What Is End-Stage Alcoholism?

End-stage alcoholism is the final, most destructive stage of alcoholism. Typically, an individual reaches end-stage alcoholism after years of alcohol abuse. At this point, people who have spent years drinking may have developed numerous health and mental conditions in addition to their alcohol abuse. Major organ damage and failure often occur during this time, as well as interpersonal consequences like isolation and job loss.

What Are The Stages Of Alcoholism?

Alcohol abuse has many stages. The stages of alcohol abuse are broken down into six categories, including:

Social Drinking

The first stage is social drinking. This is a comparatively non-threatening level of drinking, which may not always lead to alcohol abuse. This often looks entails consuming a few drinks when out with friends.

Binge Drinking

The second stage is binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism define binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08%. For males, this often means consuming 5 or more standard drinks over a 2-hour period. For females, it means consuming 4 or more standard drinks over the same time frame.

In 2022, 61 million Americans reported binge drinking during the past month.

Binge drinking can be episodic or occur often, sometimes signaling the threat of future heavy drinking or alcohol abuse.

Heavy Drinking

The third stage is heavy drinking, which the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines by biological sex:

  • For men, that means consuming 5+ on any day or 15+ per week
  • For women, consuming 4+ on any day or 8+ drinks per week

A heavy drinker may drink more frequently or drink excessive amounts when drinking socially.

Alcohol Dependency

The fourth stage is alcohol dependency. At this point, the drinker depends on alcohol to feel normal and may experience negative symptoms or feelings when they are not drinking. This dependency may have underlying emotional and mental motivations.


The fifth stage is addiction to alcohol or alcoholism. When a person has developed an alcohol use disorder (AUD), they begin to exhibit a variety of behaviors that have a negative impact on their health and personal and professional lives. Despite this, many people people continue to drink.

End-Stage Alcoholism

The final stage, known as the end-stage of alcohol abuse, is the point where a person is experiencing very serious health and mental issues. It could end in death.

If you’re starting to question if your alcohol consumption patterns are unhealthy, take our alcohol assessment to take a closer look at your alcohol use and see if it’s time to get help.

End-Stage Alcoholism And Health Complications

End-stage alcoholism typically presents a number of health complications. First the liver becomes damaged, possibly permanently. The liver gains fats and inflammation, eventually leading to liver scarring. The result of the damage is often liver disease or cirrhosis.

The damaged liver can cause other complications in the body since it is a vital organ. The liver is responsible for over 500 tasks to ensure the body is functioning as healthy as possible. Other health complications, like heart problems and stroke, stem from chronic alcohol abuse in end-stage alcoholism. Risks of dementia and cancer increase. Even brain damage and hepatitis can occur in the end-stage of alcoholism.

Featured Centers Offering Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome And End-Stage Alcoholism

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), also called alcohol dementia, occurs most frequently in end-stage alcoholism. While it only affects 1-2% of the US population, it’s likely underreported. With this syndrome, there is a shortage of vitamin B-1, which manifests as dementia-like traits, like confusion and memory loss. Also called Wernicke Encephalopathy, this condition produces leg tremors, staggering, vision changes, and problems maintaining balance. Drooping lids, hallucinations, and double vision are also symptoms associated with this condition.

Early Signs Of Liver Disease From Alcoholism

In the end-stages of alcoholism there are noticeable health conditions, like jaundice, from liver failure. There are also more subtle signs like itchy skin, fluid retention, fatigue, and bleeding. If you know someone who drinks regularly and has these symptoms, have them reach out to a treatment provider to discuss their treatment options.

Am I In Danger Of Alcoholism?

The reasons people drink and their risk factors vary greatly. Some people have genetic predispositions to alcoholism while others use alcohol to heal trauma or in combination with other drugs. Despite the reason, patterns of heavy drinking can result in dangerous, life-threatening complications.

If someone increases their drinking significantly, there could be a problem. Heavy drinking is a threatening practice which can easily transition into alcoholism or an AUD. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use and cannot cut back on drinking, there may be a danger of alcoholism.

Find Help Today

If you or a loved one suffers from end-stage alcoholism, there is hope for recovery.

Contact a treatment provider today to learn about the many types of treatment options available to you.