Four Stages of Alcoholism Enabling Excuses

Alcoholism progresses through four stages in the course of the illness.

Enabling also progresses along a path of accepting and making excuses for what happens.

If you’re one of those people who enables your alcoholic it’s not necessary you take the blame or even get down on yourself about how you came to enable.

I’ll show you how the progression of enabling is almost the more normal response to your alcoholic.

After every stage of alcoholism I’ll show you a couple of the most common enabling responses along with how it likely comes to be.


The first stage of alcoholism is recreational use or sometimes called experimentation.

This stage is all about the fun that surrounds alcohol use.

Really hold his booze

Your alcoholic may have been one of those who could hold the booze.

While others got sick, your alcoholic was still functioning.

You might have even believed alcohol didn’t have much effect on your alcoholic.

From all visual cues this seems true.

What really happens is an increase in tolerance where it takes more and more alcohol to have the same effect.

This is one of the earliest signs of alcoholism.

When you’re around this symptom most get it wrong, especially if you’re attracted or in love with your alcoholic.

Life of the party

While others are totally wasted your alcoholic is still telling jokes, dancing and having a grand time.

Who would you rather be with the falling down drunk person, the one who’s losing their cookies or your alcoholic?

The choice is obvious.

Your alcoholic’s more fun.

This pleasure derived from such an amicable person is in itself addictive.

You love to have a good time.

When you’re alcoholic has a few, you have a good time.

Seems like justification to me.

The problem is alcoholism leads to the next stage.


This is an early stage but the prime difference is how alcohol consumption is for a different reason.

Your alcoholic needs to drink to feel better.

This means managing emotions or stress by drowning them with alcohol.

The need for relief is often clouded by hard work by your alcoholic.

Work hard deserve a drink

It seems only natural if you work hard you should benefit from what you’ve done, right?

In this case this means you buy into the idea your alcoholic deserves to have a couple beers after a hard day’s work.

Why wouldn’t it be okay?

If alcohol consumption were kept at a small amount it might not be a problem.

Your alcoholic isn’t able to keep it at only a couple.

The increased tolerance means it takes more to get the same effect.

Now it takes more to get the buzz that used to be obtained in earlier days of drinking.

Even at this stage it doesn’t mean your alcoholic is falling down drunk.

Handling large amounts of alcohol may even seem to be an admirable trait.

It’s simply progression of the illness.

Just trying to relax

When your alcoholic drinks to relax this means in order to be able to handle life it requires lowered inhibitions.

In the recovery community we talk about accepting life on life’s terms.

Your alcoholic’s already avoiding emotions, real life situations and important decisions by using alcohol.

When the suggestion is your alcoholic deserves to be able to relax. There’s no disagreement with the claim.

The idea that alcohol is the solution to relaxation is the issue.

The avoidance of reality is part of building the denial system that keeps your alcoholic so trapped in the illness.


Go fishing.

Without alcohol!


The third stage of alcoholism is maintenance.

Alcohol is consumed just to be able to function.

Just has to have a few drinks every day, everyone does it

The notion of a few drinks has already become part of what your alcoholic thinks is owed because of working hard.

The idea never stops with just a couple and most often doesn’t stay to a few times a week.

Use patterns may become daily with large quantity of alcohol consumed.

Many times drinking will start early in the morning to ward off withdrawal symptoms.

I’m not talking about just the hangover.

For many alcoholics it’s tremors until that next drink.

I could be worse

I’ve heard it so many times.

You may be able to convince yourself it’s not a difficult situation by comparing to a situation that’s worse.

This only contributes to the denial that’s so rampant with your alcoholic.

In this stage of alcoholism, it is what it is.

Very difficult, often intolerable and it feels hopeless (even though it’s not).


Finally, alcoholism enters into the stage of escape.

This is when interest in most other things is gone.

Isolation is common.

Family and friends are viewed primarily as people to use with or people who will help supply alcohol.

Emotions are fixed and frozen, intimacy is dead and booze is the only consistent thing in your alcoholic’s life.

He needs me

If you’re not careful you’ll believe this enabling statement.

The truth is your alcoholic needs alcohol in order to keep from withdrawal.

