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The Devastating Effects of End-Stage Alcoholism

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic, relapsing disorder that includes an early, middle, and end stage. It’s a major health issue worldwide. As the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show, almost 3 million deaths occur annually as a direct result of alcohol use, and it is the fourth-leading cause of preventable death in the US.

8 Minute Read | Published Aug 07 2023 | Updated May 10 2024 Expert Verified
Amber Asher
Reviewed by
Amber Asher
Reviewed by

The outcomes of end-stage alcoholism can be catastrophic and harm physical, psychological, and social aspects of one’s life.

In this article, you will learn about all these devastating effects, but also about the available ways to reduce the negative outcomes of this common addiction.

What is End-Stage Alcoholism?

The progression of alcohol use disorder (AUD) to end-stage alcoholism can vary from person to person, and the timeline is not the same for everyone. Distinct features and effects characterize each step. Not everyone with AUD will progress to end-stage alcoholism, as individual experiences and circumstances can vary significantly.

Early-Stage

In this stage, people usually abuse alcohol just in social settings or occasionally binge drinking, but addiction or lack of control is not obvious; there isn’t a serious impact on their lives. They may face negative effects like hangovers, passing out, or problems in their relationship, jobs, or school. Despite that, they have some control over their alcohol consumption.

Middle-Stage

In this stage, people begin drinking more often and in greater amounts, developing a deeper tolerance to alcohol and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they stop drinking. As time goes by, their capacity to regulate alcohol intake gradually worsens, and it becomes very hard to stop drinking or to drink moderately.

End-Stage

End-stage alcoholism depicts the worst and most advanced stage of alcohol addiction. Alcohol dependency has progressed to a level where it is rather unhealthy and dangerous for the person.

When attempts are made to stop or reduce drinking, severe withdrawal symptoms, often life-threatening, show themselves.

In this stage, alcohol drinking has taken over a person’s life and has impacted daily functioning, including work, finances, and relationships, and a myriad of health problems arise.

Finally, it is essential to highlight that going from one stage to another depends on several factors, including genes, brain function, and environmental factors. Every individual is unique, and there is not an established timeframe to determine the stage of addiction.

 

What Are the Consequences of End-stage Alcoholism?

The longer you abuse alcohol, the greater the risk of presenting significant complications, including health and social consequences.

Health Conditions Associated with End-stage Alcoholism

Long-term and excessive alcohol use causes numerous health complications, in some cases becoming life-threatening.

1. Alcoholic Liver Disease

-       Hepatitis

Causing inflammation and yellowing of the skin, known as jaundice, abdominal pain, and liver enlargement.

-      Cirrhosis

This is a scenario where scar tissues substitute healthy liver cells in a way that properly diminishes the liver's activity. Cirrhosis is a progressive dysfunction that can lead to liver failure over time. It’s the final stage of alcohol-related liver disease.

2. Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis

Resulting in bouts of abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and malabsorption of food, leading to weight loss and malnutrition.

3. Cardiovascular Issues

Excessive drinking causes damage to the cardiovascular system with increasing risks for:

4. Neurological and Mental Health Disorders

 -       Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

This is a form of dementia, caused by a deficiency of thiamine  (vitamin B1), where there’s confusion, memory loss, balance issues, and impaired cognitive function.

-       Alcoholic Neuropathy

There’s long-term nerve damage due to the direct toxic effect of alcohol. This can lead to numbness, pain, muscle weakness, and unsteady walking.

-      Depression and Anxiety

Including a higher risk for suicide and self-harm.

5. Malnutrition

When a person consumes most of their calories in the form of alcohol rather than nutritious food, malnutrition may develop. Alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. Malnutrition impacts your body in many ways, affecting every system and suppressing your body’s ability to fight infection or heal itself.

6. Cancer

The relationship between alcohol and cancer is well established. Prolonged alcohol abuse increases your risk of several types of cancer, such as liver, throat, mouth, esophagus, colorectal, and breast cancer.

Social Consequences of End-stage Alcoholism

End-stage alcoholism not only affects you, but also your family, friends and community, resulting in:

  • Isolation and alienation.
  •  Relationships are strained.
  • Stigma and discrimination.
  • Financial and legal issues, such as DIU arrests.
  • Job losses.

The impact in this area significantly impairs your social functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life.

How is End-Stage Alcoholism Diagnosed?

