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End-Stage Alcoholism: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatments


Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 6/02/2022

Alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) is a physical and mental addiction to alcohol. People who abuse alcohol frequently have a higher chance of developing alcoholism; alcoholism can also be influenced by genetics. Binge drinking is also alcohol abuse and drinking to get daily is one of the biggest signs of alcoholism. Alcoholism also results in symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol is not consumed for several hours. In fact, alcoholics can begin having alcohol withdrawal the morning after drinking alcohol. 

Alcoholism can be a life-long condition. People who struggle with alcoholism for their whole life develop end-stage alcoholism, which has health consequences. Some health consequences of end-stage (also known as late-stage alcoholism) include heart disease, alcohol-related brain problems, liver disease, and severe symptoms of withdrawal. Treating alcoholism before it reaches its end stage can save someone’s life and treatment during end-stage alcoholism can prevent the condition from worsening.

What Is End-Stage Alcoholism?

End-stage alcoholism is the final stage of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a progressive addiction, which gets worse when people abuse alcohol for long periods. There’s a beginning stage, middle stage, and end-stage. The latter stage comes with deadly consequences that include damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, and liver. While end-stage alcoholism causes many physical problems, it gets worse.

End-stage alcoholism can also cause people to become isolated from their friends and family. Many late-stage alcoholics don’t have a lot of friends, so there’s no support system in place to encourage them to get help. End-stage alcoholism can also lead to more severe symptoms of withdrawal that include delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is a fatal condition that occurs in 1% of alcohol withdrawal cases. However, being a life-long drinker increases the risk of this deadly side effect occurring.

Late-stage alcoholism is also different from other stages of alcoholism because it’s challenging to treat. While someone can quit drinking at any point in their life, someone who abused alcohol for 30 years will have a tougher time than someone who abused alcohol for 5 or 10 years. Additionally, many of the medical consequences that come with end-stage alcoholism are not reversible. While health conditions can be treated, it’s too late to make a full recovery from alcohol abuse disorder during late-stage alcoholism.

Keep in mind that a minor recovery is better than no recovery at all. It can be discouraging to see that some consequences of alcoholism are irreversible. That said, never let that discourage treatment because it can save your life, prolong your life, and save the life of a loved one.

What are the Stages of Alcoholism?

There are several stages of alcoholism. Because alcoholism is a progressive condition, each stage is worse than the previous. People can also progress through each stage of alcoholism at different paces. For example, pre-alcoholism turns into beginning-stage alcoholism faster for some people. Family history can be used to predict how fast someone progresses through each stage if there’s a family history of alcohol abuse.

The stages of alcoholism are listed below.

  • Pre-alcoholic stage
  • Prodromal stage (early stage)
  • Middle alcoholic stage
  • End-stage alcoholism 

What are the Withdrawal Symptoms of End-Stage Alcoholism?

End-stage alcoholism has symptoms of withdrawal; like most phases of alcoholism (except for the pre-alcoholic phase). The symptoms of end-stage withdrawal are the same as symptoms of early-stage and middle-stage alcoholism. However, end-stage alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be stronger and last longer. 

The symptoms of end-stage alcoholism can be found below.

  • Sweating
  • Paranoia 
  • Delirium tremens 
  • Insomnia 
  • Tremors 
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Stomach discomfort 
  • Vomiting
  • Depression 
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration 

End-stage alcoholism can include one or all of these symptoms. With end-stage alcoholism, though, the chances of severe symptoms occurring increase. People with end-stage alcoholism are more likely to experience delirium tremens, which can lead to hallucinations, seizures, and death.

People with end-stage alcoholism are also more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and paranoia when not drinking alcohol. These conditions develop because of changes to chemicals in the brain like alterations to serotonin. Alcohol becomes an essential component for proper brain function, so the brain struggles to maintain balance without it. The result is serious discomfort and other symptoms of withdrawal like delirium tremens.

What are the Signs of End-Stage Alcoholism?

There are signs for each stage of alcoholism and end-stage alcoholism is no exception. While the signs vary depending on the person, there are some common signs and symptoms to look for. Those signs are listed below.