Attempts to get off alcohol without assistance doesn’t work.

The only way to really get recovery going is to get into a detoxification program where enough help is given to limit withdrawal while returning to life without alcohol.

Once free from alcohol, your alcoholic needs others who are NOT family who give accountability and support for recovery.

I’m the reason he drinks all the time

In this stage of alcoholism everyone who isn’t contributing to alcohol consumption is part of the problem to your alcoholic.

Since you may be the closest to the situation you get the brunt of targeted remarks.

You don’t need to take on guilt for where your alcoholic’s at.

It’s an illness and progressive.

The best thing you can do to help your alcoholic is to be healthy yourself.

Take care of what you need in order to be able to show the way to rehab when your alcoholic’s ready.

In what ways have you enabled your alcoholic in the stages of alcoholism. Let us know in the comment section below.


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Here’s What 18 Other People Thought...

  1. David

    I think we’ve been through all the stages but right now my husband and I are at the “I work hard and I deserve it” stage. And it’s hard to argue with the deserving attitude because he does work hard. I do often tell myself it could be worse because he doesn’t go out to drink, he isn’t violent when he’s drunk, he holds down a job and he cooks a lot of the suppers. Things could be a lot worse. And I do sometimes blame myself because he was not this bad when we got married. Or maybe I just didn’t see it and he’s older so it’s catching up to him. I am trying to take the advice about getting healthy and getting my own life on track. If he ever does decide to quit, I would like to be ready to accept that. If he quit right now, I’d probably be a little mad at him becuase I’ve been blaming him all this time for all my problems. I haven’t seen that come up on the website yet but could that be one of the reasons people enable? If we pretend we are so responsible for someone else, then we are less responsible for ourselves. I read once that women arent’ afraid of not having power, they are afraid of having it. Power brings responsibility and sometimes I feel that I’m afraid of being really powerful and responsibile. I feel I have it in me sometimes but it scares me a bit because it does mean I also have a lot of responsibility for how my life has turned out. So maybe focusing so much on my husband helps me avoid that.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Blame is often an easy scapegoat. It’s much more difficult to face our own issues and do something about it. One good thing about your comment I really like. When you have awareness of an issue you have the first stepping stone to doing something about it.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • kat

      I to have the same issues, Rod is getting better but still leans toward the drink and there are times i would love to have a glass of wine but will not because of his addiction you quit i quit , is my motto, but i feel for you I too have been shoved into taking care of all responsibilities because of his stupors he was in or he cannot actually take care of them , sometimes we get into tugs of war because he wants to, I know hell fail and screw things up then ill have to bail him out, it a vicious cycle and i am sick of it, I was once told to let him fall, the thing is he takes me with him, any suggestions ?

      • FreeMyAddict Team

        Possibly in time Rod will come to share in the responsibilities. He needs to know you expect him to pick up some of the responsibilities. Don’t fear you’ll drive him to drink. He already knows the way and can get there on his own if he chooses.

      • kat

        ty very good advice eases the mind

      • FreeMyAddict Team

        Thanks, Kat.

  2. Michelle

    I feel as though, with the addicts I’ve known, I am the anti-enabler. That’s why they hate me so much. They may be attracted to me, but they hate me. I remember the first time I met the most recent… he guzzled wine like it was water. I questioned him about it. His reasoning was that he was a “big guy” and a bottle of wine was nothing for him. Umm… I didn’t buy it. And my face NEVER hides what I’m feeling. He knew I didn’t believe him. I quote “you’re a judgmental (female dog)”.
    I am.
    And I’m also right.
    He has major substance abuse problems.
    And since I don’t drink or do drugs at all, I’m sure he’s hyper sensitive to my observations. Maybe he thought I was judging his character.
    I was just seeing the obvious.
    The man’s an addict.
    And he needs help.
    Alcohol isn’t the only drug he abuses.
    And he knows better then any one all the signs and symptoms.
    He’s an interventionist.
    He could write a book about it.
    But can he get help for himself…?
    I hope so.
    He’s worth it.


    • FreeMyAddict Team

      It’s not popular to be right with an alcoholic. I love that idea of anti-enabler. Maybe we’ll coin it for those who choose to be truth tellers to those who are addicted. The credit goes to you, Michelle.

