Stages of an Alcoholic Life
AA teaches that there are no levels or stages of alcoholism. Alcoholism is alcoholism and drunk is drunk. I don’t agree with that analogy. It is my experience there has been definite advancements within my alcoholics drinking life. This is how I see it:
STAGE ONE – It’s just a few beers and a football game.
You wouldn’t recognize an alcoholic in this stage. One might see a person just having a good time. He is still able to get to work on time, do a good job and meet daily responsibilities. But when the weekend comes, there’s always a reason to drink – SuperBowl, New Year’s Eve, Barbeque, Graduation, Birthday parties… there’s always something going on involving alcohol. It doesn’t appear to be so bad because he’s a family man and he is always there for his wife and kids.
STAGE TWO – It’s five o’clock somewhere.
Drinking has progressed now to happy hours after work. He gets home from work later and may already be drunk by the time he gets home. Drinking will now take him away from home more often than not. He prefers to drink with people who share his drunkenness. He still may find time for the wife and kids, but they are no longer his top priority. He may lie about the amount on his paycheck to hide money outside the regular budget. And the budgeting responsibility falls more on the shoulders of the non-alcoholic.
STAGE THREE – Working gets in the way of my drinking.
By this time, he may have lost a job or two because he has neglected his duties as an employee. Lunch hours will be drinking hours and usually last longer than a normal hour. Leaving work early and not getting home until well into the night is more common. No need to wait for him to join you and the family for dinner, because when he does show up he goes straight to bed to pass out. He will not be able to account for most of his paycheck because he will lose it, give it away or drink it away. His real friends will stop spending time with him because he is not fun anymore. The only friends he has now are the ones he met at the bar last night.
STAGE FOUR – I think I have food poisoning.
Employment is a faint memory. His day starts with a cup of vodka and a coffee chaser. By noon, he must take a nap because if he doesn’t he will fall down and pass out wherever he is at the moment. His eating diminishes and he complains that his stomach is always upset. His skin begins to turn a jaundiced shade of yellow. Nosebleeds are commonplace and he will pick at every sore on his body until they bleed. He no longer contributes to the household responsibilities and the non-alcoholic becomes a single parent. Since he’s incapable of driving to the bars, the few friends he had are now no longer around. He is left with only his family and their constant pleading for him to get help.
STAGE FIVE – I want to see a doctor.
He knows there’s something wrong and thinks maybe a doctor can fix it. But, he doesn’t want to stop drinking so the doctor must be able to work some magic that will allow him to drink and get well at the same time. He still does not understand that the drinking is what is making him ill. He is probably sleeping during the day and awake at night. His memory is all but gone and may confuse people, places and times. He may not know for sure where he is or how he got there. Inappropriate behavior may start occurring, i.e, using crude language around very small children and/or not putting on pants while there are visitors. No one wants to visit. Miraculously family members are tolerant but disgusted by his behavior.
STAGE SIX – Why bother to detox?
The only way to save his life is by detoxification. The liver is no longer functioning at an optimal level and toxins are not being removed from his blood stream. A result is a high level of ammonia accumulating in his frontal lobe of the brain. His kidneys may be shutting down and he may be bleeding internally. His skin and eyes are a sickly yellow and may even become florescent. He is as demanding as a three year old in an ice cream parlor. Irrational reasoning and convoluted thinking become his daily entertainment. At this stage, he is close to death’s door.
STAGE SEVEN – You’re not going to make it.
At this point there are two choices – detox or not to detox. Detoxing has its own risks and doesn’t mean the alcoholic will recover from his self-abuse. Not detoxing is a certain death sentence. Neither choice holds much hope. But, they are the only options on the table.
STAGE EIGHT – In memoriam
The non-alcoholic is now grasping at vague memories of happier times so that she will have something – anything – good to say at his funeral. There are conflicting emotions – if he dies, it will be a relief. It will be over. If he survives, the entire process could be repeated. Or he could recover, rehab, and stop drinking – become a happy productive member of society.
STAGE NINE – What!! You’re still alive!!
He makes it through. It will still be a long road to recovery, but he will be just fine. He decides to go to rehab because he realizes now that he has been walking down the wrong path. The family is ecstatically happy and they vow to aid in his rehabilitation. They offer to do whatever it takes – to understand everything they didn’t understand before. They want to support in his recovery.
STAGE TEN – I must be selfish because I’m in recovery.
A regiment of 12-step meetings begins and nothing else matters. He’s never available because he must go to a meeting. Tunnel vision develops and 12-step groups become his only focus. He’s just as unavailable as he was during drunkenness. But how can his supporters do anything but support his quest for enlightenment?
STAGE ELEVEN – I’m stronger than alcohol.
And because I’m stronger than alcohol, I can have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner. He believes he is invincible and the drinking starts again. Small doses at first, then he is suddenly back to STAGE FOUR or any of the other following stages. The first time the repeat happens a feeling of disbelief that he could do this again is shocking to the family.
STAGE TWELVE – Haven’t we met before?
The cycle continues from whatever stage he returns to after resumption of drinking. It can resume at any stage. The more times he goes through detox or rehabs the more likely that he will resume to a stage closer to Stage Eight. It’s a never ending circle. The trick for the non-alcoholic is to try not to be in the center of the circle while it’s forming.