to hide bottles around the house and use mouthwash or mints to try to disguise the smell of their breath.

Alcoholics in stage three experience more serious consequences of both their drinking and their attempts to deny alcohol’s hold on them. Many people start suffering from problems in their personal relationships, like with spouses or children.

Many chronic drinkers attempt to take a “geographic” – they try to change everything in their lives to escape their problems (except dealing with their drinking). They may leave their partners or families, change (or get fired from) jobs, or move to a different neighborhood or region.

Usually, these changes will not help if the underlying cause of the problem is alcoholism.

4. Physical, Legal and Psychological Damage

By the time an alcoholic reaches stage four of the disease, they’re probably suffering from many serious consequences of their addiction.

Physical effects of heavy and habitual drinking can include weight gain or malnutrition, lack of libido, depression, and anxiety, shaking or tremors, digestive issues and liver damage.

Heavy drinkers are more likely to become injured in falls, fights, and accidents. They’re also more inclined towards suicide and violent behavior towards others.

A late-stage alcoholic is likely to have had run-ins with the law, whether from getting behind the wheel while inebriated, domestic abuse, or crimes committed in order to get money to drink more.

Don’t Wait for the Final Stages of Alcoholism to Get Help

Once someone reaches the final stages of alcoholism, they may be required to get treatment by either a court or a doctor.

Sadly, many alcoholics don’t get help in time and end up in jails, institutions, or dead. Because it’s a disease of denial and relapse, many people struggle repeatedly to get clean and stay sober.

Yet there is hope. Many alcoholics have found ways to stop drinking and stay sober. They’ve put their lives and families back together again, even after horrific experiences with the bottle.

Some find that attending AA meetings and using a sponsor helps them stop. Others go to inpatient or rehabilitation facilities.

Some people who’ve become physically dependent upon alcohol must check themselves into a medically supervised detoxification program because withdrawal from alcohol dependence can be dangerous if done without professional help.

Whether you just think you’re drinking too much or you have just been arrested for DUI, there are programs available to help you. If you’re worried about your spouse, parent or child’s alcohol intake, there are many treatment facilities and specialists available to help your entire family recover from the devastating effects of alcoholism.

For more information on getting help for alcoholism, contact us.