There are many situations where understanding something more closely will help with managing it, and a great example is alcohol addiction or any other form of substance abuse. Understanding how and why alcohol addiction often forms and maintains in the brain and body will often be very helpful for breaking free of this cycle of addiction, both for individuals themselves and their family or friends.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, we’re here to offer caring, compassionate alcohol rehabilitation and treatment programs to patients around Boise, Washington and Oregon, plus several other addiction recovery programs as well. Speaking specifically about alcohol use disorder (AUD), or what most people know as “alcoholism,” which stages does this form of addiction typically go through? Here’s a simple rundown.

Defining AUD

Before we get to the stages of AUD, it’s important to understand what this is and how it can affect an individual. Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition caused by the excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages over an extended period of time and results in physical dependence, mental health issues, and other related problems.

Essentially, someone with an alcohol addiction experiences cravings for alcohol that can be difficult to resist, and this addiction may become increasingly severe over time. Alcoholism ranges from mild to moderate or even severe in some cases and can lead to serious health complications.

Over 14 million Americans (the majority of which are men) struggle with AUD and it can be difficult to break free from this addiction without professional help. Our next several sections will go through the typical stages of AUD, plus some of the behaviors or trends that are often visible during these periods.


The first stage here, and the one that tends to be most difficult for friends and family to notice, is pre-alcoholism. This stage typically occurs when casual alcohol consumption begins to increase and an individual has difficulty controlling the amount they drink or how often they drink.

The key sign here is that someone will become dependent on drinking in order to cope with life’s stressors or simply for enjoyment purposes. In this period, a person may not necessarily have an addiction to alcohol yet, however it is important to note that this stage can pave the way for further development of alcoholism.

In fact, many people in this stage of alcoholism don’t even consciously realize that they are drinking in excess. It’s often necessary to get an outside perspective of the situation from a professional or family member to help someone recognize their pre-alcoholism stage and begin making positive changes.

Early-Stage Alcoholism

The next stage is early-stage alcoholism, which is characterized by physical cravings for alcohol as well as psychological dependence on it. This is often the stage where people will begin “blacking out” due to drinking too much and may struggle with physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have alcohol.

At this point, people struggling with alcoholism will usually start to put themselves in dangerous situations due to their drinking habits, and their actions may be increasingly unpredictable or reckless. They may begin lying to friends or family about their drinking habits or make excuses for it, and may become increasingly isolated due to the stigma around alcoholism.

Middle-Stage Alcoholism

The middle stage of alcoholism is characterized by an individual’s habits becoming much more noticeable to the people around them. They may become violent or irritable when they don’t have access to alcohol, experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit drinking, and put themselves in increasingly dangerous situations due to their addiction.

This is usually the point where an individual’s physical health starts to decline rapidly and may begin experiencing more severe mental health issues due to the abuse of alcohol. Drinking will often be a daily or near-daily activity for them, and they may even become addicted to other substances in addition to alcohol.

Late-Stage Alcoholism

The last stage of alcoholism is known as late-stage alcoholism (sometimes also called end-stage alcoholism), and this is typically when addiction has reached its peak. At this point, someone’s physical health will have deteriorated significantly due to the extensive drinking, which has become a full-on dependence.

People in this stage will usually become entirely consumed with drinking and be unable to maintain a job, develop healthy relationships, or even take care of basic hygiene needs. They may engage in risky behaviors such as driving under the influence or stealing money for alcohol. If it has not already been considered, an intervention or professional help should be sought out for the person in late-stage alcoholism as soon as possible.

Overall, understanding how and why alcohol addiction develops and is maintained can be helpful when it comes to helping someone break free from this cycle of addiction. With appropriate intervention, support from friends and family, and professional help, those suffering from AUD can begin their journey to recovery.

For more here, or to learn about our addiction recovery programs in Boise, Washington and Oregon, speak to our caring staff at Moonlight Mountain Recovery today.