Alcoholism is a chronic disease that has the capacity to destroy the career, family and physical health of the addict over the long term. Thankfully though the onset of full blown alcoholism is not hard to detect and can be treated. The development of the disease can indeed normally be tracked over three stages - an early, middle and later stage - and the sooner the addicted person or his or her family can identify the symptoms, the easier it should be to stop the development of the disease.
In the early stage of alcohol dependency the individual drinks merely to relax or to deal with a temporary problem that is causing anxiety. When the he drinks it dulls the pain and he feels good, and so drinking becomes the standard mechanism through which he deals with his issues. Gradually this develops into a fixed habit, but even close family members can easily overlook this development. The drinker, for the most part, appears normal during this stage, and indeed may come across as more confident and stable. If challenged about his level of alcohol consumption, the early-stage addict tends to rationalise his drinking in a way that can be entirely convincing to those closest to him, at least for the short term. Over time though, the loss of control of the tongue and posture signify unambiguously the he has a drinking problem, and indeed that he is entering middle stage alcohol dependency.
The middle stage of alcoholism is where the patient develops a full blown physical dependency on the drug. The desire to consume alcohol progressively increases, and if the individual had struggled to contain his drinking in the early stage, now that resistance completely gives way. As the alcohol intake increases, so the patient's physical ability to process that alchol is simultaneously reduced. Consequently the middle-stage alcoholic can get drunk very easily, even on small amounts of alcohol. By this stage it should be obvious to everybody, and even to the alcoholic himself, that he has a problem, though he might feel at this stage that he has already lost the battle.
The final stage of alcoholism is marked by obsessive drinking and a desperate avoidance of having to face the problem. Every one around the alcoholic now recognises the problem. When they confront the drinker, he will no longer be dismissive, but may become aggressively defensive or even violent. Physical health systematically degenerates during this final stage, eventually ending in death if the disease is not treated. The alcoholic's immunity levels decrease along with his appetite, and so he becomes increasingly prone to a variety of regular diseases. Additionally, specific conditions caused directly by the alcohol consumption begin to develop - liver disease, cancers, brain damage, etc.
The one consoling factor for the friends and family of someone in the final stage of alcohol dependency is the traditional wisdom is that healing only comes after the alcoholic has hit 'rock bottom', and so the further the alcoholic degenerates, the closer (we hope) he is getting to rock bottom. Having said that, according to the same wisdom, only the alcoholic himself can determine where that 'rock bottom' point is set, and some people just never seem to reach it.