Classic Alcoholic Behavior


Alcohol addiction is a progressive degenerative disease that can be better understood when it is analyzed and evaluated via four stages of classic alcoholic behavior.

Classic Alcoholic Behavior in the First Stage of Alcoholism

In the early 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 early stage of alcoholism, a gradual increase in tolerance develops, meaning that increasing amounts of alcohol in order to "feel the buzz" or to "get high."


It is typical for people in the early 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 and drinking problems experienced by the problem drinker in the first stage of alcoholism:

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

  • Boasting and a "big shot" complex

  • Gross Drinking Behavior - more frequent drinking of greater amounts

  • Increasing tolerance

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

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

  • A conscious effort to seek out more drinking opportunities

Classic Alcoholic Behavior in the Second Stage of Alcoholism

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

Typically at this stage, the person with the drinking problem starts to drink earlier in the day.

As tolerance increases, the problem drinker 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 individual with the drinking problem may begin to feel shame and to worry about his or drinking.

Frequently, drinkers unsuccessfully attempt to stop drinking. At times problem drinkers may change brands of alcohol and switch from hard liquor or wine to beer.

To help quiet the internal conflict they now experience, problem drinkers begin to deny their alcoholism.

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

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

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

  • Blaming problems on others and on things external to themselves

  • Increasing tolerance

  • Drinking because of dependence rather than for stress relief

  • Sporadic loss of control

  • Increasing physical problems

  • Denial

  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking

  • Increasing physical problems

  • Feelings of guilt and shame

  • Sneaking extra drinks before social events

  • More frequent blackouts

  • Chronic hangovers

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 is unable to drink according to his or her intentions.

For instance, once the person with the drinking problem 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 problem drinker starts to experience serious financial, relationship, and employment alcohol related 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 awakens.

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

As the drinking increases the person with the drinking problem 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 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 problem drinker 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 behavior with their doctor or with a health care practitioner, moreover, alcoholics 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 drinking problems and classic alcoholic behaviors experienced by problem drinkers in the third stage of alcoholism:

  • Loss of control have become a pattern

  • Serious financial, relationship, and work-related problems

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

  • Aggressive and grandiose behavior

  • Eye-openers

  • Loss of interests

  • The start of physical deterioration

  • Avoidance of family and friends

  • Frequent violent or destructive behavior

  • A decrease in alcohol tolerance

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

  • Unreasonable resentments

  • Problems with the law (e.g, DUIs)

  • Neglect of necessities such as food

  • Loss of willpower

  • Increased tremors

  • Half-hearted attempts at seeking medical treatment

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.

Very few, if any full-time jobs 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.

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 he or she 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 immediate 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 or the problem drinker.

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 and drinking problems in the fourth stage of alcoholism:

  • An obsession with drinking

  • Persistent remorse

  • Continual loss of control

  • Indefinable fears

  • The possibility of alcoholic psychosis

  • Impaired thinking

  • Vague spiritual desires

  • Moral deterioration

  • The "DTs"

  • Devaluation of personal relationships

  • Loss of tolerance for alcohol

  • Unreasonable resentments and hostility toward others

  • "The shakes"

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

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

  • The collapse of the alibi system

  • Benders, or lengthy intoxications

  • The realization of being out of control

Conclusion: Alcoholic Behavior

From the aforementioned information, it can be concluded that the four stages of classic alcoholic behavior paint a grim reality that chronic alcoholics suffer.

Maybe the destructive realities of the degenerative nature of alcoholism may not make a significant impact on those who are already alcohol dependent.

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


No matter who you are or what your situation is, however, one thing is clear: The more alcohol is consumed in an abusive manner, the more likely it is that the drinker will become an alcoholic.

If this describes you, then you need to be honest with yourself and admit that you have a drinking problem.

Once you have taken this step, consider making it a priority to talk with an alcohol abuse and alcoholism professional about getting alcohol treatment as soon as possible.

As a final note, if you are concerned about your drinking behavior and you feel the need to talk with a counselor, please call your local drug and alcohol treatment center today and make an appointment.