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What Are The Early Signs Of Alcoholism?

Read on to learn more about the early signs of alcoholism, side effects of alcohol use, and where to seek treatment.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition marked by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite harmful effects on one’s health, social life, or occupation. This article will go over the signs of alcoholism as well as various available treatment options. For most adults, moderate levels of alcohol consumption might not be harmful; however, maintaining the line between casual and excessive drinking can be difficult for some people. Alcohol consumption becomes a substance use disorder when drinking continues irrespective of the adverse health and social implications as alcohol dependency sets in.1

Is Alcohol Use Disorder a Disease?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) classifies alcohol use disorder as a chronic mental disease, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Using the criteria highlighted in the DSM-5, physicians diagnose alcohol use disorder as a medical condition after an individual meets two or more criteria.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Symptoms of alcoholism are diverse and can range in intensity. A host of factors tend to determine how these symptoms of alcoholism appear in different individuals. Some of these symptoms include:
  • Blacking out or not remembering what happened while inebriated
  • Continuing to drink even if it causes distress or harm to oneself or others
  • Drinking more or longer than planned
  • Feeling irritable or cranky when not drinking
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Getting into dangerous situations when drinking
  • Giving up activities to prioritize drinking
  • Having cravings for alcohol

What Are the Stages of Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are four outlined phases of alcohol use disorder, beginning at the initial stage of experimentation and tolerance development to alcohol dependence and heavy alcohol use.

At-Risk Stage of Alcohol Use Disorder

This stage is the first phase of alcohol disorder and starts with the first drink. It is important to note that not everyone who starts drinking falls within an alcohol use disorder spectrum. However, it is difficult to know which people would eventually develop this disorder and those who wouldn’t. Often, this stage involves casual drinking, experimentation with different drinks, and binge drinking (drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period).

Early Stage of Alcohol Use Disorder

At this stage, alcohol abuse begins to set in, progressing from the experimentation phase to more frequent consumption of alcohol. In the early stage of a mild alcohol use disorder, alcohol is commonly used to alleviate stress, anxiety, and boredom. Additionally, people may begin to develop an emotional attachment to alcohol. Tolerance to alcohol use is actively built during this stage, with more alcohol being used to counteract the effects of this tolerance.

Mid-Stage of Alcohol Use Disorder

At the mid-stage alcohol use disorder, the adverse signs of alcoholism may begin to develop. These influences significantly affect essential life activities, resulting in negative impacts on social relationships, missed workdays, relationship issues, general disinterest in important events, etc. There is also a significant dependency on alcohol being set at this stage.

End-Stage of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol dependence syndrome emerges at this stage, with the full signs of alcohol dependence being observed. This is marked by the inability to control alcohol consumption levels. Addiction to alcohol sets in, leading to an alcohol disorder. Withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors and hallucinations, are usually experienced when there is an attempt to stop drinking at this stage. Treatment for alcohol use disorder through expert help can prevent the development of end-stage alcohol use disorder and halt progression through the stages of alcoholism disease.

Complications of Alcohol Use Disorder

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, excessive alcohol use leads to over 95,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Alcohol abuse has adverse effects on all aspects of health. Alcohol use can lead to complications if sufficient dependency on alcohol treatment is missing.5

Impact on Your Safety

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Relationship problems
  • Problems with other substance use
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Legal issues or problems with employment or finances

Impact on Your Health

Alcohol abuse pathophysiology shows how toxic alcohol is to the body. Some health issues or complications that may be caused by alcohol use disorder include:
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems
  • Eye problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of cancer
In addition, research has shown that alcohol use during adolescence interferes with brain development and increases the risk of forming alcohol use disorder later in life.5 Alcohol abuse treatments can prevent some of these complications, especially if initiated as soon as a problem is detected.

What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?

Knowing the causes of alcohol use disorder can help decrease the number of those affected. In 2019, a national survey found that 14.1 million adults eighteen years and older and 414,000 adolescents aged twelve to seventeen had alcohol use disorder.2 Many factors, including environmental and genetic factors, can influence an individual’s level of alcohol consumption. These factors can also increase the possibility of people developing alcoholism disease.


Genetic predisposition can play a part in alcohol use disorder. For instance, children or close relatives of people with alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop this disorder than others. Conversely, individuals with a gene variant that alters the rate of alcohol metabolism and causes symptoms such as flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat when alcohol is introduced to the body would generally be at a lower risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Excessive alcohol consumption would be an unpleasant experience for these individuals.3

Early Childhood Events

People with early childhood events such as trauma, early drinking, and abuse have a much higher chance of developing alcohol disorders later on in life.4

Attempts to Relieve Emotional Pain

Alcohol has varying consequences on the body. One of the most profound is its depressant effects on the central nervous system. Individuals may succumb to excessive alcohol consumption to help relieve emotional pain. This dependency on alcohol can often lead to alcohol use disorder.

Risk Factors of Alcohol Use Disorder

Genetics, environment, and lifestyle all have effects either simultaneously or individually on the development of alcoholism disease. Some of the risk factors of alcohol use disorder include:
  • Steady drinking over time
  • Starting at an early age
  • Family history
  • Depression or other mental health problems
  • History of trauma
  • Social and cultural factors

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment at San Diego Detox

At San Diego Detox, we offer different types of alcoholism treatments, ranging from psychological intervention to medications to help treat withdrawal symptoms. With our dedicated experts, we provide comprehensive monitoring throughout treatment.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy is based on the principle that humans can learn certain behaviors; these behaviors can then be unlearned and relearned. It involves identifying the behavioral pattern with adverse effects and learning how to control these negative impulses. Behavioral therapy manages cravings and adopts healthier coping strategies as part of an alcohol abuse treatment regimen. The most common method is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims at restoring control.


Several drugs are FDA approved for alcohol use disorder in the U.S., including acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. They work either by reducing the craving to drink or giving an unpleasant after-effect following alcohol consumption, working as anti-alcohol medication.6 Our experts at San Diego Detox help monitor individuals during the detoxification process from alcohol and help administer medication to curtail uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Support Groups

Support groups help create a safe environment where other people who are recovering can provide mutual support. Support can be by providing positive peer pressure, looking out for each other, and easily identifying any signs of alcoholism during relapses. This can help boost the effects of alcoholism treatment for each person involved. For more information on seeking care for yourself or a loved one going through alcohol use disorder, call us at San Diego Detox today.