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The 4 Stages of Alcoholism

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the stages of alcoholism

The First Stage of My Alcoholism | It Runs in the Family

I’m 14. We go to visit my grandmother. She’ll die a few years later. She’s drinking a handle of Jack Daniels by herself. It will be decades before I learn that my grandfather had decades of sobriety. It will be a decade before I learn how deeply it runs through my family.

It would not have mattered how much I’d known about the alcoholism in my family.

I was always going to have to face the alcohol problem in this society.

There’s no escaping it.

I’m 16 years old. A friend of mine asks me if I would ever drink alcohol.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I say. “When I drink soda, I drink like 6 at a time.”

Maybe something in my unconscious knew how bad it would be if I tried it.

It didn’t matter.

I’m 17. I have my first drink at a party. I drink 6 beers, then 8, then more. I stop counting. I drink until the morning. I love every minute of it.

I’m 18. I drink to blackout constantly. I love every minute of it. I hate the taste of alcohol, but I learn to accept it because nothing compares. Weed is nothing compared to this.

I mean, don’t get me wrong—I still smoke a shit ton—but this if different.

This is what gets me going.

I’m 19. I get a fake ID. I know some people who know some people who robbed some people. The ID is about as legitimate as it gets. I have no trouble getting into bars or buying from liquor stores. I’ve been drinking and driving regularly. For 3 months in Illinois, I drink and drive just about every night. I drive onto the lawns of wealthy suburbanites and do donuts, laughing and drunk and insane.

I’m 20. I discover opiates. My alcohol use wanes. I discover I’m addicted. I go through my first withdrawals. I drink to get through. I drink for 6 months trying to keep myself off opiates. The blackouts come every time I drink. I get my first DUI. It’s bullshit. I’m barely over the legal limit. They tow my car. My parents pay for an expensive lawyer. It gets thrown out.

I learn nothing.

I’m 21.

Things change.

The Second Stage of My Alcoholism | Escalation

Everything changes at 21. I start drinking in bars regularly. I’m back on opiates, then off, on and off, on and off. Alcohol enters the pictures every time the opiates leave. Then I start to mix and match. I’m still drinking and driving. My body doesn’t like the alcohol. I start to puke more often than I already did. I’ve been selling drugs for years. My drunkenness means I get ripped off and robbed regularly.

It doesn’t stop me.

I’m 22. Things are getting bad. I can’t finish college. I’m drunk constantly. People I started college with are graduating. I’m driving to Witchita and back to deliver drugs for coke and pot dealers. I drink every time I get to Witchita, every time I get to Lawrence.

I don’t like the bars as much. I don’t like the feeling as much. I get into a few fights, get my ass beaten bad. I argue with friends and lose friendships. I steal. I ruin relationships. The only girl I can stick with is an alcoholic too.

What a surprise.

I’m 23. The bars are depressing. All these young, successful college students are there, and then there’s me, the guy who can’t finish school, who keeps acting like he’s going to get into law school with his shit grades. I find a bar that’s more suited to people like me, a dirty place. I go to class every now and then when I have a good hookup on opiates, but mostly I’m in a constant state of detox or drinking. I’ve long been adding Xanax and coke and amphetamines into the mix.

They hurt and help.

I’m not drinking for fun anymore. I’m drinking to escape. I’m drinking and I’m depressed and the drinking isn’t helping the depression—it’s making it worse.

The Third Stage of My Alcoholism | Things Fall Apart

I’m 24. I get DUI number 2. There’s no getting out of this one. I blow a 3 point something. It doesn’t matter what the exact number is. I remember going to a bar and feeling out of place. I remember that I was going to drink just beer. I remember asking the bartender for double shots of disgusting whiskey. I remember drinking Long Island Iced Teas and feeling sleepy and weird and wanting my bed.

Then I wake up in a jail cell.

I don’t know how I got there.

But I know how I got there.

My car is destroyed. It’s very clear I hit something large and circular, but beyond that, I never learn what it was.

I thank god every day it wasn’t a person.

I don’t get another car.

I try and fail to control my drinking. I tell my girlfriend that I’ll just drink beer. I do that for about a week. Then I’m going to just drink mixed drinks. Then I’m only going to do opiates. Then I’m only going to drink at bars

Nothing works.

I’m 25. My roommate and I get raided for selling all kinds of drugs. I move to Texas unwillingly because that’s where my parents live and I am entirely dependent on them for money because I can’t hold a job.

Things get worse.

Stage Four of My Alcoholism | Surrender

I’m 26. I attempt suicide twice. I see no way out of my fucked up life. I go to a couple different psych hospitals. I meet people like me. I’m required to go to AA meetings. I keep drinking because I don’t know how to stop.

I want to stop.

I never wanted to stop before.

I get a sponsor. I realize that I’ll never be able to drink or use successfully. I relapse once. I learn, finally, from my mistakes.

I surrender completely to my higher power, but this is too abstract for me, so I surrender to the direction of my sponsor, and the concreteness of this is something I can handle.

The final stage of alcoholism?

Life gets better.

That was 9 years ago.

If I can do it, so can you.

If you’re struggling to stay sober, there’s help. Check out The Retreat for alcoholic help in NZ.

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Adam Fout

I'm a speculative fiction and nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others.

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