Late Stages of Alcoholism


There are four stages of alcoholism. Therefore, the late stages of alcoholism consist of the third and the fourth stages of this disease.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the late alcoholism stages is the loss of control the alcoholic has concerning his or her drinking behavior.

Stated differently, in the earlier stages of alcohol addiction, the alcoholic had a choice whether he or she would take the first drink.

In the late stages of alcoholism, however, an alcoholic no longer has a choice: he or she simply must drink in order to function.

Due to the fact that the late alcoholism stages consist of the third and fourth alcoholism stages, we will review each of these stages in an attempt to gain a better understanding of this terribly destructive disease.

Late Stages of Alcoholism: The Third Stage

In the third stage of alcoholism, the loss of control becomes more problematic. This means that the individual is not able to drink according to his or her intentions.

For instance, once the individual reaches this stage and takes the first drink, he or she can no longer control further drinking behavior despite the fact that their intentions were to have just a "few drinks."


Another key chrematistic of this stage of the disease is the following: the drinker often starts to experience serious relationship, financial, work-related, and perhaps legal problems (such as multiple DUIs).

In the third stage of alcoholism, the drinker starts to avoid family and friends and exhibits a lack of interest in activities that once were meaningful or fun.

Also typical during this stage are "eye-openers," that is, drinking that takes place whenever the alcoholic awakens.

The alcoholic resorts to eye-openers mainly to "calm the nerves," to lessen a hangover, or to quiet the feelings of remorse the drinker sometimes feels after a period of time without having a drink.

As the alcohol continues to drink more, he or she starts to neglect most things of importance, even necessities such as shelter, personal interaction, food, and water.

At this stage of the disease, moreover, it is interesting to point out that instead of encountering an increase in tolerance, the drinker frequently experiences a decrease in alcohol tolerance.

Simply put, this basically means that less alcohol is needed for the person to get drunk.

And finally, during this stage, the alcoholic usually makes half-hearted attempts at getting medical treatment.

Stated differently, due to the fact that most alcoholics during this stage are hesitant to reveal the extent of their drinking, they seldom receive any lasting medical care.

Even when they admit a small segment of the "truth" concerning their drinking behavior to a health care provider, they typically fail to follow through with the medical treatment, consequently accomplishing little, if anything of significance regarding their disease.

Classic Alcoholic Behaviors in the Third Stage of Alcoholism

The following list characterizes some of the classic alcoholic behaviors in the third stage of alcoholism:

  • Loss of willpower

  • Increasing tremors

  • Serious financial, work-related problems, and relationship problems

  • A decrease in alcohol tolerance

  • Unreasonable resentments

  • The start of physical deterioration

  • Frequent destructive or violent behavior

  • An increase in failed promises and resolutions to one's self and to others

  • Loss of interests

  • Problems with the law (e.g, DUIs)

  • The loss of control has become a pattern

  • The development of an alibi system - an elaborate system of excuses for their drinking

  • A decrease in alcohol tolerance

  • Avoidance of friends and family

  • Aggressive and grandiose behavior

  • Eye-openers upon awakening

  • Half-hearted attempts at seeking medical treatment

  • Neglect of necessities such as food, shelter, and water

The Fourth and the Last Alcoholism Stage

The fourth and final stage of alcoholism is exemplified by an almost total loss of control regarding drinking behavior.

In the earlier stages of the disease, for instance, the individual may have been successful in maintaining employment.

Now, however, since drinking starts earlier in the day and frequently continues throughout the day, very few, if any full-time positions can be sustained once an individual reaches such circumstances.

Moreover, in the earlier stages of the disease, the alcoholic had a choice whether he or she would take the first drink.

Once the alcoholic had the first drink, he or she typically lost all control and would therefore continue drinking.

In the last stage of alcoholism, however, alcoholics no longer have a choice: they must drink in order to make it through the day.

Flights Into Oblivion

In this stage of the illness, the alcoholic typically exhibits an almost total disregard for everything, including necessities such as food, shelter, family interactions, and employment.

During the last stage of alcoholism, moreover, benders are common.

More to the point, in this stage, the alcoholic frequently gets helplessly and hopelessly drunk and may linger in this condition for days at a time.

The unachievable goal for the alcoholic at this time is to experience the "high" he or she once felt.

Paradoxically, these occasional "flights into oblivion" are perhaps best described as drinking to get away from the problems caused by drinking.

In the second or third stages of alcoholism the alcoholic's hands may have trembled ever so slightly on mornings after getting drunk.

In the last two alcoholism stages, however, alcoholics get "the shakes" whenever they try to or are forced to quit drinking.

These tremors are a symptom of a critical nervous disorder that now affects the entire body.

The Shakes and the DTs

When "the shakes" are combined with hallucinations, the result is known as "the DTs" or delirium tremens, a potentially fatal form of alcoholism withdrawal if the alcoholic does not receive immediate medical treatment.

After an attack of the DTs, more than a few alcoholics promise to never drink again.

Regrettably, most of them do not and can not fulfill their promise, and so they gradually return to drinking, and the process starts all over again.

The Need to Hide the Booze

In the fourth and final stage of alcoholism, the most important thing in the life of the alcoholic is having an easily accessible supply of alcohol close at hand so that he or she can avoid "the shakes."

Consequently, during last of the alcoholism stages, alcoholics will do almost anything to get the alcohol they need.

Once the alcohol is acquired, however, alcoholics will typically hide their bottles so that they can get a drink whenever they desire, which usually means any hour of the day or night.

Alcoholism Last Stage Symptoms

The following represents some of the classic alcoholic behaviors in the fourth and final stage of alcoholism:

  • Impaired thinking

  • Moral deterioration

  • Unreasonable hostility and resentment toward others

  • Benders, or lengthy intoxications

  • Devaluation of personal relationships

  • "The shakes"

  • Obsession with drinking

  • Visual and auditory and hallucinations

  • Continual loss of control

  • Nameless anxieties and fears such as feelings of impending doom or destruction

  • The "DTs"

  • The disintegration of the alibi system

  • Persistent remorse

  • Nebulous spiritual desires

  • The realization of being out of control

  • The possibility of alcoholic psychosis

  • Loss of tolerance for alcohol

  • Indefinable fears


Conclusion: Late Stages of Alcoholism

It is generally accepted that there are a number of alcoholism stages.

In a four-stage alcoholism framework, the third and fourth stages of alcoholism comprise the "late stages of alcoholism" and are typified by an almost total loss of control regarding drinking behavior.

This lack of control is pivotal and along with the fear of experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, is essentially the cause of virtually everything the alcoholic experiences.

Stated differently, if alcoholics had control over their drinking and never had to experience alcohol withdrawals, they would not find themselves caught in the vice-like grip of alcoholism, the disease.