The Tragic End Stage of Alcoholism
While every person’s alcohol addiction is unique, the one thing many researchers agree on is that prolonged abuse of alcohol puts individuals at a high risk of developing serious health complications of the brain, body, and central nervous system. Genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors can impact how drinking alcohol affects your body and behavior (Mayo Clinic). Moderate drinking isn’t a cause for concern in most adults, but when drinking gets out of control, you may find yourself on a dangerous road toward addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD). Those with a long history of AUD can progress through stages, with end-stage alcoholism (sometimes referred to as late or deteriorative stage) being the last.
At the beginning of this stage, people aren’t familiar with alcohol, so they experiment with different kinds of alcohol in different quantities. Even though they don’t start out drinking every day, it eventually becomes a daily habit that is potentially being used to deal with sadness, emotional issues, or stress. Because the person is functioning normally with no real consequences to daily work or school, it might be hard to detect that they even have a problem. Internally, though, biological changes are happening. As alcohol consumption increases, it begins to change a person’s brain and body chemistry, and an increase in tolerance begins. Despite heavy alcohol consumption, they may show few signs of intoxication from drinking. And as tolerance builds, they’ll begin to drink more and more to achieve the same high they’re used to.
As the disease progresses to the middle stage, strong cravings for alcohol begin and drinking isn’t just for fun any longer. Biologically, the cells in the body become more and more resistant to the effect of alcohol. At this point, the person physically needs it to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, headache, nausea, and vomiting. They often begin to drink in secret, resulting in more and more social isolation.
Individuals in this stage have a hard time controlling their drinking and may start drinking first thing in the morning and continue throughout the day. In social situations, they can’t seem to handle as much as they previously could without becoming drunk. Additionally, blackout episodes—where the individual does not remember what they’ve said or done while drinking—may occur. Performance at work or school starts to decline, as well as their ability to have healthy relationships. Depression, erratic behavior, irritability, problems sleeping, and feelings of shame are common. Furthermore, their overall appearance may become altered, and personal hygiene may worsen.
Those in the end stage of alcoholism, or late or deteriorative stage, are consumed by their drinking. The deeper they have fallen into their addiction, in addition to the number of years they have been drinking, will have now ravaged their body, mind, and lives. Stopping is impossible at this point without professional help because of the severe and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that would occur if they quit suddenly.
Physical effects and damage at this stage can include:
- Liver damage
- Diabetes complications
- Heart problems
- Neurological and brain damage
- Malnutrition and bone damage
- Mental health disorders (Mayo Clinic)
It’s common at this point for alcoholics to have lost their jobs as well as their friends and family. Some, but not all, late-stage alcoholics end up homeless.
According to The American Liver Foundation, AUD rates are higher in white males than in women—however, when consuming alcohol in the same quantities and duration as men, women tend to develop an alcohol use disorder much faster. Additionally, while black men are not among the highest incidence rates of alcoholism, they tend to have a higher rate of cirrhosis. Alcohol remains the second most common cause of liver cirrhosis after hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the United States, contributing to approximately 20% to 25% cases of liver cirrhosis. Other health conditions commonly associated with late-stage alcoholism include chronic pancreatitis, esophageal cancer, lung infections and heart failure. Because of the toxic effects alcohol has on bone marrow, blood disorders such as anemia are common in alcoholics. (American Liver Foundation)
Alcoholism can also cause significant brain damage. Some chronic alcoholics develop a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is the result of a thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency. The syndrome, sometimes called wet brain, is characterized by loss of muscle coordination, eye problems, confusion, and memory issues. End-stage alcoholics are also at a high risk of dying from accidents, trauma, and suicide (American Liver Foundation).
Treatment for Addiction
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that can be effectively treated. If someone close to you misuses alcohol or drugs, the first step is to be honest about the problem and to seek help for yourself, your family, and your loved one. Treatment can occur in a variety of settings, in many different forms, and for different lengths of time. Often a person with an alcohol or drug substance use disorder will need treatment provided by professionals, just as with other diseases. If you or someone you know has experienced alcohol-induced blackouts or is struggling with alcohol use, get help now. Make the life-saving decision to get help today and call Daylight Recovery Services at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.