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What Are The Stages of Alcoholism?



Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Alcohol addiction, like many types of substance abuse, does not happen overnight. It develops over months or years of misuse. While there is some evidence that addiction has a genetic component, it is not contagious. No one catches alcoholism like a cold. Alcohol addiction develops over time. There are some warning signs that alcoholism displays and a typical pattern of how the disease progresses. Knowledge about these may help someone identify their, or someone else’s problem with alcohol sooner rather than later.

The Jellinek Curve

While each person is unique, there are some typical stages that many struggling with drinking go through. Created by E. Morton Jellinek in the 1950s, the Jellinek Curve describes and details these, illustrating how alcoholism progresses for most of those with the disease. The chart also shows how alcohol addiction becomes a vicious cycle that continually repeats unless the person attempts to break the cycle by seeking help.

Stage One: Pre-Alcoholic

During the first stage of alcoholism, the person is experimenting with alcohol. They may be drinking to feel better about themselves or to dull physical or emotional pain. The individual may be hoping that alcohol will help them with anxiety or allow them to forget.

Stage Two: Early Alcoholic

The second stage on the curve is marked by symptoms such as blackouts. Other warning signs of this stage include lying about drinking, drinking excessively, and thinking obsessively about drinking.

Stage Three: Middle Alcoholic

During the middle phase of the Jellinek Curve, a person’s struggle with alcohol will have become evident to friends and family. Those around the person may have noticed specific physical changes like facial redness, weight changes, sluggishness, and stomach bloating that come from the abuse of alcohol. Other symptoms, such as missing work and increased irritability or forgetfulness, may be observed. Many may benefit from support groups if they seek help during this stage.

Stage Four: Late Alcoholic

When an individual reaches this stage of the cycle, alcohol becomes their sole focus. Everything in their life revolves around drinking at the expense of their health, relationships, and jobs. If the person cuts back or stops drinking during this stage, they can experience side effects such as tremors and hallucinations. Help via therapy and detox can help the individual navigate these symptoms safely to begin to live without alcohol.

Stage Five: Recovery

The final stage of the Jellinek Curve occurs when the person’s health stabilizes after they stop drinking. The person in recovery has transitioned through detox and immediate treatment to maintain sobriety. They continue to practice sober living habits to change their lives and support their ongoing efforts to manage their alcoholism and regain their life.

The Consequences of Alcoholism

Any stage of the Jellinek Curve is considered dangerous because the person is not consuming alcohol in moderation, which is the only safe way to drink. Moderate drinking means two drinks or fewer in a day for men or one drink or fewer in a day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, for some people, even moderate drinking is not safe. People with a family history of addiction or a mental health disorder may be at a higher risk of alcoholism. Other factors that increase someone’s risk of alcohol misuse include their early use of alcohol, peer pressure to drink, or a lack of family involvement in their lives, particularly from a young age.

Abuse of alcohol can cause serious health issues, both short- and long-term. Some short-term problems include:

  • Car wrecks, falls, drownings and burns.
  • Homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)

More long-term health consequences of alcoholism are:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.
  • Weakening of the immune system increasing the chances of getting sick.
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

If someone has an issue with alcohol, the sooner they seek help, the better. Addiction cannot be cured, but it can be managed like other chronic health conditions, including asthma and diabetes.

Building on a belief that spiritual development and healthy recovery can bring inner peace to clients overcoming addiction and substance abuse, Into Action Recovery Centers takes a people-centered approach to addiction treatment. The center is conveniently located in Houston, Texas, and is led by experienced master’s level counselors and medical professionals who specialize in personalized treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.


Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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