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The Progression of Alcoholism: How Drinking Evolves into Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive illness that gets considerably worse with time and the longer you drink. The way alcoholism progresses through the various stages of alcoholism will tell you more about this, starting with 'early stage alcoholism' and ending in 'late stage alcoholism.'

But another aspect of alcoholism being progressive, especially when spoken about by people in AA and recovery circles, means that if as an alcoholic you ever stop drinking for a period, and then start drinking again in time – it will be like you’d never stopped.

Your drinking will affect you in the same way it did the last time you had a drink – even if that was months or years ago. That's why drinking after a period of sobriety can be so dangerous, because almost instantaneously you start up again where you finished off before.

What I would like to talk about here though - is how alcoholism progresses from my experiences and observations. Let’s forget the theory or the way it’s supposed to happen for a second - and just talk real life.

All sorts of ideas have been thrown around about how long it takes before one becomes an alcoholic – some say 5-10 years of drinking for women typically – and around 15 years for men.

From my perspective – to put some kind of timeline on the progression of alcoholism is just crazy. Because how long you have been drinking has got nothing to do with it.

The key sign of alcoholism, or any addiction for that matter – is not for how long or how much you have been drinking – but how quickly your life begins to unravel or fall apart.

When your work starts being effected, relationships start suffering, or your general ability to cope with daily life becomes a problem – and you can’t stop drinking even though these things are happening – that for me is the biggest indicator of there being an addiction.

Sure, you may be able to stop for a few weeks or even a month to convince yourself or those you love that you have things under control. But inevitably, all you’re doing is kidding yourself, and you’ll be drinking or using again just like you were before your temporary break.

So the progression from drinker to actual alcoholic could take months, or years. It all depends on the person. So forget any widely accepted timeline to determine whether there is a problem. Using time frames as a guide may be useful however to give you an idea when irreversible health damage or even death becomes a real possibility.


Be sure to also read the alcoholism stages page where you’ll discover the widely accepted view on the progression of alcoholism and how your health is likely to deteriorate. And should you want to determine whether in fact you or someone you love does have a problem, try this alcoholism test.



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