Risks, Signs, and Treatment for End-Stage Alcoholism

AUD, or alcohol use disorder, represents a form of physical and psychological problem that only worsens over time if left untreated. Among the different types and severities of this disorder, late-stage alcohol abuse remains the most serious form of this disease. Those individuals diagnosed with late-stage AUD often experience a wide range of mental and physical health issues that can cause frequent disruptions to their day-to-day life and deteriorate their quality of life.1, 2, 3

The NIAAA, or the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, provides information that suggests that more than 95,000 million individuals each year die as a direct result of alcohol-related complications. This makes alcohol the third most prominent preventable source of premature death across the United States.4

Without professional treatment, late and end-stage alcoholism represents a serious threat that often results in fatal outcomes. However, it’s essential to emphasize that proper treatment allows management of this disease and relief from its harmful symptoms while helping affected individuals continue their lives and increase their quality of life. This is why it’s important to be familiar with the characteristics of late-stage alcoholism and the help you can get for this condition.1, 2, 3

What Are the Characteristics of End-Stage Alcoholism

This late stage of alcoholism represents a severe and life-threatening disease or condition. This is the last stage of complex alcohol abuse disorder and it occurs after an individual has been indulging in excessive alcohol consumption for many years. Another characteristic of end-stage alcoholism is that individuals affected by this condition have little control over their alcohol intake and are prone to experiencing a wide range of negative and extremely harmful consequences.1, 5

What’s more, individuals who find themselves struggling with end-stage alcoholism have difficulties in their daily lives and are often unable to keep a job and/or function well in a family environment. However, it’s vital to be aware that help is available and that overcoming any form of alcoholism, even late-stage AUD, is possible.1, 5

The Six Stages of Alcoholism 

Science recognized six different stages of alcohol abuse disorder. Knowing what they are and correctly recognizing them can play a crucial role in either overcoming your AUD or helping your loved one find help for their disease at the right time.5

Social Drinking 

This form of drinking is typically reserved for social gatherings and groups. The focus of social drinking is to enhance your enjoyment with others and to have as good a time as possible. What’s more, those individuals who indulge in social drinking often tend to increase their alcohol intake in order to fit in better or become more relaxed. Generally, this form of drinking can lead to the development of AUD, but it’s not considered a clear sign of addiction.7, 8

However, there are individuals who’ve taken their first step into alcohol abuse addiction with social drinking, eventually finding themselves faced with end-stage alcoholism. Some people have a predisposition toward alcoholism and can often find it a struggle to stop after several drinks. As the alcohol tolerance increases, they start intaking larger and larger amounts of alcohol in order to attain their desired effects, slipping further into alcoholism.7, 8, 9

Binge Drinking

This represents a pattern of frequent alcohol intake resulting in intoxication. According to NIAAA, binge drinking is defined as a “pattern that increases an individual’s blood alcohol level to 0.08% and higher”.10, 11

Typically, this level of blood alcohol concentration happens as a result of men consuming 5 drinks or more and women consuming 4 drinks or more in the timeframe of approximately two hours. This amount of drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, which can lead to alcohol-induced death. Another long-term harmful consequence of binge drinking is that it can increase an individual’s alcohol tolerance, making them more likely to develop an alcohol addiction.10, 11

Heavy Drinking

This form of alcohol consumption is more than simple binge drinking. While binge drinking often refers to isolated events, heavy drinking includes regular alcohol intake which leads to a wide range of negative consequences, such as alcohol-induced injuries, risky and inappropriate sexual relations, passing out, vomiting, poisoning, blacking out, as well as prolonged negative consequences regarding an individual’s occupational and academic performance.12, 13

The short-term consequences of heavy drinking can be absolutely severe. However, there are also numerous long-term negative consequences of heavy drinking, some of which connect this form of alcohol consumption with the development of serious AUDs. For example, information provided by Monitoring the Future illustrates a connection between heavy drinking of individuals aged 18 and a heightened presence of AUD in individuals aged 13.14

Alcohol Dependency 

Alcohol dependency describes a state of the individual where alcohol has become a crutch that people struggling with dependency rely on to get them through the day. Individuals who exhibit signs of dependency often find excuses to drink, such as dealing with emotional turmoil or complex professional situations. Over time and rather quickly, this type of coping mechanism develops into a habit, making it difficult to overcome dependency without seeking professional assistance.1, 6, 7


This is a stage of alcohol abuse disorder characterized by a complete inability to prevent yourself from intaking alcohol, as well as reducing your consumption. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, causes a wide range of extremely harmful consequences on an individual’s work, personal relationships, familial relationships, as well as physical and mental health. As addiction continues it becomes more and more difficult for an individual to stop their habit and keep their drinking under control, which can quickly take control of their life.1, 6, 7

End-Stage Alcoholism 

Otherwise known as late-stage alcoholism, this is the final stage of alcohol use disorder. During end-stage alcoholism, an individual exhibits severe health issues as well as professional and personal impairment, making it exceedingly difficult to function. During this stage of alcoholism, drinking habits have existed for a long time and the individual struggling with this type of AUD has maybe tried to get their habit under control on multiple failed occasions.5

For the majority of individuals battling end-stage alcoholism and its wide range of harmful symptoms, there’s an understanding of their condition and a strong urge to seek professional assistance and receive treatment. However, they often feel unable to actually reach out for help due to the strength and the severity of their drinking habit. It’s vital to emphasize that starting treatment during this stage is critical for stopping the progression of this disease and for saving an individual’s life.5

What Are the Symptoms & Signs of End-Stage Alcoholism

End-stage alcoholism can be difficult to notice and diagnose by untrained individuals, which can lead to the condition only worsening. However, late-stage AUD is characterized by several general mental and physical health symptoms which serve as an indication that a person is struggling with a severe form of alcohol use disorder.3

Physical Signs & Symptoms

The majority of the physical symptoms associated with end-stage alcoholism directly result from liver cirrhosis, an irreversible and progressive disease stemming from prolonged alcohol abuse. The main physical signs of late-stage alcoholism are:3, 5

  • Bleeding in the intestines and stomach.
  • Yellow eyes and skin signalizing jaundice.
  • Extreme weight loss or gain.

