Although alcohol is a drug that has profound effects on the brain, it’s not as heavily regulated as other drugs. As a result, it’s easy to purchase alcoholic beverages and consume them at home or as part of a social activity. In the United States, alcohol consumption is also woven into the fabric of daily life. It’s not unusual to drink beer during a football game or celebrate an important milestone with a glass of champagne, leading some people to consume much more alcohol than is healthy. If you’re struggling with alcohol use disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

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Stages of Intoxication

Stage 1: Subliminal Intoxication

It takes just five minutes for alcohol to reach the brain once it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. The level of intoxication depends on how much the person drinks and how much they weigh. During the first stage, known as subliminal intoxication, just one drink is enough to impair a person’s behavior and judgment. People also have slower reaction times during this stage of intoxication.

Stage 2: Euphoria

The second stage of intoxication typically results in increased confidence and happiness. These changes occur because alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain, creating a sense of euphoria.

Stage 3: Excitement

During the third stage, people typically display slurred speech, confusion, slower reaction times and a loss of fine motor skills. These changes occur because alcohol affects the temporal lobe, occipital lobe and frontal lobe of the brain.

Stage 4: Confusion

If a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.18 to 0.3, confusion sets in. During this fourth stage of intoxication, loss of consciousness is likely to occur. Some people even black out, or experience temporary memory loss, due to dysfunction in the hippocampus.

Stage 5: Stupor

The fifth stage of intoxication is characterized by a BAC of 0.25, which causes significant impairment of physical and mental functioning. The risk of injury increases significantly during this stage.

Stage 6: Coma

When a person’s BAC reaches 0.35, the risk of coma increases due to poor motor control and changes in breathing and circulation.

Stage 7: Death

At a BAC greater than 0.45, the brain can’t control breathing and other vital functions, increasing the risk for death.

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is defined as an inability to stop using alcohol even when drinking causes negative social, professional or medical consequences. Depending on the number of symptoms a person has, alcohol use disorder may be classified as mild, moderate or severe. A health professional may ask the following questions to determine if someone is struggling with alcohol dependence or excessive alcohol use:

  • When you drink alcohol, do you ever drink more than intended?
  • Have you ever tried to stop drinking and failed?
  • Do you have difficulty concentrating on work or school because you’re thinking about your next drink?
  • Do your drinking habits interfere with your ability to go to work or take care of your children?
  • Do you spend a lot of time drinking or dealing with the effects of consuming too much alcohol?
  • Does excessive drinking make it difficult for you to go to school?
  • Do you engage in binge drinking?
  • Have your relationships suffered because of your alcohol problems?
  • Is your alcohol use making it difficult to participate in activities you used to enjoy?
  • Has drinking alcohol ever caused you to engage in illegal or impulsive behavior?
  • Have you ever experienced symptoms of alcohol poisoning?
  • Do you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you try to go a few days without drinking?
Image showing an upset couple due to alcohol abuse problems

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Physical Effects

Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, so people who abuse alcohol may develop liver disease at some point in their lives. Fatty liver is the most common liver problem associated with alcohol use, and it occurs when fat builds up inside the liver cells. Some people develop alcoholic hepatitis, inflammation of the liver that can kill liver cells and result in permanent scarring. Alcoholic cirrhosis is one of the worst forms of alcohol liver disease, as it destroys the liver tissue and replaces healthy cells with scar tissue. These problems can develop even when a person engages in moderate drinking over many years.

Just one episode of binge drinking can cause irregular heartbeat, stretching of the heart muscle, high blood pressure or stroke. Long-term alcohol use disorders can also cause pancreatitis, a condition that causes the pancreas to become inflamed, making it difficult to digest food properly. Repeated alcohol use may even increase the risk of some types of cancer.

Behavioral Effects

If someone you love has a problem with heavy drinking or has become alcohol dependent, you may notice some behavioral changes, including the following:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor attendance at work or school
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems
  • Difficulty maintaining personal relationships
  • Trouble setting priorities
  • Drinking on the job
  • Inability to quit drinking

Alcohol Withdrawal

Even when someone wants to stop using alcohol, it can be difficult to stop drinking. Stopping alcohol use suddenly, or going “cold turkey,” can cause serious withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, sweating, headaches, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, nausea or vomiting. Some people even experience delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can cause fevers, severe confusion and seizures. Delirium tremens can be life-threatening, so it’s best to withdraw from alcohol under the supervision of medical professionals who can treat these symptoms immediately.

Individuals struggling with alcoholism gathered in a group therapy

Treatment for Substance Abuse

It can be difficult to stop drinking without help from experienced addiction specialists, especially after years of chronic alcohol use. Alcohol treatment facilities typically offer individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy and other services to help people overcome their addictions. For some people, residential treatment offers the best chance of recovery. Unlike inpatient treatment, residential treatment takes place in a homelike environment instead of a hospital.

If you need help overcoming an alcohol addiction, call our alcohol rehab in Astoria, OR at (866) 377-4409 to speak with an admissions coordinator. Virtue at the Pointe works with most major insurance plans and accepts several payment methods for self-pay patients, making it easier to access addiction treatment. Call now to schedule a free, confidential assessment.

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