It’s important to note that currently, there’s no formal diagnosis for End-Stage Alcoholism. A healthcare professional diagnoses alcohol use disorder after evaluating certain symptoms listed in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the amount of time you've been misusing alcohol as well as your current health.

If you have six or more of the following symptoms, in 12 months, you’re diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder:

  • Drinking more or longer than planned.
  • Experiencing alcohol cravings.
  • Becoming irritable when not drinking.
  • Persistent desires or attempts to stop or control alcohol use.
  • Drinking despite recurrent social or interpersonal problems.
  • Drinking causes problems in fulfilling major obligations at work, school, or relationships.
  • Drinking despite knowing that a psychological or physical issue is being exacerbated due to alcohol consumption.
  • Having an increased tolerance to the effects of drinking.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or cutting down alcohol.
  • Spending excessive time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Drinking alcohol in hazardous situations (driving, operating machinery, looking after children).

And once you’ve been diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder, if you also have some of the many health and social complications previously explained, then it’s said that you are in the end or late stage of alcoholism.

Can You Get Treatment at This Stage?

Recovering from end-stage alcoholism necessitates a holistic approach encompassing the physical, psychological, and social aspects of the disorder.

Successfully treating you during this stage requires professional help to manage both the addiction and the long-term health complications.

Some treatment approaches include:

1. Medically Supervised Detoxification

Serious alcohol abuse may require supervised medical detoxification, during which medical staff monitors withdrawal symptoms and prevents the appearance of any complications, like Delirium Tremens (DT). Medicines might be used to reduce symptoms as well as make the detoxification process safer. For instance, naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are the drugs that fall under this category.

2. Behavioral Therapies

The mental health effects of alcohol consumption disorder can be alleviated with the use of several behavioral therapies backed by scientific research. Alcohol-related self-destructive behaviors and skewed thought patterns can be better understood and altered with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In addition, Motivational Interviewing (MI) aims to strengthen the resolve for life-altering transformation. Subsequently, Family therapy aims to get everyone in the family involved in becoming well. 

Therapy results can be improved overall when families are involved since this increases the individual's commitment and accountability to the program's goals.

3. Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, or any other support group is a great resource. Such groups are a platform to express feelings, get support, and learn from those who have beaten the odds. Support groups can be a lifelong powerhouse of motivation and accountability.

4. Inpatient Rehabilitation

In most cases, these programs are the best option at this stage. These programs offer a structured and supportive setting that provides the necessary resources, including intensive therapy, medical supervision, and peer support.

5. Long-Term Care Facilities

When an individual becomes completely physically and mentally incapacitated, maybe a long-term care facility would need to be relied upon. These facilities provide ongoing medical services, help individuals with daily functions and support for those who are unable to take care of themselves due to alcoholism.

What is the Prognosis and Life Expectancy for End-stage Alcoholism?

It’s important to understand that the prognosis for end-stage alcoholism is, in most cases, challenging and can hardly be compared to earlier stages of the disease. Several factors can impact your prognosis, including:

  • The duration and severity of the alcohol use disorder are the most relevant ones. The longer the abuse, the worse the prognosis.
  • Your overall health is also another important parameter.
  • Availability and access to treatment, such as medical care, detox programs, and counseling.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders can complicate treatment and recovery.

In regards to life expectancy, the accumulated harm caused by long-term alcohol abuse and the development of advanced health problems, such as described previously, usually leads to a significant lowering of the life expectancy of people who have reached end-stage alcoholism compared to the average population.

Keep in mind

If you or a loved one suffers from end-stage alcoholism, there is hope for recovery. You can gain positive health and quality-of-life outcomes through effective and well-timed interventions that include medical treatment, psychotherapy, and social support. It is feasible, and although total reversal of damages may not be attainable, managing the condition and staying sober leads to a better prognosis and an improved quality of life.

Resources

bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
"Alcohol Facts and Statistics"
Retrieved on May 10, 2024
bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
"The Cycle of Alcohol Addiction"
Retrieved on May 10, 2024
bullet Cleveland Clinic
"DMS-5"
Retrieved on May 10, 2024
bullet John Hopkins Medicine
"Alcoholic Liver Disease"
Retrieved on May 10, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy"
Retrieved on May 10, 2024
bullet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
"Alcohol and Cancer"
Retrieved on May 10, 2024
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