Alcoholism is a lot like true love: Its course never runs smooth. It's a very rocky downhill slide. What's most surprising is that from the beginning of alcohol dependence to the onset of potentially lethal problems, the pace is pretty swift.
In a pioneering study, a team of San Diego psychiatrists has documented that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the course of alcoholism is highly predictable. Clearcut medical and life problems mark every tumble of the way.
Marc Schuckit, M.D., and his colleagues VA Medical Center of San Diego scrutinized and interviewed 636 alcohol-dependent men admitted for inpatient treatment. They ranged in age from early twenties to late forties. From the findings, they created a new working model of the disease that looks like this:
Late 20s: The gin and tonics start sliding down a little too swiftly. Severe alcohol problems develop. There are binges, morning drinking. Job problems related to alcohol set in swiftly.
Early to mid-30s: Problems with alcohol skyrocket. Objective signs of interference with functioning in many life areas. Blackouts, morning shakes, car accidents, drinking instead of eating, and signs of alcohol withdrawal. First arrests for drunk driving and public intoxication.