Are there stages of alcoholism? Absolutely. The alcoholism stages can clearly be broken up into segments as the alcoholic looks back at the progression of their disease. They can clearly see a line that they crossed in the early days when they still had a choice about whether they drank or not, and then a period of time when they were drinking to such excess, that later on they found that they no longer had a choice in the matter. They can also see different stages based on their tolerance. They can see that in the early days, it did not take a ton of booze to get them drunk, but later on, it took quite a bit more. Eventually, an alcoholic who does not die will experience reverse tolerance, and it will take less and less for them to black out. Some alcoholics reach a point where they can black out from a single beer because their disease as progressed so far.
But the most definitive line that can be drawn is when the alcoholic starts using the booze to cope with the stress of everyday life. When they go from using alcohol for fun and relaxation, to using it to deal with their normal, everyday stress in life. That is moving from “problem drinker” over to “alcohol dependent behavior.” If there was ever a behavior that showed the shift into alcoholism, that would be it. Using booze to self medicate with.
Now if there are clearly stages of alcoholism then surely there are stages in recovery as well? You bet there are. Really they are just arbitrary mental constructs that we use to better frame our thinking about the recovery process, but they can still be useful.
Early recovery starts with abstinence and detox. You are getting your body detoxed from the alcohol and you might even be under medical supervision. This is acute detox.
Now after you are detoxed during this first week of sobriety, you move into what we would call “early recovery.” This can last anywhere from a few months to maybe the first 2 years, depending. It is where you are learning how to live a sober life. You definitely do not yet know how. You are in a learning mode. You are probably networking heavily with other people in order to learn how to deal with life while sober. This is early recovery.
Long term recovery might be anywhere after you start transitioning into holistic, long term, healthy living. It stops being about learning and it becomes more about personal growth and holistic health. This is long term sobriety. If you do not make this move towards a more holistic approach to life and recovery then you might end up relapsing eventually.
The goal for anyone–regardless of what stage they are at in recovery, or in their disease–should be to get to the point where they are pushing themselves towards greater holistic health. This means that they are trying to improve their health in all areas of their lives (spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, etc.).