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Stages of alcoholism: How drinking ruins your life

25.02.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

It can be hard to stop after a couple of glasses, especially if there is a good reason for celebration: a birthday, a wedding or a party with co-workers. It seems to be a harmless way to have fun and relieve stress, become a spotlight for a short while. Everyone does that. However, it is especially easy to lose control when you are agitated: you want to drink more often, and each time the amount of glasses you drink increases. Until one morning you have a terrible hangover after a party, you head aches terribly, the memory of the previous evening is hazy, and the only way to bring yourself back to your senses is more alcohol.

Alcohol addiction is a common problem. As this addiction develops, behavior model also changes: a person starts to organize their life so that they always have an opportunity to drink.

There are various theories about the development of alcohol addiction. In this article we are going to speak about the stages of alcoholism as described by professor I. N. Pyatnitskaya and addiction psychiatrist A. A. Portnov.

There are 3 stages: first, craving for alcohol establishes itself on a psychological level, then you develop physical addiction, and on the third stage comes physical, mental and social degradation.


Development of alcohol addiction: change in psychological mode of behavior

Let’s see which psychological and physical symptoms appear at each stage, and which external signs help us notice that the addiction grows worse.


  1. Initial (neurasthenic) stage of alcoholism
  2. Middle (addictive) stage of alcoholism
  3. Final (encephalopathic) stage of alcoholism
  4. Consequences of alcoholism
  5. How to overcome addiction

Initial (neurasthenic) stage of alcoholism

alcohol addiction

This stage is often referred to as “rose” period, as the person at this stage does not even notice they have an addiction, as if wearing rose-colored glasses.

Drinking brings the sense of happiness and euphoria. It seems to be just an accessible source of pleasure. And so each occasion becomes a reason to open a bottle of alcohol, and mere anticipation of a drinking party boosts the mood. This way a person starts drinking regularly, about once a week.

Psychological state

A person shows clear signs of psychological defense: at the first stage people generally deny having an addiction, not realizing the problem. A new, destructive mode of behavior begins to form.

A person is convinced that they drink in moderation, while they actually drink alcohol more and more often.

Inner defenses fall: after each glass a person becomes more confident, feels more handsome, acts relaxed and without restrain. Everyone likes to feel “at the top”, which is why it is so easy to get addicted to alcohol.

Physical state

Physical addiction has not yet developed, but the first symptoms start manifesting. Body becomes more tolerant to alcohol, hangovers become less and less severe.


Society generally approves this form of alcoholic addiction by following the logic “everyone does that.” At first, this allows to hide the already existing problem, while the addiction picks up momentum.

Middle (addictive) stage of alcoholism

At the second stage a person with addiction experiences mixed feelings. On the one hand, they still enjoy drinking, on the other, they start to feel how alcohol governs their life. They start to crave alcohol more often, and so a person stops waiting for Friday or a suitable occasion.

The main feature of this stage is that the morning after heavy drinking only a new dose of alcohol helps to ease hangover and bring back pleasant mood. This is when a physical addiction forms.

Psychological state

A person begins to allow themselves to break moral principles and personal convictions for the sake of drinking. This lets the person maintain the illusion of being free from any problem.

At this stage, other bad habits also become worse.
A person with addiction starts smoking more, overeating or drinking excessive amounts of coffee. An addict often invokes these addictions simultaneously in order to get maximum effect from this doping.

Depending on the person’s physiology, they may experience systematic memory loss (amnesia): after drinking an addict cannot remember most of the events that happened to them. Others develop depression after abstaining from alcohol for a long time.

Physical state

At this stage person’s body already adapts to alcohol intake, so natural mechanisms of alcohol rejection stop working. The body just stops resisting. Tolerance to alcohol reaches its peak and can stay at that level for several years. Reaching the desired state of “mellow” requires around a bottle of vodka.

There is now a physical addiction to alcohol. While sober, people experience abstinence, or withdrawal symptoms. They feel nausea, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite and noticeable loss of coordination. People have difficulty sleeping, feel pain around their heart and liver, digestive system starts to fail.


People begin to notice distinct changes in external manifestation. Thoughts become jumbled; when sober, a person is in a depressed mood, the world seems gray.

Such person may go on a drinking spree, smoke and eat more.