  • Drinking during working house
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • A decline in hygiene 
  • Financial problems
  • Memory problems 
  • Weight gain
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings 
  • Drinking during most waking hours 
  • Alcohol withdrawal begins only a few hours after drinking

With end-stage alcoholism, one of the biggest indicators is paranoia. The other signs can also be found in middle-stage alcoholism but people at the end stage became anxious and paranoid. In the end stage, alcohol also impacts work (drinking on the job or a decline in performance), relationships, and decision-making. This can result in isolation, financial problems, and a lack of support.

What is the Treatment for End-Stage Alcoholism?

Treatment for the end stage of alcoholism is essential. There are several treatment modalities for end-stage alcoholism. People can be prescribed medication like Naltrexone and Antabuse, enter into alcohol rehabilitation programs, or participate in outpatient counseling like behavioral therapy. 

While the treatment modalities are similar to other stages of alcoholism, patients need to be monitored during the detox period. Recovering alcoholics with late-stage alcoholism need medical supervision to monitor delirium tremens, which can be a fatal symptom of alcohol withdrawal. People with late-stage alcoholism also benefit the most from inpatient rehab programs because there’s limited contact with the outside world, which means getting alcohol is almost impossible.

End-stage alcoholism also needs to be treated in other ways. While treating the addiction is the first step, late-stage alcoholism results in damage to organs in the body. Treating conditions like fatty liver disease and wet brain becomes a priority after people quit drinking. These conditions are not always reversible but treatment can prevent them from progressing and getting worse.

Liver transplants can also be necessary for people with liver failure.

What are the Statistics on Alcoholism as a Cause of Death?

Alcoholism is linked to death, especially end-stage alcoholism. Abusing alcohol for many years wears down the liver, kidneys, esophagus, and even the brain. Perhaps the most alarming statistic is that alcohol abuse disorder contributes to just under 90,000 deaths each year. A study conducted by the United States Federal Government (Reuters) also found that 10% of all adult drinkers are alcoholics.

Alcohol use disorder can also lead to death in other ways. According to research conducted in 2019, an alcohol-related driving death occurs once every 52 minutes. Furthermore, alcohol causes more than a quarter of all automobile fatalities. Someone who is addicted to alcohol is more likely to drive an automobile while under influence. Alcoholism is also present in nearly half of all homicides and alcoholics are more likely to have mood disorders that result in homicide or suicide.

Can Alcoholism Cause Death?

Alcoholism can cause death in many ways. First and foremost, binge drinking can result in death within a few hours. If blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches dangerous levels the liver can’t remove enough alcohol from the blood. The result is vomiting, a loss of consciousness, coma, and eventually death. Alcoholism can also result in death if someone drives a vehicle under the influence. Driving a vehicle when drunk increases the risk of getting into an accident, which can cause harm to the driver and other drivers on the road.

Alcoholism can also lead to death because of damage to tissue and organs in the body. In the brain, alcohol abuse can decrease brain mass and damage areas of the brain responsible for mood and memory. Late-stage alcoholism also increases the risk of alcohol-related dementia, which is fatal. Alcoholism can also cause liver failure, which is fatal without a liver transplant. Even with a new liver, overall life expectancy is reduced.

Additionally, alcohol impacts the heart. It can cause plaque to build within arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks and strokes can be fatal if not treated immediately. Moreover, damage to the heart muscle is permanent (in many cases), which decreases life expectancy and increases the risk of another stroke or heart attack occurring.

Can Alcoholism Cause Organ Failure?

Alcohol is a toxic substance that the liver and kidneys struggle to process. Consuming too much alcohol can also damage the stomach and esophagus because of its acidity. Abusing alcohol for many years can cause many organs to fail. The most common organs that fail are the liver, heart, and kidneys. Brain damage can also occur and result in alcohol-related brain damage.

Depending on how long alcohol has been abused, someone can suffer from one or all of these problems. For this reason, it’s important to seek alcoholism treatment sooner rather than later. Waiting until late-stage alcoholism increases the risk of death and reduces the chances of making a full recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, we recommend getting help today.