What Are the Risks Associated with Being a Chronic Drinker?

Chronic drinking generally refers to prolonged, frequent, and heavy alcohol abuse. However, it must be noted that chronic drinking is not a clinical term. Clinicians use a variety of criteria to determine whether an individual has an alcohol use disorder, otherwise known as alcoholism. 

Not only can alcoholism be mild, moderate, or severe, but there are different levels and stages of alcohol dependency. Long-term alcohol abuse increases the likelihood that a person will become addicted. It also opens the door for a wide variety of health problems. If you or a loved one is finding it hard to control your drinking, you need to seek professional help.

The Four Stages of Alcoholism

The Four Stages of Alcoholism

E. Morton Jellinek came up with four stages of alcoholism after doing lots of research on the disease. Recognizing these stages can enable you to determine if you need to seek help for yourself or someone else.

Pre-alcoholic Stage

In the pre-alcoholic state, drinking doesn’t appear to be problematic since it’s mainly social. However, as an individual progresses through this stage, they may drink more frequently in an effort to feel better or reduce stress.

Physiologically, the pre-alcoholic stage is characterized by the individual developing a tolerance for alcohol. This means they need to drink increasingly larger amounts to feel the effects. 

If you only drink when it’s socially appropriate, you probably don’t need to worry. However, if your drink to forget unpleasant things, reduce anxiety, or cope with physical pain, you may be in the pre-alcoholic stage.

Early Alcoholic Stage

People who are in this stage feel uncomfortable about their drinking but they can’t resist the urge. By this point, they may have blacked out because of excessive alcohol consumption and they lie to their loved ones about their alcohol use.

Instead of only drinking socially, they may also be drinking in secret when no one is around. During the early alcoholic stage, tolerance increases and the individual may be obsessed with thoughts of alcohol.

Middle Alcoholic

By this stage, family members and friends are usually aware that their loved one has a problem with alcohol. The individual may drive while intoxicated or miss work because they’re drinking or hungover. Their interpersonal relationships may also suffer because they’ve become increasingly irritable and argumentative.

The individual will also start to show physical signs of alcohol abuse such as weight gain or weight loss, a red face, a  bloated stomach, and sluggishness. With treatment, a chronic drinker in the middle alcoholic stage can control their urge to drink.

Late Alcoholic

This is when the effects of chronic alcoholic alcohol abuse are readily apparent and the individual begins to develop serious physical and psychological problems. They may drink all day long and ignore everyone and everything else. If they managed to remain employed up until this point, they may get fired because of their absenteeism or increasingly poor performance.

Many late-stage alcoholics are paranoid and when they attempt to stop drinking, they experience hallucinations, tremors, and other potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Even though people in this stage face several challenges, they can still get better with medically supervised detox and intensive treatment.

Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

Too much alcohol can cause both physical and mental harm and addiction isn’t the only danger. Let’s look at some of the problems that a chronic drinker may face.

Liver Damage

This is probably the most well-known outcome of chronic alcohol use. Your liver’s role is to flush out toxins. However, if you drink too much alcohol of any kind too fast, your liver may not be able to keep up.

As a result, the alcohol may kill cells in the liver leading to cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Heavy alcohol use can also lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Heart Disease

Heavy drinking or binge drinking can lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol which are both risk factors for coronary heart disease. Untreated coronary heart disease can result in the arteries becoming completely blocked and this can lead to a heart attack.

Chronic alcohol abuse can also lead to a disease called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. This condition occurs when the heart muscles get damaged and lose the ability to pump blood adequately. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can be reversed if it is caught early, and the individual stops drinking and makes other lifestyle changes.

However, if it’s not treated, it can progress to the point of heart failure. Sometimes, the only option is to undergo surgery or get a heart transplant if the disease is well advanced.

Problems with the Brain and Nervous System 

Chronic drinking also has effects on the brain. Alcohol affects the brain’s communication pathways and this is why it can be hard to think clearly, remember things or make decisions when you drink. Some effects go away once you sober up but others are long-lasting. 

However, most people who are addicted to alcohol have a thiamine deficiency and some of them develop a serious brain disorder called Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. This is a disease made up of two separate syndromes: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is characterized by mental confusion, problems with muscle coordination, and paralysis of the nerves that control the eyes. Meanwhile, symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include persistent problems with memory and learning.


When your body doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells to move oxygen around the body, this is a condition or state known as anemia. This is an umbrella term that covers iron deficiency, folic acid deficiency, and vitamin B12 deficiency.

There are several reasons why a chronic drinker would develop anemia. For example, people who are addicted to alcohol often skip meals and this prevents them from getting the nutrients they need.

Alcohol also has a negative effect on blood production. It affects the bone marrow and restricts the normal production of red blood cells. Excessive, chronic use of alcohol can give your red blood cells an abnormal structure and lead to the presence of macrocytes or enlarged red blood cells.

People who are addicted to alcohol can also develop a type of anemia called hemolytic anemia. This is when the shape of the red blood cells is compromised to such an extent that some of the cells die.


There is a link between heavy alcohol use and cancer. In the United States, alcohol use is responsible for about six percent of all cancers and four percent of all cancer deaths.

The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk and if you drink and smoke, you’re in even more danger. Alcohol has been linked to cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, breast, colon, and rectum.

Digestive Problems

Alcohol can lead to a number of digestive issues. It can inflame the stomach lining and result in nausea and heartburn. Over time, some people develop stomach ulcers as well as chronic inflammation of the gut and esophagus. Chronic alcohol use can also lead to pancreatitis, reduce insulin production, and make it hard for the intestines to digest thiamine and vitamin B12.

Treatment Options for Chronic Drinkers

Treatment Options for Chronic Drinkers

Professional substance abuse treatment is a must for any chronic drinker. Long-term alcohol abuse changes the brain, and it can be very difficult to stop drinking without therapy and counseling. Chronic drinkers will usually experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit, so it’s best to undergo a medically supervised detox.

This is safer and more comfortable than detoxing at home. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild tremors to delirium tremens which involves convulsions, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, and insomnia. In severe cases, it can even lead to death.

Medically supervised detox allows for a controlled environment in which the individual’s vital signs are constantly monitored and medication is administered when necessary. This increases the likelihood that they will make it through the withdrawal process and move on to rehab. 

What happens in rehab depends on the individual’s personal circumstances and the severity of their addiction. Different facilities also offer varying types of treatment varying from traditional therapy to holistic or alternative methodologies. Alcoholism can’t be cured but it can be managed with long-term support that typically includes ongoing counseling and peer support.

Contact Pathfinders Recovery Center to Learn More

Whether you’re a chronic drinker looking for help or you believe your loved one needs professional assistance, the team at Pathfinders Recovery Center is here for you. We know how hard it can be for people to admit that they need help, but we see first-hand how sobriety can turn people’s lives around. 

If you’re ready to take back control of your life and learn how you can stay away from alcohol and other addictive substances, reach out to one of our addiction counselors.

We offer a variety of treatment options at our Colorado and Arizona luxury rehab centers, and we accept most forms of private insurance. Contact us today to verify your health insurance coverage or learn more about our detox and rehab options.


  • 7580 E Gray Rd Suite 201 Scottsdale, AZ 85260
  • (877) 224-0761
  • Mon-Sun: 24x7


  • 2953 S Peoria St. Suite 230 Aurora, CO 80014
  • (877) 224-0761
  • Mon-Sun: 24x7

Our Newsletter

See how much of your treatment is covered by insurance

(877) 224-0761

Addiction Counselor Available 24/7

Skip to content