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Table of Contents

The 3 Stages of Alcoholism
1. Crucial Phase
2. Chronic Phase
3. Rehabilitation Phase

A Visual Tool for Addiction Recovery
A Realistic Guide Map to the Stages of Alcoholism  and Recovery

The Jellinek Curve was created by E. Morton Jellinek, and later revised by Max Glatt. Jellinek was among the first to take a scientific approach to understanding the stages of alcoholism and path to addiction, and is also credited with being one of the first to support a disease model for understanding addiction.

It was created after studying surveys from addicts and describes the typical pattern of how addicts and alcoholics experience addiction and recovery. It’s separated into three main phases:

The Jellinek Curve attempts to identify the progressive stages of alcoholism, detailing very specific events and circumstances that come as a result of addiction throughout all three phases.

1. Crucial Phase

At the top of the curve is social drinking, then occasional relief drinking, then increased dependency. Where moderate drinkers gain a greater tolerance for alcohol, binge drinking, erratic behavior, leading to feelings of guilt, relationship issues, and loss of willpower emerge. This results in increased periods of intoxication and inability to initiate action, ultimately causing the admission of complete defeat at the bottom of the curve.

2. Chronic Phase

There is a loop at the bottom of the curve where people often become trapped in the cyclical nature of alcohol addiction, leading to long-term alcohol abuse, as amounts of alcohol consumption ramp up until you hit rock bottom. It is at this stage of alcoholism where outside help really becomes necessary for rehabilitation.

With the effects of alcohol consumption and withdrawal in full force, any mental health disorder present may be masked by the psychological and physical dependence to alcohol. Health effects arising from heavy drinking beyond the short term alcohol poisoning and increasing tolerance to alcohol, include increased blood pressure, liver damage, heart failure, and brain damage. Physical signs of binge drinking such as weight change, stomach bloating, facial redness, and sluggishness start affecting a person more and more. This is no longer a simple glass of wine as a social activity. It’s one alcoholic beverage after another. The late stages of excessive drinking can get ugly, with everyday life becoming more and more difficult, but for many a binge drinker, it is exactly this wake-up call that eventually leads down the road to a successful recovery.

At this point, assessing all the treatment options available becomes a priority. It should be noted that 12-Steps is not the only option for recovery. Effective treatments can come in the form of alcohol detox, outpatient and inpatient treatment programs that include mental health, exercise, neuroplasticity, and medication assisted treatments. At New Choices Treatment Centers, our medical professionals are ready to assist with all these modes of alcohol rehab.

3. Rehabilitation

Starting with an honest desire for help, the journey begins to curve upward at a steady incline as the symptoms of alcoholism go away. Digging oneself out of the heavy drinking of end-stage alcoholism may not be easy, with alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, irritability, headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite,  alcohol cravings, increased blood pressure and heart rate. However, after stopping drinking, one begins to think clearly, appreciate the possibility of a new life, find self-esteem, make new friends, and gain courage to continue on this path.

Jellinek curve chart showing the various stages of alcoholism.

A Visual Tool for Addiction Recovery

The Jellinek Curve is a helpful tool, for both addicts and their families, for understanding the progression of alcohol use disorder and for talking about the need for recovery.

The Curve serves two major purposes for those considering addiction treatment, whether for themselves or for a loved one:

Understanding the Jellinek Curve is useful for addiction recovery because it allows a person to better remember and understand the timeline of their alcohol use disorder. Following the curve can help a person recall past actions throughout various stages of their addiction to alcohol, which can give deeper understanding about their triggers, both emotional and physical. This added clarity in their memories makes it easier for the addict to complete the 12-step addiction recovery program by helping them remember whom they have wronged, and what actions require reparation and forgiveness. It can also help a person remember how awful it was to feel that hopelessness and loss of control as a consequence of their alcohol dependence.

A Realistic Guide Map to the Stages of Alcoholism  and Recovery

The real power of the chart is that it shows what is possible with each aspect of recovery, providing hope for someone struggling with alcohol dependency. Seeing so many of the positive results of recovery listed out can provide motivation, something to cling to when the uphill battle is hard.

The Jellinek curve visibly illustrates that long-term recovery is more than simply stopping to use whatever it is that a person has become dependent on. Lifelong recovery involves a total change in circumstance in which “an enlightened and interesting way of life opens up with road ahead to higher levels than ever before”. When looking at The Jellinek Curve, one will notice that the curve doesn’t level out; it simply keeps going up. This can be a motivating factor to a recovering addict, assuring them that there is so much more good that lies on the path ahead, and that there is so much to lose if one regresses. In this way, the curve can also help prevent addiction relapse. It is a physical representation of the decline that comes with relapse and the uphill battle that is required to become sober once again. Keeping a printed copy in a car or wallet can serve as a physical reminder of how far a person has come and what they stand to lose in the event of a relapse.

The Jellinek Curve stands as a symbol of hope for recovering addicts. It gives a realistic mindset to a person that is struggling with addiction, and provides milestones for a person to cling to on the road to recovery. It gives quantifiable and specific value to the losses suffered as a result of addiction and to the challenges that might be faced on the upward path to sobriety, but also to the rewards and benefits in quality of life that will come as one endures the hardships that they may encounter on their journey. If allowed, the Jellinek Curve can be a highly useful tool as one navigates the experience of addiction and recovery.

New Choices Treatment Centers recognize that addiction and substance abuse are not easy battles. Learn more about our three drug addiction treatment programs here.


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