They try to lead social life, they have companions (who are, of course, also drinking). Also, problems at work appear: it becomes harder to concentrate, intelligence level drops.

Elena Krasnova, psychologist of the Russian branch of the Institute of remote psychology:

“People with alcohol addiction may not recognize their problem even at the third stage.

Just recently I was consulting a man (41) who was seeking treatment after 2.5 months of drinking spree. The last day of that spree he found himself in an unknown place without money or any documents. However, when I asked him if he considers himself an alcoholic, he flat out refused.

The thing is, he thought that alcoholics drink all day, live on the street and go through garbage in search for food. Many people share these views. However, a lot of alcohol addicts are far from this image. You can have a well-paying job, a family, and still have an addiction. A stereotype just allows people to find excuses and creates an illusion that there is no problem. A person is convinced that they can quit anytime and may even try to prove it to others.”

Final (encephalopathic) stage of alcoholism


This stage brings on mental, physical and social degradation. Both body and mind start to crumble: whoever the person was before, whoever they were for their friends and family, simply disappears. Without alcohol, a person feels an unbearable, nagging discomfort. Everything loses its meaning: family, work friends lose their importance in front of the constant “thirst”.

An addict goes on short-term and long-term drinking sprees.

Even if they continue to work, they usually earn little. A person with addiction is always in “standby”, they can only think about the time they can start drinking again.

Psychological state

Alcohol intake becomes the crux of existence, all other values and principles become irrelevant. Destructive and even suicidal thoughts start to appear. A person realizes that they need alcohol now. However, drinking itself does not bring pleasure. Alcohol provides just a basic sense of comfort and improves the mood just a little bit.

Personality starts to decay; a person loses values and principles. Now the person is in severe depression. Appearance, food, relationships become irrelevant and unimportant. An addict does not feel any attachment to anything or anyone other than alcohol.

An addict might even think that the whole world is against them. They will do anything to have a drink: start a conflict, become violent.

While sober, a person may experience persecutory delusions, anxiety attacks, delirium tremens followed by hallucinations.

Physical state

Body starts to decay: it cannot function any longer without alcohol. However, even a new dose of it does not bring it back to normal. Alcohol tolerance completely disappears.

Internal organs and nerve system develop diseases: alcoholic encephalopathy (brain cell destruction), alcoholic psychosis, digestive disorders, muscular hypotension, contracted liver etc.

Loss of coordination makes some people unable to even rise from their beds.


A person isolates themselves from the outer world. They become indifferent or aggressive towards family and friends. An addict neglects his appearance and hygiene. The only drive for socializing lies in searching for a new dose of alcohol.

At the third stage, a person with alcohol addiction displays significant changes in their social behavior and relationship. They become egoistical, vane, crude and unable to compromise when talking to family and friends.
Moreover, a person becomes aggressive. They sometimes display their intention to isolate themselves from social life.

Consequences of alcoholism

Alcohol addiction is a severe disease, which can even be lethal if not treated in time. According to estimations made by WHO in 2018, every year 3 million people die from alcohol consumption.

Addicts are more prone to heart attacks and strokes. Another common cause of death is contracted liver. The damaged organ stops performing its detoxing functions, and a person dies from self-poisoning. Some may experience bleeding from digestive canal, which is almost impossible to stop.

Aggression and loss of focus can lead to drunken brawl or traffic accidents. There can be various causes, but the result is always a premature death.

It is exactly the case when inaction brings irreversible consequences, so you cannot sit around twiddling your thumbs.

How to overcome addiction

Understanding the development of addiction helps to realize the situation, which is the first step in overcoming it.

There are many ways to treat alcoholic addiction.

7Spsy behavior modification technique is one of the newest methods. Its main difference from other methods is that it treats addiction not like a disease, but like a problematic mode of behavior, which can be fixed with an individual behavior modification program.

In order to start living without alcohol, it is important to change the mode of behavior.

  • At the first stage doing so is quite simple, so it will take about 2 weeks.
  • At the second stage it becomes harder, so overcoming addiction may take around 6 weeks.
  • At the third stage even more time is required to change the mode of behavior.  After 6 weeks of correction a person will go through a period of rehabilitation in order to recover health and restore all internal systems, which can last up to one year.

The earlier you discover the problem and start searching for solution, the faster you can overcome addiction and enjoy life once again, now without alcohol.