Five stages of alcohol and substance abuse disorders have been identified. The first stage is described as having access to alcohol rather than use of alcohol. In that stage, minimizing the risk factors that make a person more vulnerable to using alcohol are an issue. The second stage of alcohol use ranges from experimentation or occasional use to regular weekly use of alcohol. This or any of the more severe stages of alcoholism may involve binge drinking. The third stage is characterized by individuals further increasing the frequency of alcohol use and/or using the substance on a regular basis. This stage may also include either buying or stealing to get alcohol. In the fourth stage of alcohol use, users have established regular alcohol consumption, have become preoccupied with getting intoxicated ("high") and have developed problems in their social, educational, vocational, or family life as a result of using the substance. The final and most serious fifth stage of alcohol use is defined by the person only feeling normal when they are using alcohol. During this stage, risk-taking behaviors like stealing, engaging in physical fights, or driving while intoxicated increase, and they become most vulnerable to having suicidal thoughts.
There are many kinds of counseling and psychotherapy that can be helpful for the person with addiction, beyond non-specific “supportive psychotherapy” that can be offered in any setting, along with medication management or apart from such an approach. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is arguably the most widespread ‘evidence based practice’ offered to persons with addiction. This approach challenges irrational thoughts, understands automatic thoughts and thought chains, understands the thoughts and feelings that can lead to relapse behaviors and seeks to minimize relapse by specifying unhealthy cognitions and providing practice in decoupling an unhealthy thought (“stinking thinking,” as some people say) from an unhealthy action. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Meditation are two approaches that have enjoyed increased popularity in addiction treatment in this century.
Just as there is no one test for screening or diagnosing alcoholism, there is not one single therapy or medication that definitively treats alcoholism in all those affected. Like many chronic diseases, alcohol dependence is not an easy condition to resolve, and many people will relapse into drinking several times before gaining lasting sobriety. Some of the damage done to the liver and to other organs while drinking may resolve, while some may be permanent. Patients and their doctors will need to work together over the years to maintain sobriety and to address any complications that arise from alcohol damage.

One review warned of detrimental iatrogenic effects of twelve-step philosophy and labeled the organizations as cults,[41] while another review asserts that these programs bore little semblance to religious cults and that the techniques used appeared beneficial to some.[42] Another study found that a twelve-step program's focus on self-admission of having a problem increases deviant stigma and strips members of their previous cultural identity, replacing it with the deviant identity.[43] Another study asserts that the prior cultural identity may not be replaced entirely, but rather members found adapted a bicultural identity.[44]
The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) study suggests the transition from use to dependence was highest for nicotine users, followed by cocaine, alcohol, and cannabis users. [10] An increased risk of transition to dependence among minorities and those with psychiatric or dependence comorbidity highlights the importance of promoting outreach and treatment of these populations.
The term is also used by outlets like Salon and New York Magazine, which suggest that the time has come for Alcoholics Anonymous to be decoupled from mainstream alcoholism recovery. The point is made by Mia Szalavitz, a recovering addict and now an addiction researcher and author, who wrote a book about how developments in neuroscience and psychology might render AA obsolete. Szalavitz takes issue with the AA concept of “hitting rock bottom,” the moment when a person experiences a personal loss (e.g., a DUI, eviction, divorce, firing, etc.) as a sign that the addiction has become too damaging to ignore. This expectation, writes Szalavitz, is “harsh and humiliating,” in the sense that help is withheld until the person crosses a tragic Rubicon. But so deeply does it run in the DNA of Alcoholics Anonymous that it has influenced how any 12-Step methodology treats addiction therapy. This, says Szalavitz, has made the treatment community on the whole “embrace a totally false, harmful view of what addiction is.”
Non-12-step support groups provide a secular alternative to the 12-step programs and may be more comfortable for those not wanting to place such an emphasis on a higher power for recovery. Non-12-step groups sometimes involve fewer group sharing scenarios—which can provide some relief for those individuals who aren't as comfortable sharing sensitive personal information in group settings. Below are a few examples of non-12-step programs:

Each person will have their own idea of who or what the higher power is to them, and in Step 3, individuals are asked to turn their lives over to this power for healing purposes. Steps 1 and 2 are all about reflection, learning that alcohol (or drugs) is a driving force in life and that a higher power is needed to recover and remain sober. With Step 3, individuals are called to action and to a willingness to change moving forward.

