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Alcohol Use Disorder

If you’re wondering if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, read the stages below to see if you’re having any of these issues while drinking.


  • 1,145 annual deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use.
  • 72.1% of deaths are male.
  • 58.6% of deaths are due to chronic causes, such as alcohol use disorder.
  • The CDC estimates 35,087 years of total potential life lost to alcohol.
  • New Mexico averages one alcohol-related death for every 1,416 adults over 18 or 7.1 deaths for every 10,000 adults.

Six Stages Of Alcohol Use



Experimenting and Binge Drinking

The first stage of alcohol use disorder​ is characterized by general experimentation with alcohol. Often times, this occurs during a person’s teen years or early adulthood. Because these drinkers are new to alcohol and are unsure of their own limits, binge drinking is common. While these individuals may not be daily drinkers, they do consume large amounts of alcohol at once.

In order to be considered a binge drinker, men must consume 5 drinks every 2 hours while women must consume 4. However, many binge drinkers will exceed this amount substantially. While binge drinking may seem harmless, this is far from the truth. In fact, binge drinking can lead to serious health concerns such as alcohol poisoning, comas, and even death. Additionally, drinking in large amounts can lead to alcohol dependency or addiction – making it the first stage of alcohol use disorder.


Increased Tolerance to Alcohol

Once an individual begins to drink more frequently, they have entered the second stage of alcohol use disorder​. During this stage, drinkers are typically still drinking solely in social settings. However, they need to consume more alcohol in order to produce the same effect they experienced in the beginning.

Examples of regular alcohol use include drinking during a celebratory event or pairing a glass of wine with a meal. On the other hand, moderate drinkers will drink in order to relieve their negative emotions or “blow off steam”. In order to be in the second stage of alcohol use disorder, an individual will have become a moderate drinker. Often times, people will develop a slight psychological dependence during this stage of alcohol use disorder.


Problem Drinking

The third stage of alcohol use disorder is characterized by a person experiencing problems as a direct result of their drinking. “Problem drinker” is a term commonly used in today’s society to describe a person whose drinking has caused them emotional, physical, social, or financial issues. Similarly, this also describes the third stage of alcohol use disorder.

The social signs of problem drinking include, but are not limited to:

  • Relationship issues
  • Sudden change in friends or social scenes
  • Decrease in social activity due to erratic behavior
  • An issue conversing with strangers

Problem drinkers may experience heightened depression, anxiety, or disturbances in sleeping patterns. Additionally, an individual may feel ill due to their drinking, however, enjoy the effects produced too much to stop. Often times, drinkers at this stage of alcohol use disorder are more likely to experience legal issues because of their alcohol use.


Physical Dependence

Commonly, people believe the misconception of alcohol dependency and alcohol addiction is one and the same. However, alcohol dependence can occur before addiction is developed. The fourth stage of alcohol use disorder is characterized by an individual experiencing a dependence on alcohol. Alcohol dependence is defined as the point at which a person has no control over their alcohol intake.

In addition, people suffering from alcohol dependence acquire tolerance. As a result, the individual will have to consume a larger quantity of alcohol to experience the desired effect. Similarly, when a person increases their alcohol intake, they also increase the risk of damage to their body. Also, one of the main characteristics of alcohol dependence is withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person becomes sober from alcohol after a long period of drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Body tremors
  • Nausea unrelated to a hangover
  • Sweating
  • Extreme irritability
  • Increased or racing heartbeat
  • Issues sleeping or insomnia


Addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder

The fifth and most troublesome stage of alcohol use disorder occurs once a person is mentally and physically addicted. During this stage, individuals feel a need to drink rather than just a want. Individuals in this stage of alcohol use disorder will never go very long without having a drink in order to avoid severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, it is common for them to abuse other substances in combination with alcohol.

Often times, alcoholics develop chronic health conditions as a result of their drinking. These conditions include heart disease, liver damage, brain damage, malnutrition, and mental disorders. Unfortunately, individuals who are addicted to alcohol are at an increased risk of suicide due to severe depression and anxiety. Additional psychological effects include dementia and paranoia.



Once stabilized, the goal is to transition from detox, to treatment, to maintenance (practicing sober living by changing your life), to transcendence—the final step in the path to recovery.

  •  Integrates faith based and evidenced based substance use disorder treatment approaches

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