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Stages of Alcoholism in Women

Jul 30, 2022

When social drinking escalates into daily or binge drinking, there is an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. For women, this can be even more problematic, as our bodies process and metabolize alcohol differently than men. Sometimes, we may have already developed a substance use issue and not even recognize it. In this blog, let’s look at the stages of alcoholism, signs that someone is struggling with alcoholism, what withdrawal symptoms they may experience if they tries to quit on her own, and how gender-specific treatment can be a valuable step for women seeking recovery. 

The progression of alcoholism comes in stages. Casual drinkers who turn to alcohol to cope with feelings of stress or anxiety may be on the road to alcoholism. The early alcoholic has turned drinking into a routine. By the time a woman is in the middle alcoholic stage, she’s unable to hide her drinking. The final stage of late alcoholism is when a woman has sacrificed most things in her life for drinking. Dual diagnosis treatment is recommended, and women can benefit from gender-separate programs that address women’s needs specifically. 

Warning Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Numerous signs will reveal if a woman you know has developed an alcohol use disorder. They may come from changes in her behavior. You may notice recurring issues from the following list.

Eight Warning Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

  1. She drinks more than she intended to.
  2. She continues to drink even though it has caused problems in her relationships, affected her financially, or harmed her health. 
  3. She isolates herself frequently or becomes dishonest about her drinking to mask the amount she consumes. 
  4. She appears to crave alcohol in the mornings or any other time she’s sober. 
  5. She spends a large amount of time recovering from her drinking. 
  6. She exhibits a higher tolerance for alcohol and needs more drinks to achieve the same effect. 
  7. She drives after drinking or puts herself in other high-risk situations while drinking.
  8. She seems unable to follow through on commitments at school, work, or home. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If she attempts to quit on her own, she may experience a variety of symptoms that change over time. Within 12 hours of her last drink, she may feel agitated or anxious, experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, and start shaking. Depending on how much she drank, she could have disorientation, hand tremors, and seizures 12 to 24 hours after her last drink. Seizures can continue 48 hours after that last drink as insomnia and hallucinations begin. She may experience high blood pressure and high fever, too. DTs or delirium tremens may occur as well. 

The symptoms mentioned above are all part of acute alcohol withdrawal. Prolonged symptoms are possible as well. These post-acute symptoms can last for weeks or even a year later. 

Stages of Alcoholism in Women

Alcoholism is a disorder that develops over time and becomes more severe and potentially harmful. It can start with casual drinking, especially before the legal drinking age. Even someone who’s never had a substance use issue later in life can develop this disorder. 

Stage 1: Pre-Alcoholic

At this stage, she may drink to feel better about herself or to dull her emotional pain. Drinking may be her escape from stress or anxiety. She may consume alcohol regularly, but it hasn’t begun to create issues consistently for her. 

Stage 2: Early Alcoholic

At this stage, drinking has become a routine for her and has negative consequences. For example, she may black out from excessive drinking. When sober, she may think about when she will be drinking next. She may lie to close friends and family members who express concerns about her drinking or may avoid letting them see her when she’s getting intoxicated frequently. She may start to make excuses for her behavior or her absence if she misses events due to drinking. 

Stage 3: Middle Alcoholic

At this stage, her ability to hide her drinking diminishes. It becomes more and more noticeable to people in her social circle. Certain behaviors become telltale signs of a drinking problem. She may miss work due to a hangover. She may forget to pick up her kids at school or at extracurricular activities. She often may appear irritable, especially when not drinking. Physical signs of her alcohol misuse may be evident, including weight changes, bloating, and facial redness. 

Stage 4: Late Alcoholic

At the fourth stage, she’s sacrificed most things in her life for drinking, possibly without any attempt to hide it. Her health has deteriorated. She’s lost friends and lost the trust of loved ones. She may be unable to sustain a job at this point. If she does attempt to quit, she may experience tremors or hallucinations during withdrawal. 

Five Benefits of Gender-Separate Treatment

  1. Gender-separate treatment can address how women are specifically affected by substance use, mentally, emotionally, and physically. 
  2. Gender-separate treatment identifies correlation among women affected by alcohol use by focusing on what past experiences shaped their alcohol use disorder. 
  3. Gender-separate treatment emphasizes support, acceptance, safety, and understanding among patients with common past experiences. 
  4. Gender-separate treatment is staffed exclusively by female team members who understand the relationship between the female perspective and the recovery process.
  5. Gender-separate treatment addresses common factors affecting substance use, including body image issues, financial inequality, burnout, trauma, and mental health disorders. 


Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

For more information about the stages of alcoholism in women or to learn about our programs, call us today: 866-952-5532.

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