Stages of Alcoholism

Developed by E. Morton Jellinek. The Jellinek Curve, and later revised by Max Glatt, is a chart that describes the typical phases of alcoholism and recovery. E. Morton Jellinek is one of the fathers of the science of alcoholism.

Substance Abuse Exists on a Continuum

Alcohol use/misuse, an alcohol use disorder or AUD, is not an “all-or-nothing” proposition. Addiction is a progressive disease, and there are various stages along the way:

  • Non-Use/Abstinence – No current alcohol/drug use.
  • Experimental Use – Usually influenced by curiosity or peer pressure, this is when a person tries a substance. The younger a person is when they initiate use, the more likely it is that it will become problematic.
  • Recreational Use – When a person uses it occasionally, depending upon the social setting. 85-90% of the population find that their use doesn’t become alcoholism.

Early Stage – The 10-15% of the population who progress beyond Recreational Use to Early Stage Alcoholism, may notice an increase in alcohol tolerance, drinking to calm their nerves, or drinking before a drinking function.  At this stage the person finds occasional memory lapses begin to occur after heavy drinking, and he or she may feel a secret irritation when their drinking is discussed. This irritation may develop into denial – a flat disagreement and justification as to why their drinking is not a problem.

Middle Stage – Use becomes more regular – every day or every week, for example. At this stage, some consequences may begin to arise – DUIs, hangovers, conflicts with family, etc. While family and/or close friends are pointing out to the person that their use is a problem, the defenses to protect their growing physical dependency on the substances, mount.

Toward the end of the Middle Stage, the use becomes compulsive – the person is physically or psychologically dependent upon the substance and is losing the ability to regulate use. It is only when the consequences of using are more emotionally painful than the problems created by the alcohol or drugs that a person will try to quit on their own or seek treatment.  Interventions tried at this stage are often successful if the family is fully prepared to follow through with the consequences.

Late Stage – The negative consequences of use are plainly evident – relationship difficulties, health problems, work/school issues, legal entanglements, etc. – but use continues in spite of the impact.

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