  3. Sarah

    I have been hospitalised three times this year because I cannot cope with the insanity that is living with the madness of a drinking husband. Because of his illness he cannot be there for me, and I find myself withdrawing. To expect a different outcome is madness – he can’t even be there for himself. It is not about blame. He is planning to go for inhouse detoxing maybe this week, and I am going to try and find somewhere else to live in that time. I have made all my preparations. It will just make the transition easier. The hardest thing is to be patient! I have planned this for months. I have the support of one friend which is a blessing, especially as my husband and my other friends choose not to see the toxic life I have been living. Any change, even if it is for the better, brings stress, and I know that I will experience new problems but I know I will be able to rise to meet the challenges. I am alone already, just not with the benefits, and peace to be away from drinking madness. I have had thirteen years of it, and I have tried. I feel burnt out and I don’t know if I even know if I like my husband anymore, which makes it unfair to be with him. I can’t function in this marriage anymore. We all deserve to be happy.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      You’ve been through a lot. Tired and burned out. I hope you spend some time on the site and come to realize many others have been where you are right now. I’m glad you have a friend who supports you day to day. They are so helpful in the long term.

      Your alcoholic may or may not find recovery. It’s important for you to get strong and healthy yourself. Regardless of what he chooses you need to be at your best.

      Thanks for your comments, Sarah.

  4. kat

    Great article! I would have to say I am in the stage , of fear, will he make excuses to drink again, will this all start over again, I get headaches from thinking about it, I feel like I am always on guard with it? Rod is now coming out of his trials but I find it hard to be in love with this man ,this new man, a lot of times I have to go back over my journals to remember what it is I love about him, I also have to remember I am moody with him because of my mistrust , WE went on a trip the other day and I felt he was so out there, always clumsy and advertly trying to beg for a drink, he begs me, which makes me feel bad if I say no, I tell him his sickness is his not mine and not to tear me down by trying to say I am the anchor

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      It doesn’t take a big excuse to drink again they’re all around. A festival, a sad event, you did something, you didn’t do something. Basically if your alcoholic chooses to use he or she will.

  5. DollyDaydream

    I would just like to say that you have described the stages of alcohol progression exactly.
    It really IS that simple.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Thanks. Even though it’s a very complex illness it’s simple to describe.

  6. R.

    I’ve seen them all, i guess. He tells me lately he’s “not as bad as i think” or he’s “not as bad as he used to be-..i used to drink myself almost to death,I’m not like that now.”
    He says that, but, he has drank every day of his life since he relapsed last August.Blown through 38,000.00 in under 6 months and now is headed toward a lay off.I heard from someone that he’ll probably start drinking more when he does get laid off. He asked me today if i started looking for a job.(i usually end up getting a job when husband relapses. We’re not living together and i wonder if he thinks ill let him move in when the money is low.Or if he’ll cut me off altogether.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      My educated guess is that he’ll keep drinking until there’s almost no money, try to get some assistance so he can spend what he has left. Fortunately, this isn’t about you, it’s about an illness. A good thing is he has made some effort in the past to get into recovery. There’s hope he’ll do it again.
      You don’t have to enable him or participate in his manipulations to continue using. Set boundaries and hang tough.
      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Sad

    Michelle, agree with the anti-enabler aspect. I too have had similar responses from alcoholics no matter whether I say something or stay silent. The fact a person aims for healthy lifestyle without alcohol,drugs,…. is enough for an addict to take offense.

    Sarah, ever consider meditation? It is a healthy tool when run down and neglecting the self from having to be in constant turmoil and around all the things from being with an alcoholic or addict…

    Thanks for article. Allowed me to relate to others and see all the stages my husband has gone through and how I reacted to having to be around such things. The negativity of the alcoholism can rob the family of what it desperately needs to be healthy and happy. Thanks again.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Alcoholics become very negative about ANYONE who might threaten their opportunities to use or the supply of alcohol. When you choose not to drink at all you not only go against your alcoholic’s passion you are going counter to the majority in society who believe a few drinks are okay.
      For the social drinker it may be true but for the alcoholic a few drinks is never enough and one is too many.

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