Classic Alcoholic Behavior


Alcoholism is a progressive degenerative disease that can be broken down into four stages of classic alcoholic behavior.

Unfortunately, classic alcoholic behavior typically includes an increase in drinking problems, deteriorating health, denial, and a loss of control as an individual's alcohol dependency progresses.

Classic Alcoholic Behavior in the First Stage of Alcoholism

In the first stage of alcoholism, drinking is no longer social but becomes a means of psychological escape from inhibitions, problems, and stress.

Stated differently, early in the disease the problem drinker starts to depend on the mood altering capabilities of alcohol.

Also at this first stage of alcoholism, a gradual increase in tolerance develops, meaning that increasing amounts of alcohol are required in order for the person to "feel the buzz" or to "get high."

It is typical for people in the first stage to start gulping a few drinks before attending a social function and increasing social drinking to 3 to 5 drinks per day.


The following represents some of the classic alcoholic behaviors, alcohol effects, and drinking problems experienced by problem drinkers in the first stage of alcoholism

  • Boasting and a "big shot" complex

  • Gross Drinking Behavior - more frequent drinking of greater amounts

  • An ability to drink great amounts of alcohol without any apparent impairment

  • Increasing tolerance

  • Drinking is not social but a psychological escape from stress and problems

  • Lack of recognition by the person that he or she is in the early stages of a progressive illness

  • A conscious effort to seek out more drinking opportunities

Classic Alcoholic Behavior in the Second Stage of Alcoholism

In the second stage of alcoholism, the need to drink becomes more intense.

And as the drinking becomes more extreme, the person's drinking problems usually increase.

Typically at this stage, the problem drinker starts to drink earlier in the day.

As tolerance increases, the person drinks because of dependence on alcohol, rather than because of psychological stress relief.

During this stage, loss of control does not yet happen on a regular basis; it is, however, gradually observed by others such as friends and family members.

Also at this stage of the disease, the person with the drinking problem may begin to feel shame and to worry about his or drinking. Frequently, problem drinkers in this stage unsuccessfully attempt to stop drinking.

At times they may change brands of alcohol to switch from hard liquor or wine to beer. To help quiet the internal conflict they now experience, they start to resort to denial of their drinking problems.

During this stage, physical symptoms such as hand tremors, blackouts, hangovers, and stomach problems increase.

Rather than focusing on their drinking as the cause of the many drinking problems they face, many problem drinkers start to blame others and things external to themselves.

The following represents some of the drinking problems, classic alcoholic behaviors, and alcohol effects suffered by problem drinkers in the second stage of alcoholism:

  • Denial

  • Chronic hangovers

  • Drinking because of dependence rather than for stress relief

  • More frequent blackouts

  • Blaming problems on others and on things external to themselves

  • Physical problems increase

  • Feelings of guilt and shame

  • Sneaking extra drinks before social events

  • Sporadic loss of control

  • Gulping the first few drinks to feel the "buzz" faster

  • Increasing tolerance

  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking

Classic Alcoholic Behavior in the Third Stage of Alcoholism

In the third stage of alcoholism, the loss of control becomes common, meaning that the person with the drinking problem is unable to drink according to his or her intentions.

For instance, once the problem drinker takes the first drink, he or she can no longer control what will happen, even though the intention might have been to have two or three drinks.

During this stage of the disease, the individual with the drinking problem starts to experience serious employment, financial, and relationship, and legal difficulties that are directly associated with the person's drinking problems.

In addition, the problem drinker starts to avoid friends and family and experiences a loss of interest in things that used to be important.

Also common during this stage are "eye-openers," that is, drinks that are taken whenever the person with the drinking problem awakens.

Eye-openers are usually taken to calm the nerves, lessen a hangover, or to quiet their feelings of remorse the drinker experiences after a period of time without a drink.

As the drinking increases the person starts to neglect most things of importance, even necessities such as food and shelter.

Ironically, at this stage of the disease, rather than experiencing an increase in tolerance, the problem drinker experiences a DECREASE in alcohol tolerance, meaning that less alcohol is needed to feel the effects of alcohol.

And finally, during this stage, the drinker with the drinking problem frequently makes half-hearted attempts at seeking medical aid.

Due to the fact that problem drinkers will not admit the extent of their drinking problems, however, they rarely receive any lasting medical treatment.

