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What is End-Stage Alcoholism?

Alcohol is part of American culture, with many daily opportunities to drink if you choose. While many people can drink moderately, some struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction.

Addiction doesn’t develop overnight. Instead, it happens in progressive stages. End-stage alcoholism is the final stage. End-stage alcoholism is marked by dramatic harm to a person’s mental and physical health and ability to function in daily life.

Understanding the stages of alcoholism and being able to recognize the symptoms can help you identify a problem and seek treatment immediately. If you or a loved one require treatment or support to control your drinking, contact the specialists at Next Step Recovery to discuss your treatment options.

What is End-Stage Alcoholism?

End-stage alcoholism is the final, most harmful stage of alcoholism. By the time someone has developed end-stage alcoholism, people have usually developed significant physical and mental health problems related to their drinking–and these are a grim addition to their alcohol dependence.

People with end-stage alcoholism have often lost their jobs, are isolated, and have severe damage to many bodily systems. Without significant, immediate medical interventions, their body may begin to shut down as their organs fail, one by one.

What Leads to End-Stage Alcoholism?

End-stage alcoholism can develop over years of heavy drinking. People do not often suddenly begin drinking heavily. Instead, alcohol abuse and addiction happen over time and in progressive stages.

There are several stages of alcohol misuse and problematic drinking that occur before the end-stage. Here are the categories of alcohol abuse that can lead to dependence and addiction.

Social drinking

Surveys show that most adults in the United States consume alcohol from time to time. Social drinking means having alcoholic beverages while socializing. This could include having a few drinks with colleagues after work or with friends on a night out. There is little harm associated with moderate social drinking as long as it does not escalate into a pattern of problematic alcohol consumption.

Binge drinking

According to research, about 1 in 6 American adults engage in binge drinking at some point. The CDC defines a drinking binge as 4 or more drinks in a short period for women and 5 or more for men.[1] Binge drinking isn’t necessarily considered alcohol abuse, but if people have frequent drinking binges, it could lead to heavy drinking or abuse.

Heavy drinking

People who engage in heavy drinking often drink excessively when out with friends, or they may simply drink excessively on most days. According to the CDC, heavy drinking means having more than eight drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men.[1]

Alcohol dependency

People who develop a dependency on alcohol require it to function. They may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink, and they need to drink more to get the same effects as time goes on.

Alcohol use disorder

Developing an alcohol use disorder means that someone is no longer in control of their drinking. People may isolate, face legal or financial problems, be involved in accidents, lose their job, and have other negative outcomes due to drinking. Despite these consequences, they are unable to stop drinking.

End-stage alcoholism

End-stage alcoholism is the final stage, and it can come with deadly complications. People in this stage often have severe physical and mental health harm that can be irreversible.

Signs of End-Stage Alcoholism

The symptoms of end-stage alcoholism are often severe and undeniable. Symptoms can vary from person to person but often include:

  • Drinking at work
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Neglected hygiene
  • Weight gain
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Drinking for most of the day
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms develop within a few hours of your last drink

People with end-stage alcoholism live only to drink. They lose interest in the hobbies, things, and people they love. They are often unable to work or care for themselves and others. If they do stop drinking, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms so severe that they will do just about anything to drink again to prevent them. These individuals need significant medical interventions and treatment to stop drinking and detox safely.

Health Complications of End-Stage Alcoholism

Liver cirrhosis is one of the most significant health complications of end-stage alcoholism. Over a long period of heavy drinking, the liver forms scar tissue that prevents blood from flowing effectively. This scar tissue keeps the liver from working to remove toxins from the body. The liver can no longer perform other essential functions, such as controlling infections, processing nutrients, or absorbing vitamins.[2]

People who abuse alcohol excessively are at increased risk of causing or being involved in an accident. Balance and coordination are impaired, making people especially vulnerable to falls that result in life-threatening internal bleeding.

People who have reached this final stage of alcoholism are also at increased risk of mental health conditions and self-harm. Depression, mood swings, and anxiety are common, as well as physical pain. Some may develop suicidal thoughts during this stage of alcoholism–and some will act on these thoughts.

Other long-term health risks associated with chronic alcohol abuse include:[3]

Get Help for Alcoholism Now

If you or someone you love require treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction, reach out to the specialists at Next Step Recovery to discuss your Asheville, NC alcoholism treatment options. Our team of experienced professionals understands addiction and will tailor a treatment plan to meet your needs and goals. Don’t wait another day for the help you need. Call today to get started.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Excessive Alcohol Use, Retrieved March 2023 from
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine: Alcoholic Liver Disease, Retrieved March 6 from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Alcohol Use and Your Health, Retrieved March 2023 from

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