Additional physical end-stage alcoholism symptoms can be:3, 5

  • Heart failure
  • Anemia alongside additional nutritional deficiencies.
  • Different forms of cancer, including esophagus, throat, mouth, and liver.
  • Delirium tremens with extreme shaking, anxiety, and confusion.
  • Frequent seizures.

Mental Signs & Symptoms 

Besides physical, there are numerous psychological and mental health symptoms and signs of end-stage alcoholism which can also be extremely severe. During this stage of AUD, an individual can develop a co-occurring disorder that can further complicate alcoholism and its negative consequences. The most frequent mental health symptoms of late-stage alcoholism are:3, 5

  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Also, issues stemming from such a late stage of alcoholism can induce difficulties in personal and professional relationships. These symptoms are:2, 3, 5

  • Unreliable behavior.
  • Difficulty managing your responsibilities.
  • Reckless behavior.
  • Feelings of alienation.
  • Aggression.
  • Withdrawal and self-isolation.
  • Difficulty communicating.
  • Difficulty trusting other individuals.

How Can You Diagnose End-Stage Alcoholism?

Diagnosing end-stage alcoholism is possible, especially with help from friends, family, and loved ones who can spot the signs of severe AUD and be there to help with finding adequate treatment for this disorder. Some of the most useful assessment and self-assessment questions include:5

  • Are there signs of excessive drinking?
  • Are there signs of long-term habitual drinking?
  • Are there signs of worsening behavior toward others?
  • Are there signs of worsening physical and mental health?
  • Are there signs of worsening social and professional relationships?
  • Are there frequent mood and behavior changes?
  • Are there difficulties with day-to-day functioning?
  • Are there troubles controlling daily alcohol intake?
  • Are there changes in hygiene and appearance?

These, together with the abovementioned signs and symptoms of late-stage alcoholism, can help both the individual struggling with AUD and their loved ones diagnose the issues and find suitable assistance in overcoming their condition.5

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and End-Stage Alcoholism 

WKS, or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, represents a neurological disorder which typically occurs after years of excessive alcohol use. WKS has two primary signs:15

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a condition affecting the ability of an individual’s brain to process information accurately.
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis, causing issues with learning and memory.

These symptoms can be extremely severe. However, it’s important to note they’re completely reversible if diagnosed in their early stages. If diagnosed late, both Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis can unfortunately be irreversible. Also, WKS can often induce additional problems, including heart and liver disease, making it one of the more serious complications resulting from end-stage alcoholism.15

Early Signs of Liver Disease in End-Stage Alcoholism

When it comes to liver disease caused by excessive drinking over long periods of time, the symptoms can be undetectable during its early stages and worsen over time. Among the more easily recognizable early symptoms of cirrhosis due to late-stage alcoholism are:5

  • Energy loss.
  • Weight loss.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Belly aches.
  • Small and red vessels present on the skin.

As liver disease worsens the symptoms become more apparent and include:5

  • Clay and pale-colored stools.
  • Problems reasoning.
  • Confusion.
  • Abnormal bleeding.
  • Easy bruising.
  • Impotence, breast swelling, and impotence in men.
  • Palm redness.
  • Yellowish hue of the eyes, mucous, and skin, signalizing jaundice.
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen and the legs, signalizing ascites.

What Risk Does End-Stage Alcoholism Cause? 

Some of the most prominent physical health risks associated with late-stage alcoholism are:5

  • Cancer of the breast, liver, throat, and mouth.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Cirrhosis.

Also, individuals diagnosed with end-stage alcoholism are at greater risk of developing suicidal ideation and attempting to take their own lives.5

What Is the Duration of End-Stage Alcoholism

Late-stage alcoholism generally lasts from a couple of months to several years, with the severity of the disease impacting its duration. If untreated, end-stage alcoholism often leads to death. At one point, the body becomes unable to properly function and the individual struggling with the end-stage of this disease can die from one of the numerous health complications caused by AUD.5

Is It Possible to Recover from End-Stage Alcoholism

Yes, it’s absolutely possible to overcome late-stage alcoholism, find and retain sobriety, and continue leading a healthy and thriving life. However, it’s best to contact professionals with vast experience and success in treating different stages of alcoholism such as American Addiction Centers and ensure you receive the best possible treatment suited to your particular requirements and preferences.

AAC operates numerous respected treatment facilities across the nation, offering a wide array of evidence-based treatment solutions to individuals struggling with different forms of AUD. You can immediately contact one of their 24/7 helplines for alcohol addiction and receive first-hand information from their caring and devoted operators. This way, you’ll become aware of the available rehab facilities while receiving expert advice on how to choose the most appropriate one for your current situation.

AAC offers comprehensive therapy options and expertise-based assistance throughout the different stages of rehab, including a comprehensive process of medical detox designed to help you deal with the harmful withdrawal symptoms. From there, their experts will continue providing the right medication alongside different methods of assistance for your physical and mental health issues until you reach full sobriety.

Finally, the helpful staff at AAC will also propose several different payment options for you to choose from, allowing you to find the most suitable way for you to fund your alcohol addiction therapy.  Reach out to American Addiction Centers today, inquire about the available options for your treatment, and make the first step toward a healthy, alcohol-free life.

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