Even when they disclose a small part of the "truth" regarding their drinking behaviors with their doctor or with a health care practitioner, moreover, they usually fail to follow through with the medical instructions, thus accomplishing little, if anything of value regarding their disease.

The following represents some of the alcohol effects, drinking problems, and classic alcoholic behaviors experienced by problem drinkers in the third stage of alcoholism:

  • Loss of interests

  • Half-hearted attempts at seeking medical aid

  • The start of physical deterioration

  • The development of an alibi system - an elaborate system of excuses for their drinking

  • Increased tremors

  • Aggressive and grandiose behavior

  • Loss of willpower

  • Avoidance of family and friends

  • Frequent violent or destructive behavior

  • A decrease in alcohol tolerance

  • Loss of willpower

  • Unreasonable resentments

  • Problems with the law (e.g, DUIs)

  • Neglect of necessities such as food

  • An increase in failed promises and resolutions to one's self and to others

  • Eye-openers

  • Serious financial, relationship, and work-related problems

  • Loss of control have become a pattern

Classic Alcoholic Behavior in the Fourth Stage of Alcoholism

The fourth and final stage of alcoholism is characterised by a chronic loss of control. In the earlier stages of the disease, the problem drinker may have been successful in maintaining a job.

Now, however, drinking starts earlier in the day and usually continues throughout the day.

Few, if any, full-time jobs, however, can be maintained once a person is in this state. In the earlier stages of dependency, the alcoholic had a choice whether he or she would take the first drink.

Once the alcoholic had the first drink, he or she usually lost all control and would then continue drinking.

In the last stage of alcoholism, however, alcoholics no longer have a choice: they must drink so they can function throughout the day.

During the last stage of alcoholism, benders are typical. That is, in this stage, the alcoholic gets helplessly drunk and may remain in this condition for days at a time.

The unattainable goal for the alcoholic at this time is to find the feeling of euphoria they once experienced.

In this stage, the alcoholic manifests an utter disregard for everything, including food, shelter, family, and job. These occasional flights into oblivion are best described as drinking to get away from the problems caused by drinking.

In the second or third stages of alcoholism the alcoholic's hands may have trembled slightly on mornings after getting drunk. In the final stage of alcoholism, however, alcoholics get "the shakes" whenever they try or are forced to abstain from drinking.

These tremors are an indication of a severe nervous disorder that now affects the entire body. When "the shakes" are combined with hallucinations, the result is known as "the DTs" or delirium tremens, a potentially fatal form of alcohol withdrawal if the alcoholic does not receive medical attention.

After an attack of the DTs, many alcoholics promise to never drink again. Sadly, most of them do not and can not fulfill their promise, and so they eventually return to drinking, and the process starts all over again.

In the final stage of alcoholism, having an easily accessible supply of alcohol close at hand (to avoid "the shakes") becomes the most important thing in the life of the alcoholic.

During this stage, the alcoholic will do almost anything to get the alcohol they require. Once the alcohol is secured, the alcoholic will usually hide their bottles so that they can get a drink whenever they need it, which usually means any hour of the day or the night.

The following represents some of the classic alcoholic behaviors, alcohol effects, and drinking problems in the fourth stage of alcoholism:

  • The realization of being out of control

  • Continual loss of control

  • Indefinable fears

  • "The shakes"

  • the "DTs"

  • Devaluation of personal relationships

  • Persistent remorse

  • Loss of tolerance for alcohol

  • Unreasonable resentments and hostility toward others

  • Nameless fears and anxieties such as feelings of impending doom or destruction

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

  • Impaired thinking

  • The collapse of the alibi system

  • Moral deterioration

  • Vague spiritual desires

  • Benders, or lengthy intoxications

  • The possibility of alcoholic psychosis

  • Obsession with drinking


Conclusion: Classic Alcoholic Behavior

Based on the above discussion, it is clear that the four stages of classic alcoholic behavior do not paint a pretty picture of the sad state of affairs that chronic alcoholics experience.

Perhaps the devastating realities of the degenerative nature of this disease might not make much of an impact on those who are already alcohol dependent.

It is hoped, however, that exposing the facts about this disease to our youth BEFORE they start experiencing drinking problems and abusing alcohol will prevent many of our teens from suffering the grim realities experienced by most alcoholics.