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The Four Stages of Alcoholism


In 1960, biostatistician and alcohol abuse researcher Elvin Morton Jellinek (E. M. Jellinek) gained widespread attention when he first published The Disease Concept of Alcoholism, offering a new way to look at alcohol addiction.1

Jellinek viewed alcoholism as a chronic relapsing condition that needed to be treated by health professionals and developed a theory on the progression of alcoholism through various stages.

His model, now widely accepted, detailed his theoretical stages of alcohol addiction, each characterized by different changes in mental, physical, and social functioning.1

It is important to remember, not every person struggling with alcohol misuse will fit into these exact stages, but they can be a helpful guide to assess where they are now to potentially prevent future problems.1 Based on Jellinek’s theory, the 4 stages of alcohol addiction are:


During the pre-alcoholic stage, there is little evidence of problem drinking. The first involves general experimentation with alcohol and is when alcohol tolerance develops as the person begins drinking more regularly as a coping mechanism for anxiety, stress, or other emotions.2,3

Early Stage

Jellinek considers this the transitional stage where the development of a pattern of alcohol misuse starts. Drinking becomes more regular, and individuals begin using social gatherings as an excuse to drink. They may also start consuming alcohol to cope with the negative consequences caused by drinking such as hangovers.3

Middle Stage

This is the most crucial stage in Jellinek’s theory, and when a person begins to drink frequently and consistently, maybe even starting off their day with a drink.3 They may struggle with worsening relationships with friends and family or experience changes to their behavior that impacts them negatively.2 They often experience health impacts associated with heavy drinking such as hangovers or feeling sick more often than when not drinking.

Late Stage

This final phase leads to a complete loss of control over alcohol consumption—where the person feels they must drink.3 At this point, the individual’s body begins to require the presence of alcohol to feel normal, known as dependence. When the individual does not consume alcohol regularly, they may experience withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.

Getting Help For Alcoholism

If you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol addiction, it may be time to seek professional help. Research has shown that rehabilitation treatment can be very effective in helping individuals maintain a life of sobriety.4

According to NIAAA, about a third of people who successfully complete a rehabilitation program show no further symptoms 1 year later and have fewer alcohol-related problems.4

Call our hotline at today to speak with an admissions navigator about treatment options for your loved one in order to help with their drinking problem. There’s no obligation to make any decisions right away and all calls are 100% confidential.

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