In professional and research contexts, the term "alcoholism" sometimes encompasses both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence,[97] and sometimes is considered equivalent to alcohol dependence. Talbot (1989) observes that alcoholism in the classical disease model follows a progressive course: if a person continues to drink, their condition will worsen. This will lead to harmful consequences in their life, physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.[98] Johnson (1980) explores the emotional progression of the addict’s response to alcohol. He looks at this in four phases. The first two are considered "normal" drinking and the last two are viewed as "typical" alcoholic drinking.[98] Johnson's four phases consist of:
Alcohol Use Disorder is a pattern of disordered drinking that can involve interference in daily tasks, withdrawal symptoms, discord in relationships, and risky decisions that place oneself or others in harm's way. More than 15 million American adults struggle with this condition, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Like all addictions, alcohol use disorder is inextricably linked to a complex matrix of biological, social, and psychological factors. Research highlights a genetic component to the disease, as about half of one's predisposition to alcoholism can be attributed to his or her genetic makeup. As a psychological malady, people may turn to alcohol to cope with trauma or other co-occurring mental disorders. Socially, alcoholism may be tied to familial dysfunction or a culture embedded with binge drinking. The brain's reward pathways also play an essential role: Alcohol consumption is associated with increased dopamine activity, which corresponds with pleasure, craving, and habit formation.
Though it can feel as if you are hiding a unique or embarrassing problem, the fact is that families across the country are experiencing the exact same thing you are. You are not alone with the disease, and you will not be alone as you seek the treatment necessary to begin to heal and start a new life in recovery. Alcohol.org is available to provide education and support all along the way.

I agree with Jann B.'s earlier comments that the resistance of some AA members to pharmacological assistance has helped to create the divide between 12 Step recovery and academic addiction medicine. In fact, resistance by active alcoholics to psychological assisstance - mostly by withholding the true nature of their addiction -  was addressed in AA's original publication in 1939 of the text Alcoholilcs Anonymous. It acknowledged that the alcoholic him/herself was in part responsible for the skepticism many professionals felt when treating alcoholics. However, AA literature also is quite clear (in the text and via subsequent pamphlets) about the importance of seeking outside help and being open-minded to the advice of a helping professional.

That said, I believe the divide between 12 Step recovery and academic addiction medicine is largely a result of AA's non-scientific approach. The nature of addiction and subsequent recovery through 12 Step work is not easily measurable or definable. Academia can measure length of sobriety and certain facts, but is not able to tell us why this occurs...at least not in a quantitative way.  As a result, tends to avoid embracing 12 Step recovery because they cannot define it measurable scientific methods.

Fortunately to the suffering alchoholic who desires escape from the hell of alchoholism, 12 Step recovery doesn't necessitate understanding the process, it requires doing the process.

The transformation to permanent sobriety results from taking action, not from taking thought. Study and debate it all you want, but his pragmatic approach continues to save lives, as it did mine, 31 years ago.

The 12-step approach to rehabilitation treatment is embraced throughout the world, so it’s always easy to find support where you are or wherever you go. Accordingly, we advise patients to keep in contact with ‘sober supports’ they make during treatment at one of our locations. We also encourage them to continue attending 12-step groups on a regular basis after discharge. Being able to discuss mistakes or relapses, as needed, in a supportive environment helps to keep patients accountable for their actions.
Signs of a drinking problem include behaviors like drinking for the purpose of getting drunk, drinking alone or keeping it secret, drinking to escape problems, hiding alcohol in odd places, getting irritated when you are unable to obtain alcohol to drink, and having problems at work, school, home, or legally as a result of your drinking. Other warning signs of alcohol use disorder include losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, having blackouts because of heavy drinking, and getting annoyed when loved ones say you may have a drinking problem. Behaviors that may indicate that a person is suffering from alcoholism include being able to drink more and more alcohol, trouble stopping once you start drinking, powerful urges to drink, and having withdrawal symptoms like nervousness, nausea, shaking, or having cold sweats, and even hallucinations when you don't have a drink.
Recently some researchers have suggested that there are two distinct types of alcoholism. According to these researchers, type 1 alcoholism develops in adulthood, often in the early twenties. It is most often associated with the desire to relieve stress and anxiety and is not associated with any criminal or antisocial behavior. Type 2 alcoholism develops earlier, usually during the teenage years. Drinking is done primarily to get high. Type 2 alcoholism is associated with violence, destructiveness, and other criminal and antisocial behavior. Those who study alcoholism do not universally accept the distinction between these two types of alcoholism. Research continues in this area.

Are you ready for some alarming information? A study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 2006 included the analysis of 43,000 people. The researchers determined that waiting until age 21 to drink places the average person at a 9% chance of developing alcoholism. However, start drinking at age 14 or sooner, (which plenty of kids do), and that shoots up to a 47% chance. “In general, each additional year earlier than 21 that a respondent began to drink, the greater the odds that he or she would develop alcohol dependence at some point in life,” says the study.

Jump up ^ Ståhlbrandt, Henriettæ; Johnsson, Kent O.; Berglund, Mats (2007). "Two-Year Outcome of Alcohol Interventions in Swedish University Halls of Residence: A Cluster Randomized Trial of a Brief Skills Training Program, Twelve-Step Influenced Intervention, and Controls" (PDF). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 31 (3): 458–66. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2006.00327.x. PMID 17295731.
Since 2014, Addiction Center has been an informational web guide for those who are struggling with substance use disorders and co-occurring behavioral and mental health disorders. All content included on Addiction Center is created by our team of researchers and journalists. of our articles are fact-based and sourced from relevant publications, government agencies and medical journals.
×